1

My name is Clay. A Mexican friend finds the name somewhat amusing: as if somebody were named "Dirt," I guess.

He said my equivalent name in Mexico would be "Barro." I find that "Arcilla" also means "Clay", but the Mexican speakers of Spanish I know are unfamiliar with that word.

Is it seldom-used? Archaic? Regional? Poetic?

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I suggest difference the use of both words in context, is better the use of word Arcilla for refer the material used for jar or sculpture (as @Diego says), instead Barro that it could be assumed for some meanings:

  1. El niño se resbaló en el barro.
  2. No te toques ese barro! (reference to acne "pimples").
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2

I can't tell you is arcilla is used in every single Spanish-speaking country or not. That might require compiling a list from various contributors (like this answer).

I can tell you that is use is neither archaic nor poetic. In Spain is as used as barro. The difference might be that barro is mud too, while with arcilla you always convey that is a material with a certain composition or characteristics.

As far as I know, it does't even matter if has been heated or not. You can describe a jar or sculpture as made of barro or arcilla. People will understand you from the context.

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  • BTW, I'm unsure if the correct word in English is heat for the process that hardens the clay. In Spanish is actually cocer (boil), although no water in involved, only really high temperatures in an oven. – Diego Nov 11 '14 at 0:02
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I can tell you that clay is called arcilla in Argentina. :)

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I'm from Spain, and it's like Mauricio and Diego says.

Arcilla is for the material for sculpture while barro it's more used for the dirt in the ground where children play with water, like Diego say: "mud".

But in Spain we don't said barro for pimples. Pimples in spanish is "granos".

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  • So if I go by "Arcilla" instead of "Barro", I reckon it's like calling myself William instead of Billy-Bob. – B. Clay Shannon Nov 14 '14 at 23:39
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    The exact translation of clay in spanish is arcilla. Not barro, if this what you are afaid of.But arcilla and barro can get mixed easily. I didn't get to the point before and maybe I got misunderstand. In spanish you are B.Arcilla Shannon. – Mateo Sombritas Nov 14 '14 at 23:55
  • Good! I'm "high-toned"! – B. Clay Shannon Nov 15 '14 at 0:27
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Barro really means mud. Arcilla is a more precise translation of clay. A lot of people don't carefully distinguish between clay and mud, in either language. This is especially true in casual conversation.

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1

I'm from Mexico, I know clay can mean 'arcilla' so I guess it's because people speak different in different parts of the country, that might explain why they don't know (or don't find it common) the word 'arcilla'.

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