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Post Chevere and Sanahoria
Created by John Eipper on 01/11/15 5:19 AM

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Chevere and Sanahoria (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela, 01/11/15 5:19 am)

On 10 January, John asked me to confirm whether the expression "chévere" is still used in Venezuela and the Caribbean. Yes, in fact it is a very common word to express something good or cool. I understand the expression is used mainly in Venezuela, as well as in Cuba, and it is more limited in Colombia, Ecuador and the Central American countries. Today it is used very commonly in Venezuela by most people, even by myself. By the way, it is no longer slang but an officially accepted word by the Spanish Language Academy.

There are various explanations for the etymology of the word, but officially it is unknown. Some place its origins in Cuba, from an Afro-Caribbean word used by Nigerian slaves in their secret and religious chants: "Ekue, ekue, sabiaka mokongo ma chebere...," apparently meaning something good and popularized by Afro-Cuban folkloric songs and of course the popular "salsa"; later it was exported to other Caribbean countries in the 1940s, but it was in Venezuela were deeply settled and still is used very commonly. Other less credible origins relate the word to the French, or even to "Chevrolet" as synonymous of quality or something good.

Now to the other word mentioned by Hank Levin, "zanahoria." Actually it is written "sanahoria," which was very popular in Colombia in the 1960s and '70s, and I recall nowhere else, and it means what Hank said. It refers to people who live "sano," or healthy, lives. It seems the word originated from some kind of bastardization of the words "sana" and "hora" (hour), meaning the person in question is "sana a toda hora."

And for those who are curious for some old-fashioned Latin American slang words, here is one only common in Venezuela in the 1980s: "Sifrino", meaning a preppy, superficial or shallow guy who talks in a pathetic way with affected and prissy words. They were generally rich and wasted their money on senseless things and expensive clothes. The word is no longer used.

JE comments: Amidst the depressing news coming from Paris, these language tidbits are a pleasant break. I'm intrigued by words like "sanahoria," which are actually puns: "sana" (healthy) sounds the same as "zana," the first part of "zanahoria"/carrot, which by the way is a healthy food. In Spain, where the S and Z are pronounced differently, the pun wouldn't work.

I wonder if linguists have a term for these kinds of words. I can think of a few other examples in Spanish, but they're a bit raunchy: "sintética," for example, to refer to a woman with a small chest ("sin"/without + "tetas," but also "synthetic").  In English, how about "Bürgermeister"? This was the honorific title given to the guy in my college fraternity whose job was to grill hamburgers.

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  • Dartmouth Fraternities; "Animal House" (David Duggan, USA 01/12/15 12:31 PM)
    Our editor's comments about the Burgermeister at his Dartmouth College fraternity house (Bones Gate, formerly Delta Tau Delta), and the picture of the wizard[ess?] holding back the attack dog in Yusuf Kanli's post of January 10 reminds me of my fraternity days at Dartmouth that gave us the greatest comedy movie of all time: "Animal House."

    Though I suspect that many Dartmouth fraternities would like to claim that they were the model, I believe that it is indisputably the AD house, which has a storied history there. Chris Miller '63 was a member of Alpha Delta Phi, which lies right across the street from Dartmouth's Alumni Gym. In the early 1970s, I rushed that house, because several members of the gymnastics team were brothers. AD's president, a gymnast, told me that the brothers did not think I would fit in because it had a number of "ragers" who imbibed profusely and used the open trough urinal ringing the basement. I ended up joining Pi Lambda Phi, which had kind of an egghead reputation, because they had several guys on the newspaper, of which I was the sports editor. I brought down the house grade point average.

    Back to AD. You may remember the 1970s Carly Simon hit, "You're So Vain," ostensibly about Warren Beatty: "You flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia to see a total eclipse of the sun." That was a real event, in 1970, and to celebrate, AD had a party on its porch. A Merlin-robed brother (like the wizard in the cartoon) came out on the balcony and made magical incantations. Mind you, this was when Vietnam was going full bore, shortly before Cambodia. Those brothers knew how to have fun.

    The College and AD had a tenuous relationship: but since it was an independent corporation owning its own land, the College had limited leverage it could assert. Eventually the College got the town to condemn the property as unsafe for human habitation, and AD re-registered as a kennel (did I mention the pig that the brothers were raising in that basement?).

    Our esteemed editor's house, Bones Gate, had a reputation of attracting rich pretty-boys who called their stock brokers at noon while still lounging in their silk pyjamas. But they knew their scotch whiskys which I found out one time playing scotch pong, the more potent version of beer pong played at other houses. And they had their share of athletes (this was Dartmouth, after all), including Pete Broberg '72, later an opening day pitcher with the Cubs, and Jeff Locke, a fine golfer.

    AD and the College eventually patched up their differences. Dartmouth's current president, Phil Hanlon '78, is an AD.

    JE comments: I hope this one isn't too chummy for the WAISitudes, but David Duggan and I share an important bond: we both survived the Dartmouth fraternity system! Bones Gate in my era (1982-'86) wasn't known for rich boys, at least in relative terms (granted, the entire Dartmouth demographic is quite high on the economic scale). The BG brethren were known as somewhat Bohemian (but not me), fond of revelry (I wasn't so much), and largely Jewish (again, not me).  I can't remember a single mention of investment portfolios during my 3 and 1/2 years of membership. 

    Due to the transitory nature of college students, fraternity reputations can change in just a few years.  A lot of Dartmouth fraternities have folded since I left, but Bones Gate survives.  I have no idea what its "rep" is presently.

    National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) enormously appealed to a 14 year-old's sense of humor, and was one of the reasons I chose Dartmouth.  Fun fact:  in percentage terms it is one of the most profitable films of all time.  The budget was $2.8 million, and to the present it has grossed $141 million.

    As the young Kevin Bacon famous said, "Thank you, Sir, may I have another?"  


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