From Academic Kids

Gringo (feminine, gringa) is a term in the Spanish and Portuguese languages, with various related meanings, and often misunderstood by English speakers.


Etymology and meaning

Original meaning: Etymologically, gringo comes from griego ("Greek"), since Greek was the proverbial example of not understandable language ("It's all Greek to me!"). It was applied to speakers of foreign languages, especially the English language, by the eighteenth century. It was later extended to white-skinned people even if Spanish-speaking, and can sometimes even mean just blond.

Latin America and Spain: In most parts of these countries gringo means white-skinned person speaking a non-Romance language. In Argentina, it generally refers to an immigrant – especially from Italy, but not from Spain. However, influenced by the Mexican meaning, many people now apply this term only to people from the United States. Normally it is not derogatory.

Mexico, Central America and Venezuela: In these countries the word normally means specifically a US citizen, regardless of language spoken or ethnic origin (though most often associated with white-skinned people). In general terms, it is used simply to cover the perceived absence of an adequate demonym for people from the USA as American is used to include all people of the Americas. Depending on context and tone of voice, it can be either derogatory or affectionate.

Brazil: after learning the word from its Spanish-speaking neighbors, the Portuguese meaning of the word has kept closer to its original sense.

The Anglosphere: Latin American migrants in the USA occasionally use the term as a synonym of anglo. Most English language speakers have met the word in Western films. In the United States, the term can provoke reactions incommensurate with its largely innocuous Spanish-language sense.

Other uses

In the context of Mexican cuisine, a gringa is a mixture of spiced pork (carne al pastor), cheese, and diced pineapple sandwiched between two wheat tortillas. The combination is heated on the comal until piping hot and then served with a choice of salsa.

Folk etymologies

A recurring fake etymology for the derivation of gringo states that it originated during the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. The 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 US troops singing "Green grow..." and contracted this into gringo.

Another version, heard in Brazil, refers to the United States Air Force base near Natal, Brazil during World War II. The American soldiers, wearing green uniforms, would be commanded "green, go!" by their sergeants during training.

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 US soldiers passed by.

While the legends are imaginative attempts to explain the current Mexican meaning of the word, they do nothing to address the fact that gringo was used in Spanish long before either incident, and that during the Mexican-American War, the US Army did not use green uniforms.

The story of "Green Go" can also be heard in most other Latin American countries, with numerous variations. Some stories have the term originating as recently as the Vietnam war. Other stories attribute the term to other conflicts, all of which occured too late in history to account for the earliest usages of the word.

See also


  • To be a Gringo in Mexico – ah, that is euthanasia!Ambrose Bierce



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