The Intoxication Miscommunication [Or: A Theology of False Cognates]


We had just come in from recess and he was the last one through the door, except one child had stopped in the doorway and started yelling.

“Hon, no you’re not… Please don’t come into my class yelling.”

“Yes, Miss, yes, I am intoxicated miss I AM INTOXICATED!”

I was beginning to believe that perhaps it was true, this tiny third grader projecting so the whole school could hear.

“You cannot come into my class like this. Stop yelling and explain what the problem is. Intoxicated means borracho. You are not intoxicated.”


“I am going to give you a discipline form. This is totally inappropriate.”

“But Miss, I am intoxicated…”

Just then, the bathroom door across the hall opened and this small child ran in and slammed the door. I turned and faced my class and took a deep breath, ready for the day to be over already.

“Miss, in Spanish, intoxicado means that there are comidas toxicas in you. He probably means he ate something bad and has diarrhea,” a bright student said timidly.

(Welcome to Mexico, where saying diarrhea in a third grade class makes students nod sympathetically, not laugh)

“Well, he’ll still get a discipline form because he didn’t listen when I told him to stop. And now you all know, that word does not mean the same thing in English that it means in Spanish. Let’s do some math, okay?”

Photo by What What via Flickr

Photo by What What via Flickr


Sometimes I talk about learning our new language of grace on this blog, leaving behind our Babel-confused languages and speaking the language that we learn as God speaks it over us. But in learning our new language, sometimes we make awkward mistakes, sometimes it goes too fast and we can’t understand. And sometimes there really are cognates, things in this world that we can use to help us understand the next, beautiful created things that remind us of the creator.

But sometimes we think we’ve got something down, we really think we understand, we’ve figured out a new cognate and so we go out and we announce it. We start using it like we’re sure and sometimes other language learners understand, they think we’re right and they start following our lead. But sometimes we’re wrong. Sometimes we’re using embarasada like it means embarrassed (it actually means pregnant) or asistir like it means assist (it means attend, like be present at). Or, metaphorically, sometimes we’re talking about things on this Earth like we understand the ways of God, like we’ve got it figured out.

I think God has to enact punishment on that. Even if we’re confused, even if we didn’t know better, because we were yelling so loud we literally didn’t hear him tell us that’s all wrong. Like my sweet student who didn’t think he deserved discipline because he thought he was expressing himself correctly but should have stopped shouting long enough to listen. We can be single minded and unyielding in our path to Always Be Right.


There are some things I have trouble hearing God’s voice and God’s words on amid all the yelling, controversial topics in the church that people are sure they’ve figured out. There’s a lot of yelling on both sides and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of listening, to each other or to God. So I’m going to avoid comments on those types of things, because we don’t need more voices adding to the mayhem. I’m confident that God will be pulling aside those using the wrong words and misunderstanding His language and showing them the error of their ways in His own perfect time, but until I’m sure the language I’m speaking here on this blog is one of grace, I’m going to bow out of those conversations.

This doesn’t mean I won’t talk about those things in real life with my real life friends or mention them on the blog, it simply means I won’t take a stand here, because the internet is not the right place for that for me. This blog is not meant to be a platform to shout from, but a community where we can get some conversational practice in our new language of grace.

I hope you’ll speak up, sometimes, too.



I’m linking up with Not So Small Stories and Jack of All Trades today. Check out the other fun posts in both link ups!

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  1. Oh, goodness! What a crazy experience, but I love how you told this story and applied it to how we often speak without really knowing. I resonate deeply with your language of grace. I have a feeling that we would be heard more clearly and understood more readily, if we stopped yelling and trying to prove our point!
    Thanks for a great post!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I’m working on listening before speaking, and this day reminded me of just how quickly we can forget that that is the best way.

  2. Claire · · Reply

    Last year I had a student from Mexico who came up and in her whiniest voice goes “Ms. B… They’re molesting me.” We had an English vocabulary lesson on the word “bother.”

    1. Hahaha excellent. That’s one that the kids here learn pretty early on I think, I haven’t had much of that this year!

  3. I love the comparison here, and totally agree about all the yelling online. To me, it’s not the place. Not on my blog, not on Facebook. I think the older I’ve gotten the more I’m realizing that I’m probably way more wrong about a lot of little things. I look forward to the relief of all our egos in heaven. :)

    1. Oh, I love that last sentence, and I so look forward to that. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. ps- Thanks for linking up!

  5. I also struggle to listen before speaking. At times it seems the words are just waiting to jump from my mouth before my thoughts are even contrived. It’s hard work.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Me too, but I’m working on it!

  6. Laura · · Reply

    What a confusing situation to endure! But I know all about Mexico and Montezuma’s Revenge. Thank you for sharing your insights. :)

    1. Montezuma’s revenge is real, but it’s real for the Mexicans too. Digestive problems are a pretty normal occurrence around here, even with being careful.

  7. I love your comparison! Thanks so much for linking up!

  8. Welcome to the community! I’ve used the classic cognate “estoy embarasada’ before (right after I assured a group of teenage boys that ‘Estoy muy buena’–yeah). It’s so hard to know whether we should be the shy student who pipes up with the real answer, or to just remain out of the shouting match. I guess that’s something we have to leave up to God–he’ll give us the time and the place and the urge if he wants us to.

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