Mexicanismos


El Paseo de la Reforma, México D.F.

Mexicanismos are words or phrases in Spanish that are unique to México, but may not be familiar to other Spanish speakers, also known as Hispanophones. French speakers are Francophones and English speakers are Anglo-Saxophones.

Anyways, in Mexico, people use words and phrases that are unique to that region and are commonly misunderstood by other Hispanophones. At UIC (University of Illinois at Chicago), we have graduate students who come from all over the Spanish-speaking world, most of whom specialize in linguistics. They can spot the dialect and region of most Spanish speakers almost immediately. Some have trouble identifying me because I have my American accent and I use words and phrases from almost every dialect that I’ve ever heard. I’m like a sponge in this regard. Sometimes, someone will throw their hands up in the air and just ask me where I’m from. They’re often surprised to hear that my parents were from México. My cousin’s husband thought I spoke with an Argentine accent. Once, a friend and I were speaking, and then I didn’t hear something she said. So, I said, “¿Mande?” and she said, “¡Ajá! You’re from Mexico!” That simple little mande gave me away as a Mexican.

Once, at the end of the semester, a professor from Argentina told us that she would bring us a torta for the last day of class. To most Mexicans and me. a torta is a type of sandwich that is served on a bun with meat and other condiments. I didn’t eat before class because I wanted to be polite and eat everything that was offered to me. Well, she came to class with a torta, but it was a cake, as in a pastry for dessert. I left the classroom hungry that day.

Another time, I brought some Thanksgiving leftovers to UIC for lunch. A graduate student from the Basque Country in Spain asked me what I was eating. I told her guajolote and camotes. She didn’t know what I was talking about. For her turkey was pavo not guajolote and yams or sweet potatoes were patatas not camotes because they didn’t differentiate between the different kinds of potatoes in Spain.

I have a friend who grew up in Seville, Spain, and we once had a minor misunderstanding. He told me that his car had broken down: “Se me estropeó el coche.” Being the nice guy that I am, I wanted to be helpful, so I offered him a ride: “¿Quieres un aventón?” I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was a little upset when he replied, “¿Y yo qué te hice?” You see, to a Mexican, un aventón is a ride, but to just about any other Spanish speaker un aventón implies some kind of physical violence. I explained to him that I only wanted to help him by giving him a ride to wherever he wanted to go and I am happy to say that we are still friends to this day.

Another graduate student from Spain taught a class that had many Mexican-American students. She frequently used the word coger, meaning “to get” or “to pick up” when she spoke not realizing that to Mexicans coger is a profanity that refers to the act of sexual intercourse that begins with the letter “f.” So one day, she talked about picking up her dog: “Cogí mi perro.” She was surprised when the class began to laugh until someone explained to her what she had said.

While I was in México, I learned a few more mexicanismos. My cousin used the diminutive “-is” instead of “-ito, -ita.” For example, she went to see her “amiguis” instead of her “amiguitas.” Before we went to visit my cousin David Rodríguez in Celaya, everyone refered to him as Davis.

In the U.S. we have Spanglish, which is the mixture of English and Spanish, but I only thought it existed north of the Rio Grande (In Mexico, they call it El Río Bravo). For example, you take an English word like “to check” and make it Spanish: chequear, instead of comprobar or some other Spanish word that already exists. Anyway, they have a similar word in Mexico: checar. Several street venders approached me and called me jefe, showed some product they were selling, and said, “Checa esto.” Or, “Check this out,” in English. So this word is a little different than the Spanglish word chequear because it’s a mexicanismo. Or maybe it should be called inglañolismo.

I always thought of an aquarium as un acuario, but to my cousin in Celaya it was el pecero. I had never heard the word before, but I knew exactly what he meant. Then when I was in Mexico City, when people talked about taking the bus they still called it el camión, but now a lot of people also called it el pecero. That made perfect sense because if you look at the buses with their large windows, they do look like aquariums with people swimming inside instead of fish.

If you park your car in México City, you’re likely to meet el viene viene. He is a self-appointed parker of cars and is often found on public streets and grocery store parking lots. He doesn’t officially work for anyone. He’s just there–and everywhere else. You can’t miss him. He pops up out of nowhere waving his salmon-colored mechanic’s rag as you park your car. As you back up, he tells you how far you can back up by saying “Viene, viene.” When you get out of your car, he’s standing next to you with outstretched hand and you’re supposed to give him a tip of two pesos or so.

Then, there’s also the aguinaldo that is a bonus that most employees receive before Christmas and before el Día de los Reyes to buy holiday gifts or pay off debts. At Christmas, children received candy bags. They were told, “Come get your aguinaldo!”

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David Diego Rodríguez, Ph.D.

I write about whatever comes to mind. También enseño español y escribo acerca de los mexicanos y la enseñanza del español.