The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has this line:

Po' little 'Lizabeth! po' little Johnny!

The Spanish translation of that is:

¡Probecita Lizabeth! ¡Probecito John!

Since the speaker says "po'" instead of "poor", is that why the translator transmogrifies "pobrecit" into "probecit", or is it a double typo?

That can hardly be, because a little later it reads:

¡Ay, probecita! ¡Que el Señor y todos los santos perdonen al pobre Jim!

...and later yet:

Poor things! to be left alone in the cold world so.
¡Pobrecitas! Quedarse así solas en este frío mundo...

Is it common for less-educated (or younger) ones to pronounce "pobrecita/a" as "probecita/o"? It is easier to say...

  • 4
    Do you know where the translation was done? probe is common in Galician and standard in Asturian (having undergone a process of metathesis to shift the R), and those are typically more rural areas than elsewhere in Spain. If it's a Spain translation, that would make sense (although I've not personally heard in Castilian). No idea if probe is heard in Latin America, though. Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 4:29
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    Great, now I'm going to have this song stuck in my head all day long. :-)
    – Charlie
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 6:26
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    @VinkoVrsalovic But the relevant part is that it's not a typo. It just one way of translating the effect that is already present in the English original version. What term would you use?
    – RubioRic
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 12:11
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    Visit Argentina sometime, and you'll hear people say "pibicito/a". Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 15:57
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    Anyway it is just a local misuse, I've heard people of low education say that in Barcelona, but never from low education people in Chile, Perú or Ecuador. I mean probe. Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 10:50

3 Answers 3


Probe solo aparece en el DLE en 1803 y de 1817, con la definición:

Lo mismo que POBRE

Por otro lado en el CORDE probe aparece en numerosas ocasiones, desde por ejemplo:

... este Núñez ... es un probe hombre é no tiene que prestar ...
[Anónimo, 1548, Testimonio original de información para el cargo y descargo de Pedro de Valdivia]


... que ruegue a Dios le permita
vorvé a naser; pero probe.
[Anónimo, 1966, Canciones españolas]

  • 2
    Still probe is used in Asturian, a Spanish dialect spoken in north part of Spain.
    – Ra_
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 14:52
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    @Ra_ Note that Asturian is, alongisde Mirandese, a language in the Leonese branch, not just a dialect (unless you're referring to the Castilian dialect spoken in Asturias, which in my experience only uses pobre) Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 17:05

Is it common for less-educated (or younger) ones to pronounce "pobrecita/a" as "probecita/o"?

Yes, it is. In the late nineties there was even a summer hit called "Miguel Canales (Probe Miguel)" by Triana Pura.

Ay que le estará pasando al "probe" Miguel
Que hace mucho tiempo que no sale
Que le estará pasando al "probe" Miguel
Que hace mucho tiempo que no sale

English translation

What's happening to po' Miguel?
It's been quite a while since he came out last time
What's happening to po' Miguel?
It's been quite a while since he came out last time

You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8OJX_IaE44

  • 1
    In fact in Spanish you can get lots of examples of letter swapping, some of which become the norm: latin crusta gave the spanish costra, the latin parabola gave the spanish palabra, miraculum gave milagro, crocodilus gave cocodrilo etc.
    – enxaneta
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 14:35
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    @enxaneta You're right but at some point of time those spurious words became the norm. That's not the case with "probe" yet.
    – RubioRic
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 15:50
  • Have you read the answer of @RosieMBanks?
    – enxaneta
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 15:55
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    @enxaneta Yes, of course. I've upvoted it.
    – RubioRic
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 16:45

In the thread Cambio de letras Probe/Pobre; Tadre/Tarde you can see that people agree that this is definitely a vulgarism, and that is somewhat common

probe en lugar de pobre o Grabiel por Gabriel es algo que se escucha con relativa frecuencia en Andalucía

The book Modismos comparativos de Andalucía indicates that this is a case of metathesis (in grammar, the transposition of sounds or letters in a word), although the book adds no further details about how pervasive this particular example would be.

The (google)book Noticia sobre un libro que ha publicado el Sr. D. Francisco Silvela indicates that probe is in fact a vulgarism, corruption of "pobre", but highlights the interesting note that pobre comes from latin pauper, and that you have probe in some other languages like Galician and Portuguese. The book claims that due to this it might be easier to hear probe instead of pobre in the west of Spain (in communities that are closer to Portugal or Galicia).

As an answer to an existing question explains in ¿Por qué no decimos “crocodilo”?, sometimes these examples of metathesis are the ones that prosper, instead of the regular form. Nevertheless, probe is a vulgarism that seems in fact to be the perfect fit for the original "Po' little 'Lizabeth!"

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