*above photos courtesy of sodahead.com
The word hot conjures up all types of images – the weather, a cup of coffee, a desert, stolen jewels, a fire, Brad Pitt even 🙂 According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word hot has about nine different meanings and double that in everyday vernacular. A person can use the word hot in sentences as varied as – “It’s really hot in here” to “That phone is a hot seller” to “Those diamonds are hot”. And the crazy thing is that in each sentence, the word hot will mean something different..!! Now pretend you are going to Mexico and use the word hot in Spanish to cover all those meanings…It doesn’t work.
And of course, I learned that the hard way. Well, really I learned it in a fun way. People usually just poked good natured fun at me and laughed at the doble sentido (double meaning) of my comment. I am not going to cover all the different words for hot in Spanish just the top three. I begin with calor. Calor translates to heat or warmth. You use it when you are describing the weather or if you are physically warm. For example, “It’s hot today” translates to “Que calor hoy“. Or “I am hot” translates to “Tengo calor“.
Caliente also means hot but it refers to liquids, beverages or food. So when you go into your friendly neighborhood cafe, you can order your coffee caliente or helado (cold). Caliente also refers to hot showers (la ducha caliente). Therefore, you would never order a hot coffee as el cafe calor or have a hot shower as la ducha calor. There are no double meanings in those statements, they are just linguistically incorrect. However, if you use caliente to describe yourself as warm, you will definitely get a good natured ribbing from your friends 🙂
The same rule applies to hot when you are referring to something spicy. You would not use calor or caliente to describe a hot dish which is spicy. You have to use the word picante. Therefore, the sentence “That habenero is hot.!” translates to “Ese habenero está picante.!” Or you can also say that a flavor is hot/spicy in general – sabor picante. Now picante does have a double meaning as racy or cutting edge. For example, you can refer to a movie or a song as peliculas picantes or canciones picantes.
Caliente also has a double meaning. As I mentioned above, you would never say “Tengo caliente” to say “I am hot” in terms of the weather or a fever. Of course, you can say it if you are referring to yourself as a sexy bombshell (or Brad Pitt)..!! And that was my biggest mistake in the very beginning. I was always saying caliente instead of calor when I was warm. My friends would always joke with me and ask me which one was I really (wink, wink). Eventually, I just started joking back that I was calor, caliente and picante..!! In other words, I was hot, hot, hot..!! That always made everyone bust out laughing 🙂