OMG Obamacare’s Spanish-language site is all wrong! Or not.

The latest hyperventilation over Obamacare?  The Spanish-language version of the Web site is allegedly written in “Spanglish,” instead of “real” Spanish.

Except it’s not.

The first example many critics are pouncing on is the site’s use of the word “prima” to mean “premium.”  The critics note, correctly, that in Spanish the word “prima” means “female cousin.” And in fact it does.  It also means “insurance premium.”  (Those crafty Latinos, coming up with multiple definitions of the same word. What will they think of next?)

Latino medical worker, via Shutterstock

Latino medical worker, via Shutterstock

First, here’s how the Affordable Care Act Spanish-language site uses the word “prima,” meaning “premium.”  In this case, the site defines a “premium” as the amount you have to pay to your insurance company or medical plan. Pretty basic definition, but it works.


The critics includ the AP:

The website translates “premium” into “prima,” but that Spanish word is more commonly used to mean a female cousin, Plaza said. A more accurate translation, she said, would be “cuotas,” “couta mensual” or “costo annual.”

And Ezra Klein at the Washington Post:

The Web site, for instance, translates the word “premium” into “prima” — a word more typically used in Spanish to denote a female cousin. Veronica Plaza, a professor who teaches medical Spanish at the University of New Mexico, told ABC that the site should’ve used “cuotas,” ”couta mensual” or “costo annual.”

Well, the Royal Spanish Academy‘s official dictionary begs to differ with AP and Klein.  The Royal Spanish Academy is “the official royal institution responsible for overseeing the Spanish language.” So they might know a thing a two about the language.  Here’s their definition of pro”prima”: “The price the insured person pays the insurance company.”


And not that we need much additional proof, but here’s Univision using the word “prima” as well:


Now, you can haggle over regional dialects of various Spanish speakers in the United States, if you want to. But it seems rather petty. Though that’s exactly what AP did when confronted with their error, and the accurate definition of “prima” from the Royal Spanish Academy:


That’s nice for people in the southwest, but what about Spanish-speakers in the rest of America?

Remember, we are not an officially Spanish-speaking country, so we have no official version of the Spanish language to write in.  Thus, we have Mexican Spanish, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Panamanian and Argentine versions of the language – not to mention, Spanish from Spain – to name a few.  And while the languages are virtually the same, they’re not 100% the same.  Much in the same way that the English we speak in America is essentially the same thing they speak in the UK, though there are are differences, like the American use of the word “pants,” which in the UK means “underwear.” Or my personal favorite – the time I asked a flight attendant on Virgin Atlantic to return my “fanny pack” that she had stowed for take-off. Hilarity ensued on that one.

As for Spanish, they’ve got some funny regional differences as well.  For example, you might want to be careful when referring to the very large insects they have in Puerto Rico (a Chilean friend made that mistake while talking to a woman he’d just met).  Or when discussing sea shells (a Mexican man made that error when telling my Argentine friend that the shell on her belt just fell to the ground).  And if you know what’s good for you, you won’t use any word to say “grab” other than “agarrar.”

So which Spanish should the ACA Web site use? And more importantly, is it really fair to use this as the primary example of how the Spanish is supposedly “wrong” on the Spanish-language version of the Affordable Care Act Web site?

No it’s not fair at all.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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29 Responses to “OMG Obamacare’s Spanish-language site is all wrong! Or not.”

  1. Aurora Humarán says:

    “Me liquea el rufo”, that would be Spanglish. I have read this website, and though it does have some mistakes, I would not say that this is: 1) Spanglish 2) a poor translation.

  2. UFIA says:

    What is a napkin? And don’t call me mate, in America mates fuck each other.

  3. MediaMentions says:

    Obamacare is all lies. A little melodramatic? I apologize. Though as it turns out Obamacare reports have been liberally
    fudging the numbers. For some insight into the actual facts, here’s a good
    place to start:

  4. The_Fixer says:

    I can understand using “u” for “you” and “2” or “4” instead of “to” and “for” respectively when you’re limited to 160 characters in a text message. I don’t use them, but can understand it. “kk” instead of “OK”? That’s just dumb, lazy or both as it doesn’t even save any characters.

    But using those types of substitutes in regular written communication or in E-Mail? It just makes one look stupid or lazy.

  5. The_Fixer says:

    Oh, I had gleefully forgotten just how badly the shrub had mangled American English. Thanks for bringing a smile to my face.

  6. Monoceros Forth says:

    Hah! I’ve never done the first but I’ve been guilty of the second. In my idiosyncratic version of English an emoticon is a mark of punctuation.

  7. Indigo says:

    That would fit the retro-agenda nicely since Late Elizabethan is virtually intact in parts of Appalachia. [OMG!]

  8. karmanot says:

    My favorites are a heart to punctuate an ‘i’ and a smiley face ‘period.’

  9. BeccaM says:

    I had a feeling this ‘Obamacare Spanish site is in Spanglish!’ kerfuffle was more hypocritical wingnut concern trolling. Particularly since as Monoceros Forth points out, this fresh faux outrage seems to be coming mainly from the same sorts who want to ban the use of any language but English in the federal government and its official communications anyway.

  10. Monoceros Forth says:

    I suppose you’d have to draw a quite arbitrary line in time somewhere. Drawing that line at the date of the publication of the King James Bible would probably appeal to the reactionaries. That would be a fairly convenient date also because Shakespeare had completed most of his best work by that time so we’d be able to keep his innovations.

  11. Monoceros Forth says:

    We are doomed, aren’t we? I’ve always striven to use literate English even in text messages and tweets; after all, it’s not as though typing “u” instead of “you” saves more than a few tenths of a second. It’s difficult not to pick up some of the bad mannerisms, however. How did “OK” turn into “kk” for example?

  12. Thom Allen says:

    Let’s just look at a native English speaker speaking – well – English.

    “People say, well, do you ever hear any other voices other than, like, a
    few people? Of course I do.”

    “The people in Louisiana must know that all across our country there’s a
    lot of prayer — prayer for those whose lives have been turned upside
    down. And I’m one of them.”

    “I’ll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what
    happened inside this Oval Office.”

    “So long as I’m the president, my measure of success is victory — and

    “I remember meeting a mother of a child who was abducted by the North
    Koreans right here in the Oval Office.”

    They misunderestimated me.”

    “There’s an old saying in Tennessee—I know it’s in Texas, probably
    in Tennessee—that says, ‘Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me —
    you can’t get fooled again.'”

    “Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many
    OB-GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this

    “For every fatal shooting, there were roughly three non-fatal
    shootings. And, folks, this is unacceptable in America. It’s just
    unacceptable. And we’re going to do something about it.”

    “One of the things I’ve used on the Google is to pull up maps.”

    “Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.”

    “I’m telling you there’s an enemy that would like to attack America,
    Americans, again. There just is. That’s the reality of the world. And I
    wish him all the very best.”

    “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They
    never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people,
    and neither do we.”

    “I couldn’t imagine somebody like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy of Hanukkah.”

    “You bet I cut the taxes at the top. That encourages
    entrepreneurship. What we Republicans should stand for is growth in the
    economy. We ought to make the pie higher.”

    “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?”[

    “As yesterday’s positive report card shows, childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured.”

    “Then you wake up at the high school level and find out that the illiteracy level of our children are appalling.”

    The Spanish on the website is perfect, just perfect.

  13. Indigo says:

    Can you imagine English without our loan words? It wouldn’t even be proper Anglo-Saxon.

  14. nicho says:

    Actually, the new “first language” of the US is quickly becoming “texting.” OMG — r u srs? Teachers are beginning to report that kids are using this in class papers.

  15. FunMe says:

    I am American with Latino background. Let us just say this … they are messing big tine LOL

  16. Or he’s selling female cousins!

  17. Monoceros Forth says:

    We could direct them to George Bernard Shaw’s proposed phonetic alphabet but I don’t think they’d go for that.

    Another thought: do you think they’d want to expel foreign-language loan words as well?

  18. Indigo says:

    Won’t it be fun to see what they do to regularize the spelling?

  19. emjayay says:

    Google translate thinks premium is prima in Spanish, and premium payment is pago de la prima. Seems like another Obama related tempest in a teapot.

  20. nicho says:

    From my Spanish-English dictionary:

    prima​ SF 1 [de seguro] premium
    2 (= gratificación) bonus ► prima de peligrosidad danger money ► prima de productividad productivity bonus;

    That was easy.

  21. Monoceros Forth says:

    The good news is that when the rightists take over they’ll ban the use of Spanish in all government communications and publications because, after all, if you can’t speak English you don’t belong here. That’ll solve the problem very neatly.

  22. Monoceros Forth says:

    Obama himself is gay apparently with a string of hot secret lovers, so sure, I guess Obamacare is gay too.

  23. intoxination says:

    How dare you question such a grave error on the site! Don’t you realize that in the world of words with multiple meanings, someone could mistake the word for being “female cousin” on a site about healthcare insurance? I’m not a Spanish speaker, but even the American version is very confusing. I saw “premium” and thought Obama was filling my car up with the good gas!!!

  24. dangling participles? That sounds awfully gay. You mean Obamacare is gay?

  25. Hue-Man says:

    It’s funny to see this “controversy” when the peculiarities of American English were highlighted recently with the NYT poll. As a native English speaker, there were some words used regionally that I didn’t recognize and others I had no word for. I doubt that 99% of Spanish-speaking Americans would have any trouble understanding the meaning of “prima” on a government health care insurance website.

  26. Monoceros Forth says:

    I’m sure there are more, similar crimes to discover–superfluous commas, dangling participles, maybe even a misspelling or two. I demand a congressional investigation. Darrell Issa can head it up.

  27. therling says:

    Wait a tick while I get my trainers out of the boot of the motor and then I’ll knock you up. Blimey!

  28. Guest says:

    Wait a tick so I can get my trainers out of the boot of the car and then I’ll knock you up. Blimey!

  29. Indigo says:

    Oh, the Royal Academy. The critics are not aware that Latin American Spanish and Castillian are significantly different langauges, like Americano vs. Ye Oldie British? Well shiver me timbers an’ let honour bee true to the Royalles. Bottom line: whatta a loada crap that critic’s hauling around.

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