El Chile Mexican Slang Essay

Thanks to the popularity of Mexican cuisine north of the border (around the world, actually), there are plenty of Spanish words that English speakers knowingly adopt in day-to-day use: taco, tortilla and quesadilla are pretty standard imports. But you may be surprised to learn that hundreds more Spanish words are in everyday use. And if you think this is due to the United States’ rapidly growing Hispanic population, you’d actually be wrong. Spanish words have been used in English for a very long time.

Before Mexicans came to the United States, Americans came to Mexico. Present-day California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada and Utah, as well as parts of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming, were all part of Mexico until they were ceded to the United States at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. And although the change in sovereignty meant a massive influx of English speakers, it also meant that thousands of Mexicans living in the region suddenly became Americans. Even earlier, in 1819, Spain ceded their Florida colony (which included parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana) to the United States. As a result of a century of shifting borders, Spanish and English have had numerous opportunities to rub off on each other. Here are just some of the Spanish words that you probably use every day.

  • Arizona – from Spanish Arizonac, itself an adoption of the word alĭ ṣonak, meaning “little spring”, from the local O’odham language. Alternate etymology may be the Basque haritz ona (“good oak”).
  • California – a mythical island from the 1510 Spanish novel Las sergas de Esplandián by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo.
  • Colorado – “red-colored” (referring to the color of the river that is the state’s namesake).
  • Florida – "flowery"
  • Montana – from montaña (“mountain”)
  • Nevada – "snowy"
  • New MexicoNuevo México
  • Texas – the Spanish adopted the word tejas from the language of the indigenous Cado people. It means “friends” or “allies”.
  • Utah – derived from the name of the indigenous Ute people, via Spanish yuta.

  • Buena Vista – “good view”
  • El Paso – “the pass”
  • Fresno – “ash tree”
  • Las Vegas – “the meadows”
  • Los AngelesEl Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula, “The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Porciúncula River”
  • Monterey – “king’s mountain”
  • San Antonio – “Saint Anthony”
  • San Francisco – “Saint Francis”
  • Santa Cruz – “holy cross”

Nothing’s more American than a cowboy, right? Well actually, the first people to herd cattle on horseback in North America were the vaqueros who introduced the ancient Spanish equestrian tradition to the Southwest. Their name is derived from vaca, the Spanish word for – you guessed it – cow.

  • buckaroo – anglicization of vaquero
  • corral – “pen”, “yard”
  • chapschaparreras: leg protectors for riding through chaparral
  • desperadodesesperado (“desperate”)
  • hackamore (a kind of horse bridle) – jáquima (“halter”)
  • lariatla reata (“strap”, “rein”, or “rope”)
  • lassolazo (tie)
  • quirt (a short horseman’s whip) – cuarta: quarter
  • ranchrancho (“a very small rural community”)
  • rodeo – from rodear (“to go around”)
  • stampede – from estampida
  • ten-gallon hat – from Spanish tan galán ("so gallant"), or possibly galón ("braid")

  • arroyo – “stream”
  • breeze – from brisa ("cold northeast wind")
  • caldera – “cauldron”
  • canyoncañón (“pipe”, “tube” or “gorge”)
  • mesa – “table”
  • playa – “beach”
  • sierra – “mountain range”
  • temblor – from temblar (“to shake”)
  • tornado – from tronada (“thunderstorm”), from tornar (“to turn”)

  • alligatorel lagarto (“the lizard”)
  • armadillo – “little armored one”
  • barracuda – possibly from barraco (“snaggletooth”)
  • bronco – "rough"
  • burro – "donkey"
  • cockroach – anglicization of cucaracha
  • mosquito – literally, “little fly”
  • mustangmustango, from mesteño (“wild”, “untamed”)

  • aficionado – “fan”, from aficionar (“to inspire affection”)
  • bodega – “cellar”
  • fiesta – “party”
  • macho – “the property of being overtly masculine”
  • matador – from matar (“to kill”)
  • patio – “inner courtyard”
  • plaza – "public square"
  • piñata – “jug”, “pot”. Mexican Spanish, from Latin pinea (“pine cone”)
  • pueblo – “small town”, derived from Latin populus
  • quinceañeraquince + años (fifteen years)
  • quixotic – derived from the name of Cervantes’ famous, delusional knight Don Quixote.
  • rumba
  • silo
  • tango
  • telenovela – "soap opera"

  • armada – “armed", from Real Armada Española (“Royal Spanish Navy”)
  • bandolierbandolera
  • conquistador – "conqueror"
  • flotilla – diminutive of flota (“fleet")
  • guerrilla – "small war"
  • renegade – from renegado ("turncoat”, “traitor")
  • vigilante – "watchman"

  • cargocargar (“to load”)
  • embarcadero – “boat dock”
  • embargoembargar (“to seize", "to impound")
  • galleongaleón, a large sailing ship with three or more masts
  • stevedore – from estibador ("ship loader"), literally, "one who stuffs"

  • burrito – “little donkey”
  • chorizo – “spiced pork sausage”
  • cilantro – “coriander”
  • daiquiri – named after a port city in eastern Cuba
  • habanero – “from Havana”
  • jalapeño – “from Jalapa”
  • mojito – diminutive form of Cuban Spanish mojo (“sauce”), derived from mojar (“to moisten”)
  • nacho – named after Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, who is purported to have invented the dish in 1943
  • oreganoorégano
  • piña coladapiña (“pineapple”) + colada (“strained”)
  • salsa – “sauce”
  • sherry – from Old Spanish Xerés [ʃeˈɾes], modern Spanish Jerez [xeˈɾeθ]
  • taco – “plug”
  • tequila – named after the town where the spirit originated
  • tomatillo – "small tomato"
  • vanilla – from Spanish vainilla, diminutive of Latin vaina (pod)

Spanish Words That Are Actually…

But English isn’t the only language with a penchant for absorbing words from other languages. Many words that English has acquired from Spanish originally came from other languages, mostly those of native American populations that were subjugated by the Spanish colonial empire.

Nahuatl

(Mexico)

  • avocado – anglicization of Spanish aguacate, from Nahuatl ahuacatl
  • chilichilli
  • chipotle – “smoked chili pepper”, lit. chilli + poctli (“smoke”)
  • chocolatexocolatl (“hot water”)
  • cocoa – Spanish cacao, from Nahuatl cacáhuatl
  • coyotecoyotl
  • guacamoleahuaca-molli, ahuacatl ("avocado") + molli ("sauce")
  • mesquite – from Mexican Spanish mezquite, from Nahuatl mizquitl
  • molemolli (“sauce”)
  • tamaletamalli
  • tomato – Spanish tomate, from Nahuatl xitomatl
  • peyotepeyotl (“caterpillar”)
  • mescal – Spanish mezcal, from Nahuatl mexcalli
  • shack – Mexican Spanish jacal (“hut”), from Nahuatl xacalli

Arawak Languages

(Caribbean and North Coast of South America)

  • canoe – Spanish canoa, from Arawakan canaoua
  • iguanaiwana
  • hurricane – from huracán, from Taino hurákan
  • key/quaycayo, from Taíno cayo
  • papayapapáia
  • potato – European Spanish patata, from Taíno batata (sweet potato)
  • savanna – from sabana, from Taíno zabana
  • tobacco – Spanish tabaco from a Taíno word for a roll of tobacco leaves

Quechua

(Andean South America)

  • condor
  • Inca – "lord” or “king"
  • jerky – Spanish charqui, from Quechua ch’arki ("dried flesh")
  • pampa – “plain”
  • puma

Carib

(northernmost South America)

  • peccary – Spanish pecarí, from Carib paquira
  • cannibal – from Spanish caníbal, alteration of caríbal, from Caribe

Mayan

(Central America)

  • cigar – Spanish cigarro, from Mayan sicar (tobacco)

Chibcha

(Central America)

Ohlone

(Northern California)

  • abalone – Spanish abulón, from Ohlone aluan

Arabic

  • albatross – from Arabic غطاس al-ġaţţās ("the diver"), possibly also the source of alcatraz (“pelican”)
  • adobe – from Arabic الطّوب al-tub (“the brick”, "mud brick")
  • crimson – from Old Spanish cremesín, via Arabic قيرميزل qirmizI; originally from Sanskrit कृमिज krmi-ja ("worm-made")
  • tuna – Spanish atún, from Arabic تون tun

Basque

  • chaparral – from Spanish chaparro (“small evergreen oak”), from Basque txapar ("small", “short")
  • Zorro – Spanish for “fox”, from Basque azaria

Catalan

Celtic

  • caminocammanos, "road"

  • bonanza – "prosperity"
  • cafeteria – from cafetería ("coffee store")
  • incommunicadoestar incomunicado (“to be isolated”)
  • jade – from piedra de ijada ("stone of flank")
  • nada – "nothing”
  • palmetto – from palmito ("little palm")
  • peonpeón (“laborer”)
  • platinum – from platino ("little silver")
  • pronto – "soon”, “prompt"; “hurry up!” in Mexican Spanish
  • savvy – from sabe (“knows”) and sabio (“wise”)
  • siesta – "nap", originally from Latin sexta hora ("sixth hour")
  • suave – “smooth”; sometimes “cool” in Latin America
  • vamoose – from vamos (“let’s go”)

Want to learn even more Spanish words?

¡Si, claro!


When you hear the Spanish word taco the first thing that comes through your mind is a delicious tortilla with a spicy beef or chicken filling. Mmm yummy! Try to Google images of taco and you will see that 99.9% of the results are this traditional Mexican dish. But this word has a humongous variety of different meanings in Spanish. Just check the Real Academia Española Dictionary and you will get 27 definitions including some colloquial usages. Here are the Spanish differences for the word taco.

Common Spanish Words for taco

The generic definition of taco is a wedge used to plug a hole or something that obstructs the flow of a liquid. It is also a pool stick or the shoe heel for either men or women. For example, ladies use tacos or tacones (plural of tacón) that means high heels. In Puerto Rico, young women also refer to their high heels as las tacas.

Different Spanish meanings for taco: Beyond Taco Bell

If you travel through Latin America, you will be amazed by the abundance of meanings that this simple word has. In Chile and Colombia it is a traffic congestion. Another meaning in Chile is a scrap of paper to make a quick note, like a post-it and in Costa Rica it is to be scared as in the phrase ¡Qué taco!

Soccer is very popular in Latin America, and in some countries the soccer shoes are called tacos de fútbol.

Spain has several usages. It could be used in reference to years of age such as María tiene veinte tacos. Another meaning is a bad or insulting word and also to make a fuss.

In Venezuela and Cuba taco is an intelligent person. For Bolivians it is a person that has a high alcohol tolerance and doesn’t get drunk easily and when Puerto Ricans say Ese tipo es un taco they mean that he is a very nice person.

If you hear the phrase Darse el taco it can mean to drink wine or, in El Salvador, to brag. There are other expressions such as Se me hizo un taco en la garganta that is used when someone is about to cry and can barley talk after experience a strong moving feeling. In México you will hear un taco de cancer in reference to a cigarette or un taco de ojo when you are delighted by what you see in terms of the opposite sex.

So here I feature only 20 different meanings for taco, but I know that there are many more meanings. How do you use the word taco in your country?

Check out these other Spanish Slang Expressions articles.

Featured photo credit: Taco by TheCulinaryGeek via flickr

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