Let’s take a moment to contemplate the Spanish diminutive. In school they teach you that there is a nifty little suffix, -ito/-ita, and that it attaches to the end of words to make an object smaller. Casa is house, but casita is a tiny house. Perro means dog, but perrito refers to a puppy. Magic!
By the time I was ready to graduate from college, I thought I had learned all there was to know about the diminutive form. Spanish grads had to give a capstone presentation detailing their experience with the language, and I chose to focus on my favorite part of learning Spanish: the fun that comes with playing with a language, of breaking it down and building it back up in new ways. I was especially captivated by the diminutive form because of how differently it worked when compared to English. In my presentation I mentioned that I enjoyed knowing that I could simply tack on a diminutive ending as I was rambling along, whereas in English you have to plan to include this emphasis.
In case you wondered what we looked like
I thought I had a terrific grasp of the diminutive. And then I met Andres. We spoke exclusively in English at first, but as time went on we began to speak more and more Spanish to the point that now it’s about fifty-fifty. Not only did I broaden my vocabulary, but more importantly I learned that the Spanish diminutive could be used to show endearment. I would never use these words with a co-worker or an acquaintance,–¡Qué horror! When I meet up with Andres again after a work day, however, it’s diminutive time.
It’s not casa, it’s casita
We don’t go to the casa, we go to the casita. We don’t eat cena, we have cenita. Likewise, taza becomes tazita, siesta becomes siestita, and broma becomes bromita. One caveat: Usually, there’s only one diminutive per sentence. We wouldn’t say ¿Quieres una tazita de cafecito? but rather ¿Quieres una tazita de café? or ¿Quieres un cafecito?
If it’s adorable, call it a cafecito
Of course, there are also plenty of ways to express affection in English, chief among them fawning nicknames like dear, honey, and love. You can adopt a baby-voice, which works for newborns but is obnoxious for adults. However, there are really no English equivalent of the Spanish diminutive. These diminutives gets sprinkled as liberally or as judiciously as the speaker sees fit. While in a group setting, one might subtly slip a diminutive toward their partner in a did-he-just-wink-at-me? moment. Then, in private, this sprinkling could grow to generous proportions, not unlike a loose cap flying off the salt shaker.
Andres ponders which diminutive to use next
Even with our two shared languages, we are able to tailor Spanish in such a way that we create a jargon all our own. Normal, everyday objects get a quick linguistic makeover to become vessels of endearment. I have grown to love showing affection through the humblest of nouns…and I’d wager that my amorcito would agree.
If you speak Spanish, do you use the diminutive to show affection? What’s your fav form of the Spanish diminutive?