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The Deal with “What’s the Deal”

January 19, 2010

From Roosevelt’s New Deal to “Deal or No Deal” on NBC to “What’s the deal”, “What’s the dealio”, ” Here’s the deal”, “Let’s Make a Deal”, “Deal with it”, “Cut a Deal”, “Deal breaker”, “Deal maker”, “Raw Deal”, “Big Deal”, “Dealer”, or simply “Deal!”, this word in English is both ubiquitous and full of meaning, where in Spanish and Latin America there are perhaps hundreds of translations none of which are quite akin to the meanings of these phrases in English and all of which are emblematic of cultural differences.

Where to begin… The word deal comes from some Old English and Balto-Slavic roots and most often is used to mean a business transaction, to handle, to cope, to occupy oneself/itself, to distribute, take action, buy/sell drugs and the list goes on and on.

The interesting thing is that if you pick any of these phrases in English that use the word deal, a completely different set of words in Spanish will arise: trato, acuerdo, pacto, negocio, transaccion, convenio, reparto, parte, mano, comprar y vender, etc., which most literally translated back into English go something like agreement, pact, negotiation/business, transaction, covenant, deal (cards), part/allotment/segment, hand (as in cards), buy/sell. You can see that none of these signifiers encompass the meanings of the word deal in its entirety.

I myself rarely go through a day without using the phrase what’s the deal with (fill in the blank). Variations of course are what’s his/her deal, what’s your deal, etc. What’s interesting to me, is that in America we are always making a deal. This word commonly refers to a business transaction or agreement yet we use it all the time to simply assess states of being and plans for a day or evening. We Americans clearly have rooted into our cultural identity the word deal and its implications.

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