Do you know where the term “gringo” originated?

If you don’t, don’t lose any sleep over it. In reality, its doubtful anyone really knows. Nonetheless there are probably as many explanations and speculations on the topic as there are people who claim to be authorities on it. In fact, Wikipedia claims there are 53 versions. In listening to those “authorities” I have concluded there are perhaps 3 or 4 basic themes. Variations over time however, have swelled the actual number to 53, that is, if you believe Wikipedia.

One recurring theme suggests the term originated during the Mexican American War in 1846-1848. This theory holds that the word Gringo comes from “green coat,” in reference to the American soldiers and the green color of their uniforms.

Another story, also from Mexico, and similar to the one above, holds that those Mexicans who could read and write English used to write “greens go home!” on street walls referring to the color of the uniforms of the invading army and subsequently it became common for the rest of the population to yell “green go!” whenever U.S. soldiers passed by. These explanations are unlikely however, since the U.S. Army did not use green uniforms until the 1940s.

One of my favorites is the assertion that one of two songs – either “Green Grow the Lilacs ” or “Green Grow the Rushes ” – was popular at the time and that Mexicans heard the invading U.S. troops singing “Green grow…” and contracted this into gringo. However, there is ample evidence that the use of the word predates the Mexican-American War.

In fact, that version has morphed into one in which Mexican cowboys, gathered around their campfire along the Rio Bravo River (Rio Grande in the U.S), would listen to their U.S counterparts camped on the opposite side of the river singing “Green grow the Lilacs.” Not understanding English however, they referred to their U.S neighbors across the river as the “gringos” or those who sing the song, “gringo”.

There are many popular but unsupported origins for this word, several of which relate to the United States Army in some way or another.

Many people from the U.S assume the term is exclusive to Mexicans. In fact, most, if not all of Latin America use the term and not all of them use it to refer exclusively to U.S. citizens.

Wiki tells us that “gringo, gringa” is a Spanish and Portuguese word used in Latin America to generally denote people from the United States, but in some cases it is also used to denote any foreign non-native spanish speaker regardless of race, especially English speakers.

Here, in Mexico, I have come to learn from my mexican friends, the term applies to white U.S. citizens only.

The only controversial issue concerning the word is whether it is a derogatory term. Even in this however, there is no unanimous agreement. Dictionaries such as the American Heritage Dictionary classify gringo as an “offensive slang,” “usually disparaging,” and “often derogatory.” The authoritative Diccionario de lengua de la Real Academia Espanola however, disagree on whether or not gringo is derogatory.

Latin migrants to the U.S. occasionally use the term as a more derogatory synonym of Anglo. However, it is also said the term may apply to anyone who lives in the U.S. regardless of race.

In Mexico and Colombia the term applies exclusively for U.S. citizens and is , widely accepted as a colloquialism. Depending on the context, it may or may not be an insult.

In Central America, the word is not derogatory. In Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama the term refers to U.S. citizens (regardless of race)

In the Dominican Republic it also means a non-free range store bought chicken (pollo gringo).

In Puerto Rico, the term refers to U.S. citizens in the U.S. mainland.

In the countries of South America where this term is used, the word is not derogatory. In some countries it may be used to refer to any foreigner who does not speak Spanish as a native language, or in Brazil, someone who does not speak Portuguese as a native language, but in other countries it is used just or especially to refer to U.S. citizens; it may also be used to describe a blond or brunette white native person with soft facial features and light colored eyes. It is also a popular nickname.

In Uruguay and Chile, apart from being used to refer to citizens of the United States, it can be applied to all Europeans; particularly those who conform to the physical stereotype (tall, blond hair, blue eyes, fair skin).

In Peru the word gringo is used all over the country among white and non white population. It is used to refer to white people but it is not insulting.

In Ecuador the word gringo can be used to refer to foreigners from any country, not only the United States, though the likelihood of being described as a gringo increases the closer one’s physical appearance is to that of a stereotypical northern European.

In Argentina it was used in the past to refer to European immigrants. In modern times the term is rarely used at all, but it can be used to refer to small and medium farmers from the Pampas that still use it as a nickname.

So there you have it. Hope it answered any questions that might have kept you up at nght.

Sleep well!

See you May 1
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Ah Spring! birds are chirping, flowers are blossoming and nature is in its full glory. With it comes its most anticipated ritual: Spring Break

Due to a lack of chairs this young woman found a way to improvise

Another young woman makes a similar choice

Let the dancing girls begin!: bikini clad young women demonstrate their dancing skills as they crowd the stage at Cabo San Lucas

A multitude of Spring Breakers, armed with tents and canopies, descend upon the otherwise small town of San Felipe in Baja California, Mexico

(Next blog: April 15, 2012)
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