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En las intersecciones, es común ver una señal roja y octagonal que dice "alto", el mismo tipo de señal que en inglés dice stop.

En inglés, stop es un verbo imperativo, pero no creo que haya un verbo en español como "altar", y "alto"; no parece una forma imperativa.

¿Qué significa "alto" en este contexto, y por qué la señal no dice "pare"?

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I've been told the English "Halt!" and the Spanish ¡Alto! have the same origin. –  jrdioko Feb 2 '12 at 18:04

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

You can find the definition in RAE

alto.

  1. interj. U. para ordenar a alguien que se detenga o que suspenda lo que está haciendo.

So it is an interjection which means "stop". It's like an order to stop.

El policía dijo: ¡Alto!

Of course the person who created the signal could have written "pare" instead and people would stop, though "alto" usually is said by people who can command you to do something and you can't refuse (like policemen); "Pare" could be used by any person.

Indeed in Spain those signals use the English word "Stop" instead of "Alto".

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In some Latin American countries Stop signs say Pare and not Alto; however, RAE shows that Alto comes from the German Halten (Detener); therefore, it's an imperative word used in this context.

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Where do the signs say Pare instead of Alto? I've only seen Alto on signs in Mexico and Nicaragua. –  jrdioko Feb 2 '12 at 18:05
    
@jrdioko In Colombia, Argentina, Chile and the Dominican Republic at least in some regions. I've been to Mexico several times but I don't remember exactly whether the sign says Pare or Alto. Check this out: www2.geog.okstate.edu/users/lightfoot/stop.html I ran an image Google search for "señal de pare" and found several images that say Pare. –  Icarus Feb 2 '12 at 19:09
    
Perhaps it's true of most of South America rather than most of Latin America? –  hippietrail Feb 5 '12 at 12:18
1  
@hippietrail perhaps, but the Dominican Republic is not in South America. Perhaps in some Latin American countries is more appropriate. I will amend. –  Icarus Feb 5 '12 at 19:01

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