Calque

Grammar Glossary for Spanish Students

San Diego
San Diego tiene muchos rascacielos. (San Diego has many skyscrapers.). Port of San Diego photo by Dale Frost; licensed via Creative Commons.

Definition of Calque

A word or phrase in one language whose semantic components (words or parts of words) are translations from another language. For example, the English phrase "blue blood" is a calque of the Spanish phrase sangre azul (sangre means "blood" and azul means "blue"), which at one time apparently referred to the visible veins of fair-skinned people. Similarly, the Spanish rascacielo is a calque of the English "skyscraper" (rasca means "it scrapes" and cielo means "sky").

A calque contrasts with a loanword, in which a foreign word or phrase is adopted outright without an attempt at translating the elements, such as the English phrase "piña colada," which is a simple borrowing of the Spanish phrase rather than a translation of the words (they mean "strained pineapple").

Also Known As

"Loan translation" in English, calco in Spanish.

Examples of Calques

Another English calque from Spanish is "moment of truth," from el momento de la verdad, a bullfighting term. Examples of Spanish calques from English include hombre rana ("frogman"), alto el fuego ("cease-fire"), lavaplatos ("dishwasher"), luna de miel ("honeymoon"), salvaje Oeste ("wild West"), disco duro ("hard disk"), coche bomba (car bomb), and banco de datos ("data bank").