Gringo

Gringo

[gring-goh]

Gringo (feminine, gringa) is a Spanish and Portuguese word used in Latin America to denote foreign non-native speakers of Spanish (regardless of race), especially English-speakers from the British Isles, and Americans, Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders, as well as some other Latin Americans.

Hispanophones disagree whether or not gringo is derogatory. The American Heritage Dictionary entry classifies gringo as "offensive slang", "usually disparaging", and "often disparaging". The usages of gringo sometimes are derogatory, paternalistic, and condescendingly endearing, especially when a foreigner condescends to the people and culture he or she is visiting. The enunciation of the word communicates connotation, insult or not. Like many derogatory terms, gringo has been co-opted; drummer Randy Ebright, of the band Molotov, dubbed himself El Gringo Loco (The Crazy Anglo).

Meanings

  • The Anglosphere: Latino migrants to the USA occasionally use the term as a more derogatory synonym of Anglo.
  • In Central America, the word is not pejorative. In Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica the term refers to U.S. citizens. 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 pejorative. 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. For instance, it is a popular nickname.
    • In Uruguay and Chile, apart from being used to refer to citizens of the United States, it can be applied to European people; particularly those who conform to the physical stereotype (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 White people. It is not pejorative.
    • 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.

Etymology

Folk etymologies

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

Mexican-American War

A recurring etymology of gringo states that it originated during the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. Gringo comes from "green coat" and was used in reference to the American soldiers and the green color of their uniforms (U.S. Army uniforms of the time were blue). Yet another story, from Mexico, holds that Mexicans with knowledge of the English language used to write "greens go home" on street walls referring to the color of the uniforms of the invading army; subsequently, it became a common habitual action for the rest of the population to yell "green go" whenever U.S. soldiers passed by.

These explanations are unlikely, since the U.S. Army did not use green uniforms until the 1940s, but rather blue ones, and after that brown (early 20th century including World War I).

Another assertion maintains that one of two songs – either "Green Grow the Lilacs" or "O 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.

Another hypothesis maintains that the U.S. troops, during the Mexican-US war were looking for the green grass (Marihuana) which may be misunderstood by the Mexicans as "gringo"

However, there is ample evidence that the use of the word predates the Mexican-American War.

Other "green" derivations

In the Dominican Republic it is said that the term was a mispronunciation of the words "green gold", referring to the green color of U.S. currency, as well as the corruption of the exclamation: "green go!", said to have voiced local opposition within the volatile context of both U.S. military interventions to the Island. Another interpretation makes a generalized character judgment of U.S. citizens: "they see 'green' (money) and they 'go' (after it)".

"Greek" hypothesis

According to the Catalan etymologist Joan Coromines, gringo is derived from griego (Spanish for "Greek"), the archetypal term for an unintelligible language (a usage found also in the Shakespearean "it was Greek to me" and its derivative "It's all Greek to me"). From referring simply to language, it was extended to people speaking foreign tongues and to their physical features — similar to the development of the ancient Greek word βάρβαρος (bárbaros), "barbarian". Still, scholars are not in agreement about the correct origin of this word.

Brazil

In Brazil, the meaning and use of gringo differs significantly from the Spanish-speaking Latin American countries.

Etymologically, the word is documentedly not native to European Portuguese language and is actually borrowed from Spanish since the 19th century at least. Thus the Greek reference is reinforced there as the word "grego" for Greek in Portuguese (without the "i") would not have given "gringo". Also in Brazilian or even Portuguese popular culture, someone unintelligible is traditionaly said to speak Greek (sometimes German or, much more recently, Chinese).

This is also reflected in that the word usage is not naturally widespread and only generally in regions exposed to tourism like Rio de Janeiro. There, the word means basically any foreigner, North American, European or even Latin American, though generally applying more to any English-speaking person and not necessarily based on race or skin color but rather on attitude and clothing. The word for fair skinned and blond people would be rather "Alemão" (i.e., German).

Other uses

In Mexican cuisine, a gringa is a flour tortilla taco of spiced pork (carne al pastor) with cheese, heated on the comal and then served with a salsa de chile (chile sauce). The explanation of this particular platter refers to a pun : A "gringa" is a "taco al pastor", but white (flour tortilla instead of corn tortilla) and with cheese in it, but has the same pork on the inside as regular "taco al pastor". This meaning that gringos (anglos), may look different on the outside, but are basically the same on the inside.

In the 1950s, the blue Fifty Mexican peso bill was called an ojo de gringa ("gringa's eye").

Gringolandia

The word Gringolandia (Gringoland) is a mock, single-word name for the United States of America. A possible origin is that the U.S. has no single-word name other than the sometimes ambiguous "America". Gringolandia derives from the compounding of the words "gringo" and "-landia" (land of) into this term.

Quotations

  • "Goodbye, if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico – ah, that is euthanasia!" – Ambrose Bierce (last words of his final written communication, a letter to his niece, Lora, in December 1913.)

See also

References

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