If you’ve ever decided to read a few “classic” Spanish books in your free time, you might have come across a strange expression or a word that’s completely new to you. Every now and then, curious Spanish learners like yourself might find old Spanish words from other time periods between the pages of your book.
Some Spanish words have gradually become less and less common, and others have changed in meaning. Since the Siglo de Oro (“Golden Age”) up until today, ways of expressing oneself have changed both in spoken and in written Spanish.
You can use these words without making any grammatical mistakes. You might sound a bit outdated, but also eloquent. As always, it’s just a matter of taste. In any case, “The limits of your language are the limits of your world,” as the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said. So you can decide how outdated you want them to be. Or as the old Spanish expression goes, “Ancha es Castilla” (literally “Castile is wide,” or “the sky’s the limit”).
Reading older literature helps us situate ourselves in different historical contexts and discover how our ancestors communicated. That’s why we propose taking a journey into the past with this glossary of 20 old Spanish words that will transport you to another era and that, although they’re still in the dictionary, are hardly used anymore.
Old Spanish Words For Vintage Lovers
A word that perfectly describes many situations in the modern era, whether it’s the Carnaval de Barranquilla (a celebration in Colombia) — one of the thousands of festivals that take place in the summer — or the center of a bustling city at rush hour. It refers to the confused shouting of multiple people talking at the same time.
The change in how we approach romantic relationships today has made this word lose some of its meaning. It means to start a marital relationship (living together and having intimate relations) without getting married.
Many Spanish speakers have heard this word, even if they haven’t seen it written down. The word used for the @ symbol that separates a username from a domain in an email address was previously used as a unit of measurement equal to 11,502 kilograms.
Azacán (estar hecho un)
A word for someone who is particularly anxious about their responsibilities or business. In the 1929 children’s book Celia lo que dice by Elena Fortún, it’s used in the phrase, “La tiene todo el día su madrastra hecha una azacana” (“Her stepmother makes her anxious about her work all day”), referring to a friend the protagonist believes to be Cinderella.
Barahúnda (or baraúnda)
Great confusion, with lots of noise and chaos. Basically, the end of the first day of sales at a shopping center.
A handheld oil lamp, like a genie lamp, with an opening for a wick on one side and a handle on the other. Before electricity, it was used to illuminate homes and workplaces when it started to get dark. As the Spanish proverb goes: “Azadón de noche y candil de día, tontería.” (“Hoe at night and lamp during the day, nonsense.”)
Another obsolete word, this one referring to a blemish, exception or objection.
Many people might be familiar with this word because of its association with the character Enjuto Mojamuto played by the Spanish comedian Joaquín Reyes. Although this word is still used to refer to someone very thin, it’s no longer used to mean “someone sparing and stingy in word and deed.”
A cloth bag for holding money that was attached to the belt and worn under clothing, usually in the country. It’s the ancestor of the fanny pack!
Used as a noun and as an adjective to describe someone evil or perverse. The word was first recorded in Don Quixote (1605). A word derived from it is malandra, which is used in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay to refer to someone with objectionable or criminal habits.
Used derogatorily, it refers to someone whose manner or way of speaking is soft and gentle.
Usually used in the plural to refer to a trade or occupation. The singular means lack or need for something (haber menester de algo).
To moan and cry or sob, as was commonly done by mourners or las lloronas, which were women paid to go to a funeral to mourn the deceased.
A word now rarely used to mean the same thing as prisa (“hurry”).
Used colloquially to refer to the discomfort that comes with excessive exposure to the sun. The expression “le dio un tabardillo” can also be used as a synonym for dar un jamacuco, telele, soponcio, yuyu… in the end, a temporary discomfort. It was formerly the name for the disease we now know as endemic typhus.
This beautiful verb used to refer to touching, superficially treating some matter and corresponding, but those connotations are today obsolete. It’s still used for drums and, in general, playing percussion instruments.
I affectionately used this to refer to my four speed car because it seemed like it would fall apart when it reached 80 km/h (50 mph). It originally referred to a two-wheel carriage with a vaulted roof and seats on the side, generally pulled by a mule or a horse. Until 50 years ago, the seats were used to transport milk jugs sold to households.
Obsolete verb for eating. It’s still used regularly in Ecuador, particularly when speaking poetically. In any case, a foodie always appreciates a good session of this.
This word was used for a young servant who helped with the carriages. Some older people still use this word to refer to boys and girls who recently entered adolescence.
This article originally appeared on the Spanish edition of Babbel Magazine.