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SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Spanish Word of the Day: ‘Cabeza de turco’

It may sound like an unappetising Spanish dessert, but what does ‘Turkish head’ actually mean?

Spanish Word of the Day: 'Cabeza de turco'
An alternative to cabeza de turco is chivo expiatorio, which is a literal translation of scapegoat in English. Photo: Georges Gobet/AFP

Cabeza de turco is the correct Spanish way of saying scapegoat, a person or group who are wrongly blamed for the mistakes or sins of others. 

If you’re somewhat familiar with Spanish, you’ll recognise that in its literal sense, cabeza de turco translates as ‘head of Turk’. 

This compound noun has had its origins traced back to the times of the Crusades, when the Turks were the archenemies of the Christians.

At the time, killing a rival Turk, chopping his head off and putting it on a spike or a ship’s mast was considered a superlative achievement.  

The Crusaders would blame the decapitated head for all the problems they had encountered in battle and during the Crusades as a whole, which suggests that the practice of blaming foreigners for society’s problems is a habit which has been around for quite some time.  

An alternative to cabeza de turco is chivo expiatorio, which is a literal translation of scapegoat in English, bouc émissaire in French or Sündenbock in German. 

Scapegoat has an equally fascinating backstory as it refers to the Jewish ritual of sending a goat into the desert to carry or atone for the sins of the Israelites.

As the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament states: “And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.”

In Spanish, cabeza de turco and chivo expiatorio have the exact same meaning and connotation, although the former tends to be used more often.

Cabeza de turco is not considered politically incorrect in Spain, but if you would rather not use it, you can instead say chivo expiatorio.

Cabeza de turco never changes based on whether the scapegoat is masculine or feminine, but the pronoun el or la that precedes it is dependent on the gender, as evidenced in the sentence below. So, if the scapegoat is masculine, it’s el cabeza de turco, and if it’s feminine you say la cabeza de turco.

Newspaper headline which reads “Truss fires Kwarteng and turns him into the ‘scapegoat’ of the UK’s crisis.
 

However, if you want to say scapegoats in the plural, you can say cabezas de turco. 

Examples:

  • Vox siempre usa a los inmigrantes como cabezas de turco para los problemas de España. 

Vox always uses immigrants as scapegoats for Spain’s problems. 

  • Siempre igual, pagan justos por pecadores. Eres el cabeza de turco y los demás se lo han creído. 

It’s always the same, the just pay for the sinners. You’re the scapegoat and the rest have fallen for it. 

  • Según los medios, Sánchez va a usar a la ministra como cabeza de turco para lavarse las manos. 

According to the press, Sánchez is going to use the minister as a scapegoat to wash his hands of it. 

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SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Spanish Word of the Day: ‘Chachi’

Who would’ve thought that there’s a word used all the time in Spain that has something to do with Winston Churchill? Or so the story goes. 

Spanish Word of the Day: 'Chachi'

Chachi is a colloquial way to express approval for something or someone, in the sense of it/them being cool, awesome or great.

It’s mainly a word used by young people in Spain, so saying it to your bank manager or boss may raise an eyebrow or two, but it’s in no way derogatory or rude.

There’s even the expression ¡Chachi piruli Juan Pelotilla! that was popularised by a 90s’ kids show on TV called Telebuten, but it’s now a rather outdated way of saying ‘cool’ in Spanish. 

Chachi is certainly a rather bizarre sounding word and Spain’s Royal Academy actually has it recorded as deriving from chanchi (which nobody uses).

Linguists are not 100 percent certain about the origin of the word but there are two very interesting theories. 

The first is that chachi was first coined in the southern coastal city of Cádiz during World War II, at a time where hunger among locals and contraband at the port were both rife.

Smuggled goods from nearby Gibraltar were considered of the utmost quality as they came from the United Kingdom, and the story goes that Gaditanos (the name for people from Cádiz) referred to these bootlegged products as ‘charchil’, in reference to UK Prime Minister at the time Winston Churchill.

Over time, charchil became chachi, a slang word which (if the story is true) came to mean ‘cool’ across Spain.

Other philologists believe that chachi comes from Caló, the language spoken by Spain’s native gipsy or Roma population. 

Chachipé or chachipen reportedly means ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ in this language spoken by 60,000 people across the Iberian Peninsula.

This could’ve been shortened to chachi and gone from being used like chachi que sí/claro que sí (of course) to chachi to mean ‘cool’.

Whichever theory is true, chachi is a great word to add to your arsenal of Spanish vocab. 

There’s also the Spanish word guay, which has a very similar meaning to chachi; we reviewed it here.

Examples: 

Carlos es un tío chachi. 

Carlos is a cool guy.

¡Pásalo chachi!

Have a great time!

La verdad es que es juego de mesa muy chachi.

The truth is it’s a very cool board game.

¡Qué chachi! Van a hacer un concierto en la plaza.

How cool! They’re going to hold a concert in the square.

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