What does Gringo mean

8 11 2006

The term “Gringo” is used in Mexico to refer to Americans. Depending upon it’s use (and user) it may or may not be an insult.

My experience with the term in Mexico is that it is a convenient way to refer to Americans, much shorter that “Americano” or “Norte Americano”. Most of the time it’s use is not offensive or meant as a derogatory or demeaning remark.

Many Mexicans will not use the term around Americans thinking that it might offend. Even after establishing friendships when the term “Gringo” is used, often someone will apologize.

Where did the term originate? There are several stories, urban myths and rumours:

From Wikipedia: “A recurring false etymology for the derivation of gringo states that it originated during the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. It has been claimed that Gringo comes from “green coat” and was used in reference to the American soldiers and the green color of their uniforms. 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. This is an example of an invented explanation, because gringo was used in Spanish long before the war and during the Mexican-American War. Additionally, the U.S. Army did not use green uniforms at the time, but blue ones.

Another legend maintains that one of two songs – either “Green Grow the Lilacs” or “Green Grow the Rushes, O” – was popular at the time and that Mexicans heard the invading U.S. troops singing “Green grow…” and contracted this into gringo.

From the Snopes Urban Legends Reference Pages: “Although the first recorded use of “gringo” in English dates from 1849 (when John Woodhouse Audubon, the son of the famous nature artist, wrote that “We were hooted and shouted at as we passed through, and called ‘Gringoes'”), the word was known in Spanish well before the Mexican-American War. According to Rawson, the Diccionario Castellano of 1787 noted that in Malaga “foreigners who have a certain type of accent which keeps them from speaking Spanish easily and naturally” were referred to as gringos, and the same term was used in Madrid, particularly for the Irish. 

The true origin of gringo is most likely that it came from griego, the Spanish word for “Greek.” In Spanish, as in English, something difficult or impossible to understand is referred to as being Greek: We say “It’s Greek to me,” just as in Spanish an incomprehensible person is said to hablar en griego (i.e., “speak in Greek”).”

According to the Real Academia Española (the ultimate reference for the Spanish language): 1. Adjective: Foreigner, especially one who speaks English, in general one who speaks a language other than Spanish. 2. Foreigner 3. In Mexico, Cuba, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua an American 4. In Bolivia, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru a blond fair skinned person 5. Unintelligible language
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17 responses

14 11 2006
Global Voices Online » Blog Archive » Mexico: Meaning of Gringo

[…] Lee Iwan meditates on the meaning and many proclaimed etymologies of “gringo.” David Sasaki […]

15 11 2006
Daily Dose: Tuesday, November 14th - Travel News - Adventure Logue

[…] What does Gringo mean? […]

22 11 2006

i good cue, is (as almost all langauge) checking the tone of voice and facial expresion.
mexicans seldomly make ups literal sense out of words, usually, they will try to deliver a message using indirect messages and almost never telling things directly for it is consider unpolite.

7 07 2007

Gringo is a word we use to call a YANKEE, cuz 4 us in LATIN AMERICA is bad if the YANKEES call themselves “AMERICANS”, it will be an insult to us, cuz we also are AMERICANS. That’s why we call them Gringos, and sometimes it could be an insult. Anyway it sounds more polite than the word YANKEES. (ARE YOU A YANKEE?)

7 07 2007
Lee Iwan

The use of the term “American” is a common discussion point among Latin America citizens.

The term “American” is used by the USA to refer to their citizens, but the “Americas” include North, Central and South America, in essence all people from these areas are Americans.

“Yankee” is a term that is exclusive and refers direct to USA citizens.

It was first used to describe people from New England, and later during the Civil War in the US, referring the the Northern States that were fighting cessation from the Union by the Southern States.

See more here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yankee

I discovered during a trip to southern Brazil that “Gringo” refers to any foreigner, regardless of country or origin.

22 05 2008
propaganda press

ok gringos :D
Green Grow the Lilacs

18 11 2009
Ted Logos

I grew up in Miami hearing the word ‘gringo’ all the time. I never heard it in a nice way. The latinos were mean and nasty and didn’t want anything to do with us white folks. In my school whites where the oppressed minority.

I still can’t stand to hear that word. In my mind it is always derogatory. I would rather be called a ‘yankee’ but I’m not from up north.

Hey, I have an idea. Just call us Americans. That’s what we are. I understand many latinos want to be called Americans also because they live in the Americas, but leave that title for the citizens of the United States of America. We called it first.

26 11 2009

Gringo is about the equivalent to the term ‘beaner’; albeit beaner’s not necessarily racist, most people whine and moan about being referred as such.

If anyone is curious about the origins of the term ‘American’ being used in the context of the United States – well, technically before the existence of the US – I suggest you read the book “The War of Jenkins’ Ear”. The evolution of the term ‘American’ evolved similarly to ‘Latin’, ‘Latino’, and ‘Hispanic’.

12 04 2011
lexie juarez

indeed i love gringos :D haha <3 very interesting article , i had always called white american people ''gringos'' not as a way to insult em but as a way to refer to em :) . i had no idea where this word was coming from , but now i know .thanks.

30 06 2011

the word GRINGO is use in all latin american not just Mexico, i live in Panama and we say GRINGOS too, it is not an insult. why? because we don’t usually say nort american people because IT’S a large word.

28 12 2011

Ted logos you have problems the native Americans are the one that called it first or the Spanish you know. If you want to take the word offensively than yeah you’re a gringo.

1 04 2012

It has nothing to do with race (because not only the people from the US are the whites in the continent America, remember that Hispanic is not a race and Spaniards are white).
The word gringo is just used to say that a person comes from the US.
Not his skin/hair colour or his language.

15 05 2012

Gringo is a term used for a fat white chicken that can be easily plucked and hence the word gringo for a gullible white person

29 06 2012

I’d just like to say that Mexicans are NOT the ONLY ONES that use GRINGO to identify a U.S. Citizen. If not all, most spanish speaking countries use Gringo. In bootcamp I met Colombians, Peruan, Cubans, people from Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic,and I’m sure I’m missing some but all of them, every single one of them, used Gringo. I have Mexican family and therefore of Mexican decent. Even though, I have Tohono Odham from both sides of my families with German, Spanish, and French. My ancestors are from the Sonoran Dessert, AZ, CA, and northern Mexico. I consider myself from the Sonoran Desert, Mexico Or U.S.A. I know how to survive in the desert, I can identify what weeds are edible, when, and where I can look 4 them and also what wild dessert animals I’d have to hunt, when, where to find them, and how to hunt them if I had to survive. I also know what dessert plants to use 4 medicinal purposes for many illnesses. My father looks T.O. More than my Mother. My Father is 5’9″ and mother 5’7″. My Father is dark, has hazel eyes, with curly hair and kind of looks like he’s from the Middle East. My Mother is light with redish brown hair and bright Green eyes. I’m the oldest, 5’6″, dark with curly hair . Next my sister 5’7″, light skinned with blue eyes. My sister 5’7″ dark, with hazel eyes. Finally my little bro is 6’4″ light, curly hair and blue eyes. In common we have I believe our T.O. Nose. The reason I described my family is because most Mexicans are mixed with native American blood and if white people were mixed also, then they’d probably look like my family. I do have blacks and whites in my family and angers me when I read comments left by people that have so much unnecessary and horrible hate, that they start generalizing or focus in one community with false information really angers me. I’ve yet to meet a person using Gringo as an insult in all my 32yrs. Also not only White US citizens are called Gringos- Hispanic- latinos that are US citizens, blacks, Hindus, Natives, middle eastern, of asian decent, and well u get the picture. So this answer is NOT CORRECT! No not only Mexicans use Gringo, and no not only white US citizens are called Gringos all of USA citizens are called Gringos by spanish speakers 4rm other countries and no its not an insult. Oh yeah back to why I described my family- we all are Americans! How much more American can I get? Only if I was %100 Native American. So for the person that wrote we called American first don’t Be ridiculous because if we start bringing back the past, “Americans” in the Americas or what is called the New World would only apply to %100 Native Americans! Never in my family do we insult each other or make insulting comments about each others races or ethnic backgrounds. So if this page doesn’t want to receive nasty comments such as one left saying that gringo means fat white plucked chicken, (which is not true, and immature),then please correct your answer to the definition of gringo. Its incorrect and its insulting for us who have Mexican family when most, if not all spanish speaking people from different countries use Gringo as much as Mexicans especially when stated that it may or not may be used as an insult. ITS NOT AN INSULT!!! Thankx!

9 10 2012
Renee Owens

I have never heard “gringoes” used as anything BUT an insult. The vast majority of the time, even calling someone a “foreigner” (as so many have said it really means) is a not very nice term –whether in English or Spanish, Portuguese, or any other language!!

I do not like the term “gringo” because i am not a gringa; i am an American! or a “NORTE Americana” if you like. And, please, do not tell me that it takes to long to say “Norte Americana”! If they can say, “electroencephalographistas,” they can take the time to say Norte Americana. Anything else is not correct and not acceptable.

i do not call people of other colors and cultures “spics”, “wetbacks”, “abbos”, “chinks”, “redskins”, “pollocks”, “rag heads”, “frogs”, “ruskis”, “niggers”, or “negroes” precisely BECAUSE it could be taken as an insult.

In fact, i would argue that it is not the person speaking, but the person hearing, that determines whether something is an insult or not. For it matters not whether the denigration is intended or not, but whether it is received as a slur. And people of all cultures and races deserve to be treated with respect.

“Treat others the way you want to be treated.”

23 03 2015

Texas history taught me that it was cause of the green coats , but later I met a native American who laughed at me when I told him that meaning, he said the word gringo in his language meant “land thief”. So my question is, is it really a Spanish word or a native American word?

1 06 2015

It should be especify that is a term used for South and Central Americans to refer to North Americans. Within our culture it also mean something that you don’t understand what a person is saying.

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