If you spend any significant amount of time in Mexico City – or even just a single day, for that matter – you’ll almost certainly hear the phrase “ahorita” being uttered. It doesn’t exist in most Spanish-language dictionaries, so what does it mean exactly?
A Brief Spanish Lesson
Roughly translated, ahorita means “in just a moment from now.” The root word, ahora, means “now.” The “-ita” suffix is a diminutive, which “lessens” the meaning. Mexican Spanish is filled with these diminutivo nouns, adverbs, and adjectives. For example, beso is a noun meaning, “the kiss” or “a kiss,” depending on the article preceding it. Besito is a diminutive noun meaning, “the small kiss” or “a small kiss.” Similarly, momento means “moment,” as in Un momento, por favor, which means “One moment, please.” Mexicans prefer to say “Un momentito, por favor,” which means “One small moment, please.”
The augmentative – opposite – of diminutives are also common in Spanish, usually in an “-ote” (masculine) or “-ota” (feminine) form. If beso is “kiss” and besito is “small kiss,” then besote is “big kiss.”
In Just a Moment from Now
Sounds simple, right? The problem is, “in just a moment from now” has a very wide period of interpretive time, and Mexicans tend to overuse this word. I’m generalizing of course, but I sometimes heard this word six times a day. Here’s how it might work for you:
- Step into a restaurant for lunch and the waitress is wiping down tables in the back of the restaurant. She’ll acknowledge your presence with a smile and an “ahorita,” which of course means, I’ll be with you in just a moment from now. In this context, it means you’ll wait perhaps 20 seconds as she sets the washrag down and fetches menus for you.
- Finish your meal and ask for the check and you’ll hear it again. “Ahorita,” the waitress says, and then disappears into the kitchen. You might have to wait a few minutes for the check as she tracks down the manager or asks the cook if he remembers what you ordered. Getting the check always takes a ridiculously long time. This is likely a cultural misconnect that bothers me more than it bothers the average Mexican diner, but I never figured out why it always takes so long to get the bill. I’m the only customer in here!
- Need change? “Ahorita” once again. (In this regard, I learned right away to simply pay with exact change, leave any extra coins as the tip, and then just leave.)
- On your way back to work after lunch, you run into an old friend or former co-worker. You hug, exchange cheek besitos (there’s that diminutive again), and suggest meeting soon for drinks. “Ahorita,” your friend replies, nodding. My advice to you is, don’t clear space on your social calendar anytime soon. 🙂
- Stop by the dry cleaner after work and ask the launderer if your clothes are ready. “Ahorita,” he’ll tell you, and then smile and say “Five minutes” in perfect English. You should probably take a long walk around the block, because “ahorita” – and “five minutes” – in this instance means “15 minutes.” “Ni modo,” you might say to yourself. Ni modo is another only-in-Mexico expression that you won’t find in any dictionaries but that basically means, “It is what it is.”
- Ask your boss for a raise. He or she will smile, shake your hand, swear up-and-down that you’re one of the best employees he or she has ever hired, and then give you the requisite “ahorita.” If you get that raise any sooner than six months from the day you requested it, know that you’re doing better than most of us. Oh, wait – that’s how it works in the U.S. as well! Maybe ahorita isn’t such a foreign word after all. 😉
What words have you encountered in your travels that are difficult to translate into other languages?