Via a comment by vacapinta in this AskMetaFilter thread (well worth reading in its own right), I found Yuri’s blog Effective Swearing in D.F. (“Towards a Manual of Communication for English Speakers visiting Mexico City”), a continuing examination of how chilangos (inhabitants of Mexico City) have fun with their marvelously expressive variety of Spanish. Here, pretty much at random, is the post “Johny, Miguel, Tiburcio…”:

Chilangos like to avoid lame, merely descriptive sentences. Every time they can they throw some colorful term to surprise and amuse the listener. Instead of using boring pronouns as yo, tú, mi, ti, Chilangos use Johny, tunas, Miguel, Tiburcio. The substitutions are immaterial in terms of meaning. They are purely ornamental. Here are some examples:
yo (I) => Johny
tu (You) => tunas
mi (me) => Miguel
ti (you) => tinieblas, tiburcio, tiburón
acá (here) => Acámbaro, Michoacán
pa’llá (contraction of para allá, over there) => payaso

He gives examples like “¿Quién se chupó mi Viña Real?” [Who drank my wine cooler?] “Johny” [I did], and “¡Hazte payaso!” [Move over!, lit. ‘Become a clown!’]. And this post not only describes the difference between nacos and fresas, it provides a hilarious video showing the two stereotypes talking with exaggerated stereotypicality. May a thousand such blogs bloom!


  1. A.J.P. Crown says

    Finally something linguistic to show my daughter and her little friends who are learning Spanish. I like the photoshopped dog picture.

  2. A.J.P. Clown says

    And I LOVE the clown picture.
    Hazte payaso! (lit. Become a clown!): Move over!

  3. My wife has been learning some Spanish. She loves the word she was taught for “retirement”, which she prefers to pronounce in English – jubilation.

  4. Graham Asher says

    Happens in Swedish too, remembering from long ago: ‘det är jag inte’ (‘no I’m not’) can become ‘det är Jante’ creating a fictional scapegoat called Jante to take the rap – ‘I’m not (whatever the accusation was) but Jante is’. No doubt people who’ve been in contact with Swedish more recently than 1978 will correct this 😉

  5. That Jante idea reminds me of Lieutenant Kije. Is there a possible connection with Jante Law here?

  6. A.J.P. Crown says

    Nice try, but Jante Law’s Danish. (And Danes say ‘ikke’.)

  7. There is nothing like a Dane—nothing in the world. There is nothing you can name that is anything like a Dane.

  8. Crown, A.J.P. says

    My wife has started referring to you lot as ‘your imaginary friends’.

  9. A.J.P. Crown says

    Swede dreams are made of this, who am I to disagree?

  10. There is nothing like a Dane—nothing in the world. There is nothing you can name that is anything like a Dane.
    I about lost my beverage out my nose when I read this, and then I had to try to explain to my Danish husband why it was so funny…

  11. Oh, come on–baby don’t you wanna go
    Come on–baby don’t you wanna go
    Back to that same old place–Swede home Chicago

  12. No end of a Norse.

  13. Michael Farris says

    Swede home Alabama,
    Norse, I’m comin’ home to you …

  14. AJP, I’m not imaginary. I’m virtual, that’s different — as virtual as reality can be.

  15. We are indeed real. In fact, in the same way that myths are real, we are more real than reality itself. We are larger than life.
    Also, if you have a headache from trying to think in another language (as my Danish relations say) and need to take a break from it, we do speak some English.

  16. A.J.P. Crown says

    No, I’m really quite happy with you as my imaginary friends. Virtual and mythical are too serious.

  17. How very touching. I’d be so very proud to have friends like this, even if they’re imaginary.

  18. I forgot to thank Hat for this post and the one before it, the click song. It was the first time I showed this site to my students.
    A student from Togo who only comes once in a blue moon showed up–she says her language is Olokariya (and French) and was afraid of the keyboard until she saw the click song.
    With the Mexican students, we looked at the first post:
    One guy who I think is supposed to be in high school looked at it and laughed–then blushed. I always thought chinga, as in chingate, was the worst insult possible in Spanish, but I am told the post is correct and it just means “a lot of”. For example, you can have “un chingo de” computers. But it was emphasized to me that this type of speech is only with friends that you know, not with strangers, and certainly not with Teachers. The blush was probably for “un madral” as I was told “my mother is not bad” so this type of slang is just not acceptable, not even with friends.

  19. A.J.P. Crown says

    I’m trying to get my daughter to show it to her Spanish teacher at school. She’s worried he’ll disapprove (wrong kind of Spanish), but I think he’ll love it.

  20. I’m trying to get my daughter to show it to her Spanish teacher at school.
    Hmmm…underage? And can you say “NSFW”? She should show it to him after she already has her grades–or better yet, her diploma–if ever. That’s the sort of thing the students pass around among themselves or leave it to the class troublemaker to “accidentally” let the teacher find out.

  21. michael farris says

    Nijma in the US I’d agree. In Norway? I’m not so sure though I’m inclined to trust AJP’s daughter (an insider in Norwegian culture who has frequent contact with the teacher in question) over AJP (a knowledgeable outsider who AFAIK doesn’t know the teacher).
    In Poland, I’d probably suggest to my (hypothetical) daughter that she might give it to a cheeky male classmate who the teacher likes (if there is one) to show the teacher after class.
    I’ll also say my favorite post was about nacos vs fresas and I’ll reprint my post there here:
    “For myself, if I have to take sides, I’d say pretty much every thing I love about Mexico is naco. Most of the things I hate are naco too but that’s better than the lightweight inoffensive blandness of fresadom.”
    Or to paraphrase someone else, fresa is just lame, whereas naco can be awesome.

  22. michael farris says

    “The blush was probably for “un madral” as I was told “my mother is not bad””
    I only know of two cases in which the basic word for mother is turned into a (near?) obscenity. In NAmerican English it’s just an abbreviation of a single expression. In Mexican Spanish, there’s a huge amount of expressions. The Spanish enabled will find the following either enlightening or despicable (in which treacly sentiments about mothers are mirrored in really crude expressions)

  23. A.J.P. Crown says

    My daughter gets straight As. I trust her judgment over mine.

  24. (wrong kind of Spanish)
    Something tells me if it was Kron who wanted to show the website to a male neighbor, there wouldn’t be any comment.
    I am constantly reminded of how words are not just words. Their meaning and interpretation can depend so much on cultural cues and relationships. Are the people exchanging information friends/strangers, at work/at home, male/female, adult/minor, authority figure/vulnerable…

  25. A.J.P. Crown says

    By wrong kind of Spanish, I was talking about the kind of Spanish that is spoken in places other than Spain. It’s a very big pronunciation issue, I understand, though I don’t speak the language myself. Naughty words, tee hee, isn’t an unresolved issue for my daughter (or me).

  26. Michael Farris says

    “I was talking about the kind of Spanish that is spoken in places other than Spain.”
    Yeah, I assumed as much. Latin American varieties of Spanish don’t have much prestige in Spain (wild understatement). And most Spanish teachers in Europe have much more real world experience in Spain than LAmerica and IME negative attitudes toward New World Spanish tend to rub off.
    (Similar negative attitudes about American English are not exactly rare among local English teachers in Europe too IME).

  27. A.J.P. Crown says

    But Michael by ‘wrong’ I wasn’t intending to put down any other kind of Spanish. I meant wrong in the sense of ‘wrong direction’, not in the sense of incorrect or depraved or at fault for something or criminal or unfair or, etc… My daughter’s Spanish teacher is from Spain, which would account for his wanting his pupils to learn that kind of Spanish. To my ears Alma and her classmates do seem to have extraordinarily authentic-sounding Spanish accents.
    The attitude towards American English in Europe may begin to change now that the president has. Right now — here, at least — there’s an association between an American accent and the policies of Bush, a bit. As much as one is able to control these things, I have stopped speaking American unless I’m speaking TO an American.

  28. michael farris says

    “But Michael by ‘wrong’ I wasn’t intending to put down any other kind of Spanish.”
    I didn’t mean to imply that you had anything against non-Iberian Spanish. But IME most Spaniards do (inlcuding language teachers) and they’re not shy about saying so.

  29. Crown, A.J.P. says

    Now I’ve been thinking about US English. I don’t think it’s Bush’s fault. I think most Europeans want to learn Brit English because they think of it as the norm and of US English or NZ English as variations. This kind of sounds reasonable (if incorrect) if you use the analogy of learning German, say. If I had to choose, I wouldn’t want to learn Schwyzerdütsch if I had the choice of learning Hochdeutsch instead.

  30. A.J.P. Crown says

    …I got diverted for a moment. So, what I was going to say, as a US person teaching English, you have to stop them thinking that way. There’s no reason for one dialect to be the norm, but unless you think about it rationally it’s going to appear so to a foreigner.

  31. Oh, by “wrong” I thought that meant inappropriate or maybe a moral judgment (would you say those words in church?).
    American English and British English are considered the “norms”. I am told the British form is favored in Europe, but people with an American accent can get teaching jobs in eastern Europe. Not sure about Japan and Asia. I taught in the Middle East with a British text, not hard to get used to, except when they consider “have got” to be proper enough to put in a text and not informal speech.
    Castillian Spanish is not even an option here. Who would want to speak it? If you want it to communicate with immigrants they’re mostly from Mexico and all from Latin America. If you want to travel, Mexico is easier than Spain. My Danish relatives though have property in Spain on the Costa del Sol and like to spend time there in the winter. So it would only make sense for Europeans to study the Castillian form. I found the Spaniards to be a bit snobbish, maybe it was my generic Latin American accent.

  32. As far as the American accent and the policies of Bush, it sounds bizarre but it’s not so far-fetched. When I was in England and told people I was American the first thing they wanted to tell me about was how they disapproved of Reagan. I’m not sure why they thought I had anything to do with that.
    When some Palestinians gave me the same reaction about Bush I’m afraid I went off the deep end a bit. I had been out of the country for the election, which as you might recall was very close, and didn’t even know what the guy looked like. Also, I’m not sure it’s wise to publicly disagree with one’s government while abroad–you don’t always know who you’re talking to and you might need your embassy one day. So I told them “Bush calls me every morning before breakfast and I tell him what to do.” They changed the subject.

  33. A.J.P. Crown says

    by “wrong” I thought that meant inappropriate or maybe a moral judgment (would you say those words in church?)
    It’s hard to compete with a fourteen year-old when it comes to swearing, they aren’t as inhibited by convention as I am but they still have a fully-developed vocabulary. She an atheist and she wouldn’t have any qualms about churches or synagogues.
    The thing about being held responsible for Bush’s or Reagan’s policies would be easier if they hadn’t both gone around telling the world that democracy and voting were the key to their problems instead of just being another example of a sorites paradox.

  34. wouldn’t have any qualms about churches or synagogues
    I once heard an interesting lecture about “sacred space”. The bedouin (said the lecturer) doesn’t need sacred space because he (sic) has the desert. But city dwellers need a place where they can have a sense of Allah, so the mosque is necessary. I have heard this type of building with a sense of awe described in Athens–a temple to Neptune, but didn’t get a chance to see it. I have also gotten bad vibes from architecture–in particular a Middle Eastern Greek ruin associated with a spring.

  35. telling the world that democracy and voting were the key to their problems
    I rather respected Bush for taking this stance. It’s a switch from the usual “he’s an SOB but he’s our SOB” that has so often in the past characterized our relationships with other countries. Not that nations (including the U.S.) shouldn’t act in their own interests, but at least it pays lip service to the interests of the citizens as well. I’ve always thought it was a bit tacky to just criticize a government without having a plan for what they should be doing instead. I haven’t got such a cure-all plan yet, and perhaps there are no good answers, just answers that are less bad, so maybe I should leave it at that.

  36. A.J.P. Crown says

    I have also gotten bad vibes from architecture
    Me, too.

  37. David Marjanović says

    For example, you can have “un chingo de” computers.

    A fuckload of them, in other words.
    (*giggle* What’s up with me? Do I hang out cyber-around scientists too much?)

  38. Lars Mathiesen says

    It’s still up, but only three updates since June 2011. Still a very useful resource!

  39. Indeed — thanks for reminding me of it!

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