Sue Burke (mount_oregano) wrote,
Sue Burke

Spain’s word of 2013: escrache

Spain has a word of the year: escrache (pronounced ays-CRA-chay). It refers to protests to denounce a politician, usually held in front of that individual’s home.

Why this word? It says a whole lot about what happened in Spain in 2013. According to Google, it was one of the most searched-for words in Spanish last year.

Spain has never had a word of the year before. Fundéu BBVA, the Foundation for Urgent Spanish, was started in 2005 to answer questions about the proper use of Spanish for the media. This year, it decided to find a word of the year that fit the foundation’s reason for being. “We looked for a word that had some interest from a linguistic point of view, whether for its origin or how it was formulated, and that has been on the front page in recent months,” said Joaquín Muller, general director of Fundéu BBVA.

It considered twelve words, including expapa, which was used for the first time in history, describing a pope who had renounced the Holy See. Other candidates were autofoto or “selfie”; austericidio or “austericide” in reference to economic hardship brought on by government budget cuts; and similar words drawn from economics and social networks.

Escrache came into use in Argentina and Uruguay in the 1990s during investigations of crimes committed during their dictatorships. Its origin is unclear. Perhaps it came from the Italian words for “smash” or for “spit”; Argentina has a lot of Italian immigrants. Or it may have come from the English word scratch. It came to mean “holding someone accountable.”

The word arrived in Spain in 2013 to describe the protests organized by People Affected by Mortgages (PAH). That group says that mortgages in Spain are created in a way that benefit banks at the expense of homeowners. For example, if your mortgage is foreclosed and you are evicted in Spain, you must continue to pay the mortgage unless the bank manages to sell the property for enough money to make a profit, and banks often use straw buyers to make sure the sale price is always too low. And in Spain, you can’t declare bankruptcy.

Due to the epidemic of foreclosures as a result of Spain’s ghastly economy — 27% unemployment — PAH proposed changes to the law. Lawmakers resisted making changes, and in early 2013 PAH began to organize escraches in front of lawmakers’ homes to urge them to support the bill. To the politicians, this was “violent harassment.” Mortgage laws didn’t change much in 2013, but escraches were promptly prohibited.

Oxford went with selfie as the English word of the year for 2013. That word did appear in the news fairly often, usually in gossip pages. But escrache made front-page news day after day, at least in Spain. This word has political heft.

— Sue Burke

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