Interesting language dichotomy
June 19, 2008 5:35 PM   Subscribe

LanguageFilter : What is the most common word for "cars" in Spanish and in Portugese? Is it coches or carros? What is the difference between the two words and what are their etymologies?
posted by zaebiz to Writing & Language (23 answers total)
Not sure about your first and last questions, but what I can tell you is that "carro" is used in Central and South America while "coche" is used in Spain.
posted by snoogles at 5:45 PM on June 19, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks. Interesting that there is a difference. What do Hispanic Americans use?
posted by zaebiz at 5:47 PM on June 19, 2008

What do Hispanic Americans use?

The Hispanic newspapers (and some businesses that put signs up) in Kentucky use "carro".
posted by dilettante at 5:59 PM on June 19, 2008

The word "coches" must derive - as the English word "coach" does - from the town of Kocs (pronounced "coach") in Hungary, or rather a form of the word, "kocsi." That "-i" at the end of the word produces an adjectival form akin to "from" or "of."

Kocs was famous for producing carriages and coaches.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 6:02 PM on June 19, 2008

Similarly, an online etymological dictionary says this of the English word "car":

1301, "wheeled vehicle," from Norm.-Fr. carre, from L. carrum, carrus (pl. carra), orig. "two-wheeled Celtic war chariot," from Gaul. karros, from PIE *krsos, from base *kers- "to run." Extension to "automobile" is 1896.

I wouldn't have a hard time imagining a similar etymology for "carro," for obvious reasons.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 6:05 PM on June 19, 2008

When I lived in Paraguay, where they speak "Castellano", they used auto, and coche, as well as automovil most frequently for "car".
posted by mumstheword at 6:06 PM on June 19, 2008

My knowledge of Portuguese is mostly of the Brazilian variety. Coche is not a Portuguese word. Carro is by far the most common, but automóvel exists.
posted by sleevener at 6:12 PM on June 19, 2008

It's interesting that automobiles haven't been around all that long, but many European languages have distinct words for them, unlike (say) telephone, which is more or less the same in most major European languages.

And it seems like all the words were less "new" than they were adaptations of words used to describe similar things. So, coches or coach, car or carro (chariot), maşină (Romanian, "machine") and so on. Hopefully someone can answer more completely, but I'd guess the difference is simply the accidental way that different regions fell into adopting idiomatic terms from these bulky new creations when they were first introduced.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 6:14 PM on June 19, 2008

Response by poster: Dee Xtrovert: "I'd guess the difference is simply the accidental way that different regions fell into adopting idiomatic terms from these bulky new creations when they were first introduced."

I'm wondering whether it has anything to do with the influence of Portugese-speaking Brazil and the English speaking USA (as "car" resembles "carro" more closely than coche").
posted by zaebiz at 6:32 PM on June 19, 2008

Carro in Brazil, coche in Chile. Coche seemed to be used less as one moved northwards in South America.
posted by needled at 7:10 PM on June 19, 2008

In Chile it's 'Auto' almost always, 'Automóvil' sometimes and never, ever 'Carro' or 'Coche'.
posted by signal at 7:20 PM on June 19, 2008

In Miami/Cuban "carro" is what we say. "Coche" and "auto" are fairly rare, and always used by a South American not a Cuban.
posted by oddman at 7:27 PM on June 19, 2008

Another data point: in Chile, "Coche" is what you push a baby ('guagua', not 'bebé') around in, and "Carro" is what you put your groceries in at the supermarket.
posted by signal at 7:28 PM on June 19, 2008

Interesting, signal. I was going by my parents' usage. How long do you think since "auto" become the common term?
posted by needled at 8:03 PM on June 19, 2008

Not sure when "auto" started being used. I'm 37 and don't remember ever using "coche".
posted by signal at 8:14 PM on June 19, 2008

Seconding carro in Brazilian Portuguese (and Portugal, now that I think about it), and carro in Cuba. I am loving signal's comment above, because in Cuba a guagua is a bus, not a baby.
posted by whatzit at 8:46 PM on June 19, 2008

On further research, I have to amend my earlier statement and say that coche is a rare and/or antiquated Portuguese word that seems to mean "carriage," plus half a dozen extra things in Mozambique. It doesn't appear in my Larousse, and I've never heard it spoken or found it in a written text.
posted by sleevener at 9:24 PM on June 19, 2008

In Mexico, usually carro and sometimes the more formal automovil, about the same way we use car and automobile in NA English. Coche would sound antiquated or Castellano... which are sort of the same thing from a Mexican perspective. :)
posted by rokusan at 12:45 AM on June 20, 2008

I'd like to quote from Cassell's Colloquial Spanish, which is a delightful little dictionary-like book on Spanish usage around the world.
coche (m) Originally a 'coach' or 'carriage', but now the normal word for 'car' in Spain, and the R/P [River Plate], to some extenet also in Mexico, though the last also shares carro (q.v.)with the rest of the Caribbean region. A 'coach', in the sense of a long-distance bus, is usually autobús.
In Guatemala, where a car is usually un carro, coche has come to be the usual word for 'pork', no doubt short for cochino.
That note that coche sounds a lot like "pig," brings me to a point that I'm amazed no one has mentioned yet. In many places in Latina America coche sounds too much like an insult. The typical joke is about the Spaniard (somewhere in Lat. Am.) who wants to "coger un coche." In Spain that just means "take (grab) the car", but over there he's just said he wants to "fuck a pig."

There's a good number of perfectly pleasant, everyday words in Penninsular Spanish that will get you in trouble in Latin America, viz. madre vs. mamá, coger vs. agarrar, concha vs. cáscara.

The DRAE, has this: coche1. (Del húngaro kocsi, carruaje) and then after twenty different sub-definitions: coche2. (De la voz cochi, con que se llama al cerdo) 1. m. cerdo (‖ mamífero artiodáctilo) 2. adj. Guat. sucio.

A slightly different etymology to get to coche = pig, but then in Guatemala it also just means dirty. (The second etymology in translation says, "From the sound cochi, used to call a pig")
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 12:46 AM on June 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

In Portugal, Carro is mostly conversational but advertising, mechanics and insurance will use the word automóvel.
posted by vacapinta at 3:47 AM on June 20, 2008

The word "coches" must derive - as the English word "coach" does - from the town of Kocs (pronounced "coach") in Hungary,

Yup. OED:
[In 16th c. coche, a. F. coche (masc., in 16th c. occas. fem.). Found since 16th c. in nearly all European langs.: cf. Sp. and Pg. coche, It. cocchio, Wallachian cocie; Ger. kutsche (in 16th c. also kotsche), Du. koets; Boh. koč. Pol. kocz, etc. All originally from Magyar kocsi, formerly also written kotsi, ... ‘ungaricum currum [quem] kotczi vulgo vocant’ (anno 1560), used in Hungary from the reign of King Matthias Corvinus, 1458-90. Kocsi is in form an adjective, meaning app. ‘of Kocs’ a place south of Komorn, between Raab and Buda; the full original name (still used in 18th century) being kocsi szeker i.e. ‘Kocs cart’ (car, wagon), rendered in Lat. in 1499 cocius currus, in 1526 currus kotsi. ... Cf. also 16th c. Eng. cochee. The Sp., Pg. and F. coche, were app. immediately from 16th c. Ger. kotsche...]

(My bold.) Note that Hungarian cs is pronounced like English ch.
posted by languagehat at 6:57 AM on June 20, 2008

"Auto" per my Bolivian friend. Note that my friend, who says "manejar el auto, " thinks it's hilarious that I was taught (in the US, but by a Spaniard) "conducir el coche" -- because to him that means "to conduct the wagon."
posted by penchant at 10:09 AM on June 20, 2008

Response by poster: Far too many relevant, useful and interesting answers to choose a best answer. Thanks especially to languagehat and TSL Duval.
posted by zaebiz at 6:35 PM on June 20, 2008

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