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Antes del fin del año me había arreglado con Rosa Cabarcas para dejar en el cuarto el abanico eléctrico, los recursos del tocador y lo que siguiera llevando en el futuro para hacerlo vivible (Garcia Marquez, Memories of my melancholy whores).

I have always had a hard time discerning when toilet (English word) means WC and when dressing (makeup) table. Google Translate gives "dressing table" for Spanish "tocador". The English translation for the above paragraph (Grossman) is as follows:

overheated the polemic, and made nostalgia popular. Before the end of the year I had arranged with Rosa Cabarcas to leave in the room the electric fan, the toilet articles, and whatever else I might bring in the future to make it livable.

where the translator has translated "los recursos del tocador" as toilet articles. In short, my question is what do Spanish mean by saying tocador. Do they mean the dressing table or lavatory? Just in case, where I live people almost always use toilet (pronounced towalett) to mean bathroom (lavatory).

  • Does boudoir sound much dated in English? – Jdamian Jan 25 '17 at 23:09
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Tocador refers to a dressing table. From the DRAE, omitting some senses, with my translation following:

tocador1 De tocar2. 1. Mueble, por lo común en forma de mesa, con espejo y otros utensilios, para el peinado y aseo de una persona. || 2. m. Aposente destinado al aseo y peinado de una persona. || 3. m. Caja o estuche para guardar alhajas, objetos de tocado o de costura, etc.

tocador1 From tocar2. 1. m. Piece of furniture, commonly in a table shape, with mirror and other utensils, for a person's combing and grooming || 2. m. Room intended for a person's grooming and combing || 3. m. Box or container for storing jewels, ornamental or sewing objects

As you can see, this closely matches a number of definitions that English has had in the past. From the OED, omitting a number of senses we have

†2. A cloth cover for a dressing table, formerly often of rich material and workmanship; […] Obs. || †3. The dressing table covered by this cloth; a toilet table. Obs. || 4. As a mass noun. The articles required or used in applying make-up, arranging the hair, dressing, etc.; a toilet set. Also: a case containing these. Now hist. and rare. || 8. A dressing room (in later use esp. one equipped with washing facilities) […] Now hist.

So as we can see this sense was commonly used at one time to refer to a sort of dressing table, rather than a place to urinate or defecate, although clearly it isn't anymore, and since the Spanish tocador doesn't possess any of the meanings associated with the commode, we can tell it just means the dressing table or a box of containing hair pieces, make up etc.

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In México people usually say baño for restroom/bathroom; in this room there's usually a toilet and a shower and in a few cases a tub.

We do sometimes use the word tocador to mean restroom and I must admit that out of context and by reading only the excerpt is very difficult to tell whether García Márquez is referring to a dressing table or a toilet room. In addition, the author was Colombian (although he had been living in Mexico for many years when this novel was written) so there could be a regional bias.

But after reading to the whole chapter, it is very clear that the narrator is referring to a dressing table:

  1. Both words (baño and tocador) are used.
  2. The other excerpt where tocador is used is used to mean dressing table: "Antes de acostarme arreglé el tocador"
  3. Throughout the text, the author uses a colloquial and relaxed language so it is very unlikely he would use tocador to mean toilet room.

Side note: perhaps something that also added to my confusion is the choice of the word recursos; this word is not common for this context in my region.

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