Dear Straight Dope:
This has bugged me since I read it a while back, but I let it go, thinking that the SD Science Advisory Board wouldn't blatantly print something absurdly incorrect ... I guess I was wrong. My problem: Someone asked what the song "La Bamba" was all about, and requested translated lyrics, which I believe were mostly correct, but here's what SongBird said:
Now the words that were translated here were, "Para bailar La Bamba, para bailar La Bamba, se necessita una poca de gracia, una poca de gracia por mi, por ti, y arriba, y arriba," etc. Let me first say that I'm fairly sure that the "you need to be a little bit funny" is not even close to the correct translation. Anyone with high school Spanish, or even a dictionario can tell you that the CORRECT translation is:
"To dance the Bamba, to dance the Bamba, you need to have a little bit of grace, a little bit of grace, for me, for you, and up and up," etc. I am assuming that the error here was that the Spanish word for "funny" being "graciosa" (or even "divertido," also meaning funny), was mistaken for the Spanish word for "grace" being "gracia" ... which, by the way, makes SO very much more sense anyway. But I'm wondering why nobody ever corrected this SD staffer?
Thank you for your response, SC. I guess no one corrected me because we still think it’s the right answer. I, too, took Spanish in school (for five years) and also thought that “gracia” must mean grace. However, striving to maintain the high standards of the Straight Dope, I did not trust myself and consulted with friends who have spoken Spanish all their lives and with a mariachi band player, all of whom tell me that La Bamba is a song which plays on words.
As with so many words (regardless of language), “gracia” has several translations, and if you pick up that Spanish/English dictionary we all probably used in high school (and mine’s pretty dog-eared), you’ll find that it can mean: “grace, gracefulness, benefaction, graciousness, pardon, mercy, remission of a debt, witticism, wit, joke, joker, jest …” Further down in the dictionary, “tener gracia” means “to be witty; to be funny” (though the songwriter did not use this actual construction).
Since the song is a play on words (see my answer in Cecil’s Mailbag again), it makes sense that the voice speaking in the song is trying to be funny/witty. In fact, “wit” is probably the best translation of “gracia” in this context, since it suggests both humor and skill. So: “se necessita una poca de gracia” – “one needs a bit of wit.” It’s a pun, OK?
Thanks for writing in to us. It’s always good to double-check facts.
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