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¡Ask a Mexican! Taunting Task

Each sentence from the following pregunta is an excerpt from the multiple questions in the Mexican’s archive that address the same topic.

Dear Mexican: Having been called a gabacho, I couldn’t help being interested in the etymological root of that word. I’m never sure what the reference is with the term gabacho, since in my Spanish dictionary (Bantam New College Revised from 1987), gabacho means “Pyrenean” (someone from the Pyrenees, the mountains between France and Spain), “Frenchy” or “Frenchified Spanish.” My question is which came first: the Spanish “gabacho” for the French, or the Mexican “gabacho” for the gringo? Does this go way back to those French vatos that got their trousers kicked on Cinco de Mayo in Puebla? Ramen is yummy.

Dear Readers: Few features of this column are more controversial that the Mexican’s preference for gabacho instead of gringo to describe gabachos. Technically, gabacho refers to an inhabitant of the Pyrenees, but it became a Spanish slur for a Frenchman over the centuries. The Royal Academy of Spanish states that gabacho originated from the Provençal word gavach, which means “bad-speaking.” (Quick note for amateur etymologists: Don’t believe the 2000 collection Chicano Folklore: A Guide to the Folktales, Traditions, Rituals and Religious Practices of Mexican Americans, which states that gabacho comes from an arcane Castilian term meaning “a current of water,” or the NTC’s Dictionary of Mexican Cultural Code Words, claiming, “When Mexican men noted that foreign men often helped their wives in the kitchen, something a Mexican male wouldn’t dream of doing, they began calling such men gabachos or ‘aprons.’ ”)

When the French briefly conquered Mexico during the 1860s, the Mexicans correctly ridiculed the occupying army as gabachos; after los franceses left, the term remained, and Mexicans applied it to their perpetual European antagonists: Americans. Nevertheless, many Mexicans grumble that I should call gabachos gringos, since it’s the more accurate term for gabachos (funnily, none ever ask that I stop slurring our pasty amigos). So why does this Mexican use gabacho? Besides my growing up with the word, it allows Mexicans to smuggle two ethnic slurs in uno handy word — not only are we calling gabachos gringos, but we’re also calling them French. Parlez-vous double insult, cabrones?

Send questions to themexican@askamexican.net. For a longer version of the column, go to www.laweekly.com.

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