Reinventing Spanglish.

Sophie Hardach writes for BBC Future about Spanglish, a topic that’s been featured here a number of times (e.g.); a lot of it is, of course, the inevitable background info (“according to Pew Research, Spanglish is widespread”), but there are some nice details which I will excerpt here:

“Vamos de punches punches punches”, Yamilet Muñoz texted her friends in Austin, Texas. It means “let’s go and party”, but it’s not a phrase you’ll find in any dictionary. It’s a remix of Spanish and English words seasoned with a in-joke about punching the air as you dance, and it’s just one example of the countless linguistic innovations happening every day as these two major American languages meet. […]

Meghann Peace, an associate professor of Spanish at St Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, defines Spanglish as “a dialect of Spanish that is influenced by English”. […] Eloy Cruz, a 22-year-old former student of Peace’s, describes Spanish as his first language and one he naturally prefers, though he is also fully comfortable in English. […] In his work at a public school in Texas, supporting young people as they go to university, Cruz effortlessly shifts between his languages. Many of the students’ parents, for example, come from different parts of Latin America, and many only speak Spanish. On the other hand, there are those who may want to learn more English, and then he responds accordingly: “If they start throwing in more English, I’ll also throw in more English, to help them out. I need to get a feeling for what they’re like, and then I’ll throw in more Spanish or English.”

He also enjoys trading words from different Spanish dialects: he learned “pana”, a Peruvian word for friend, from Peruvian students at his university. He in turn taught them the Mexican expression “nombre”, a contraction of “no, hombre!”, meaning something like, “no way, man!” Once, he found himself exclaiming: “Nombre, pana!” – “No way, man!”, with a Mexican-Peruvian twist.

One of his current favourite words is “eslei”, Spanglish for “slay” – as in, to do something extremely well. […]

Peace has analysed how Mexican Americans subtly change their Spanish when studying abroad in Spain. Research by her and others has shown that during such extended stays in Spain, Mexican Americans and other US Spanish speakers tend to pick up certain aspects of European Spanish, but not others. For example, they often adopt one particular European Spanish word with special enthusiasm, according to the research: “vale”, meaning, “right”, or “ok”.

“They love saying vale,” Peace says, even though equivalent words exist in their own US Spanish, such as “bueno”. What made the students adopt this word, but not others? The answer has to do with finely calibrated judgments around identity, research by Peace and others suggests. Sprinkling in “vale” allowed the speakers to add some global flavour to their speech, while still holding on to their own identity, Peace says: “It’s seen as cosmopolitan, and shows that you’re capable of adapting. It’s a way of saying, ‘I am an international person’,” she says. […]

Some expressions, [Muñoz] says, are also just satisfying to say, such as “no manches!”, which she translates as “dang!”, as in: “No manches, I forgot my pencil case!”

Thanks, Trevor!


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    Can nobody stop Americans spelling “Megan” as “Meghan(n)”?

    (The surviving elderly Brits called “Hilary” have only recently been able to reclaim the proper spelling from La Clinton, as memory fades.)

    I did once come across a (bona fide Scots) Mhàiri who had the misfortune to have been officially spelt “Vhairi” by her parents.

  2. A little googling quickly turned up people named Meagan, Meaghan and Meaghann. Pooh to you stodgy old Brits!

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    I think you mean “poogh!”

  4. I wanted to be sure you would understand what I meant.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    I mean, if people are going to Culturally Appropriate, the least they can do is to culturally appropriate right.

    I suppose we got the name from the Greeks, though. Chwarae teg …

  6. @David Eddyshaw: A rough look at the online stats suggests that the spelling “Meghan” is not meaningfully more common in America than in Wales.

    That is not to say that Americans can’t choose peculiar variants of common names. However, I see that my high school friend “Meegan” (nonstandardly pronounced as you might expect from the spelling) has switched to the spelling

  7. David Eddyshaw says


  8. J.W. Brewer says

    “Megan” seems a pretty wimpy P-Celtic clipping of the name the Q’s have as Maighread. Although apparently St. Maighread of Scotland is demoted to “Saunt Marget” in Scots, which is not much better. Not sure if St. M. herself was very fluent in the Gaelic, though, what with having been born and raised in Hungary as a child of Sassenach exiles. And the Hungarians themselves give her no more phonemes than those needed for “Szent Margit.”

  9. J.W. Brewer says

    Separately, if Our Hattic Host can somehow avoid getting hung up on Eddyshavian disapproval of the spelling of Prof. Peace’s first name, he might be interested in her scholarly article “¿Lo puedo subir o puedo subirlo?: La posición del clítico en el español del oeste de Massachusetts.”

  10. personally, i would appreciate a spelling convention that would distinguish between m/i/gan, m/e/gan, and m/ɛ/gan, but Brett’s experience seems to indicate that things are moving in the opposite direction.

  11. I didn’t know m/i/gans existed. I thought they were all /ei/s or /ɛ/s according to one’s accent (cf. measure with /ei/ or /ɛ/).

  12. When I lived in Mexico about 20 years ago, “puchis puchis” referred to dancing at a club (“un antro”) — because this onomatopoetically resembles the incessant percussion track of modern dance music. No English involved.

    I’m positive that’s most of the origin story of the “punches punches” mentioned in the article.

  13. In addition of M. Peace’s article cited above (, see M. Davies’s “Analyzing Syntactic Variation with Computer-Based Corpora: The Case of Modern Spanish Clitic Climbing, ” published in 1995 in Hispania, vol. 78, no. 2, pp. 370-380.

  14. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Maighread is mye-rat, which isn’t really more name than Marget. Although the gun near her chapel only gets to be Meg.

  15. Wikipedia’s Megan has this; not a fine advertisement for the wiki model, partly mitigated by the plaintive coda

    Megan is also frequently spelled Meagan, Meaghan, Meghan, or Mehgan outside of Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom due to spelling influence from Irish-language names[citation needed].

    If true then we Q Celts would be joining DE on the harrumph step

  16. Today’s band name is Punches Puchis and the Macaronic Eggcorns

  17. J.W. Brewer says

    Looking at the 1000 most common girls’ names in the U.S. for year-of-birth 1981 (the YOB of the soi-disant Duchess of Sussex), Megan is at #33, Meghan at #116, Meagan at #289, Meaghan at #549, and Meghann at #889. What you might call the true “lemma” version of the name, viz. Margaret, was down to #107, after being in the top 20 throughout the first half of the 20th century. The Frenchified variant borne by my not-the-least-bit-French paternal grandmother (1903-1991), viz. Marguerite, had dropped out of the top 1000 after 1972.

    OTOH, Margaret has endured, staying in the top 200 and holding at #128 in 2022 after getting as low as #186 in 2011. By contrast, Megan had plummeted to #729 in 2022 and Meghan had just left the top 1000 after being #986 in 2021. Meagan, Meaghan, and Meghann had last appeared in the top 1000 in 2007, 2002, and 1987 respectively. Fickle are the ways of onomastic fashion. In any event, when the Duchess was born the vogue was still relatively recent. Megan was #370 in my own year of birth (1965, the first year Margaret-proper had dropped out of the top 50) and none of those other four variants had yet entered an appearance in the top 1000.

    There are other historical patterns with traditional nicknames for “Margaret” being given as legal names in their own right, where it is perhaps mildly curious that the rise and fall of “Peggy” does not match up temporally with the rise and fall of “Maggie.” Maybe “Maggie” has lightly Celtic overtones whereas Peggy is more pure Sassenach in its vibes?

  18. it is perhaps mildly curious that the rise and fall of “Peggy” does not match up temporally with the rise and fall of “Maggie.”

    Why so, even mildly? Surely no one but the etymologically obsessive connects those two names, any more than people realize Hovhannisyan is the “same” as Johnson and Ivanov.

  19. Separately, while I was also skeptical about the explanation of “vamos de punches punches” etc., I by sheer coincidence just came across this: So it’s apparently some degree of A Thing.

  20. @hat: I think at least in my generational cohort it was not particularly unusual to grow up with one girl in ones elementary school known as Peggy and another known as Maggie and also be aware that both were “officially” named Margaret, since there would be various occasions when the teachers etc would refer to students by their “official” names before reverting to whatever names they commonly went by. No weirder than knowing that both the Liz and the Betty in your grade were “officially” Elizabeths.

  21. OK, that makes sense. I don’t think I’ve known either a Peggy or a Maggie, so the whole Margaret Industrial Complex is alien to me.

  22. Scroll down to the fifth post here, for a clear 2017 description of “punchis punchis” in Mexico City as any modern dance club music.
    (Someone in Texas might have conflated the phrase with the “punch dancing” thing at some point, but I’m positive the BBC reporter is indulging in a folk etymology.)

  23. I’m positive the quoted text of this LH thread is indulging in a folk etymology.

    I’m sure you’re right; people can’t resist folk etymologies.

  24. I don’t think I’ve known either a Peggy or a Maggie

    Not Peggy Lee ? Maggie Thatcher ? Peggy Sue ? Margaret Drabble ? Miss Piggy ?

  25. Known personally, ya big doofus.

  26. I qualify as etymologically obsessive, but I was aware of the relationship between Peg and Margaret before that took hold. The funny thing is that I thought of Maggie as a separate name till much later.

    How did Peg come to be a nickname for Margaret? Is there a sound-change etymology there ir was it something more like cockney rhyming?

  27. I had an Aunt Maggie (officially Margareg), who I certainly knew personally. Also, if there is going to be a big doofus around here, it’s me.

    Etymology of doofus verbatim from Wikt:

    Perhaps an alteration of earlier goofus (first attested in the 1920s), due to influence from Scots doof (“simpleton”). Scots doof is derived from Low German doof (“deaf”), which has a secondary sense: “idiotic”. The Low Saxon word is cognate with English deaf.

    Some have proposed that perhaps dupe played some kind of role in the development of doofus as well.

    Goofus appears to be a fanciful extension of goof, perhaps taking its ending from ignoramus. Goof likely originated as an alteration of the (now obsolete) English goff (“a clown”)—compare English geek, which originated as an alteration of geck (“simpleton”)—but any of its history prior to that is up for debate, and difficult to precisely trace.

    Yeah. A pile of well-meant bullshit.

  28. @Ryan: It’s the same pattern as Polly for Mary (via intermediate Molly), and the same “sort of thing” at a higher level of generality as Bill for William, Bob for Robert, Dick for Richard, etc etc., all/most of which go back to, um, maybe late Middle Ages at least? I assume there’s a literature on it …

  29. I could have sworn we’d talked about it here before, but I can’t find it.

  30. 1-A modest proposal to all anglophones: Why not keep things simple and eliminate Me(a)g(h)an(n), with its triple phonology (m/i/gan, m/e/gan, and m/ɛ/gan), and use French “Mégane” instead, with its French realization /megan/?

    (French has a Celtic substrate, so this could be considered a victory of sorts by advocates of more Welsh-influenced forms of English, too!)

    Believe me, if this were done (for a great many other non-transparent personal names and place names too…) it would make life simpler for L2 users of English as well as for the younger generation of L1 English speakers who are now facing the stress-inducing complexity and capriciousness of a most arbitrary social convention, i.e. who are now learning to spell. Thus, it would make life simpler for a clear majority of users of English.

    2-Another modest proposal, this time to all hispanophones: Why not solve the problem of clitic placement variation by adopting French placement rules: “Lo puedo subir” ? “Puedo subirlo”? I say, go for “Puedo lo subir”: the French-type clitic placement looks like a decent compromise between the two possibilities Spanish grammar now has, after all. And I recently learned that there exists at least one (admittedly very deviant) variety of Spanish which already has this kind of clitic placement rule, so the solution is definitely not wholly un-Spanish.

  31. Etienne, what Spanish variety is it, that can that word order use?

  32. The Margaret at my work goes by “Beth.”

  33. I think some Margaret should adopt Ret as a nickname, perhaps spelled Rhett for maximum confusion.

  34. David Eddyshaw says

    A modest proposal to all anglophones

    I have proposed before that French should be adopted as the official language of the UK. After all, it’s not as if there isn’t a precedent for it.

    In re learnability, it seems clear enough that most L1 speakers of West African languages find French pronunciation much easier than English.

  35. David Marjanović says

    I wonder is Meghann is a portmanteau that contains Ann. There are after all people name JoAnn out there. And ReBecca even. I’m not sure if Johnathan is intended another (though Johnathon probably isn’t meant to refer to a marathon).

    I went to school with a Margit who had no known connection to Hungary; the name is rare but not perceived as foreign in Austria.

    Low German doof (“deaf”), which has a secondary sense: “idiotic”

    That’s the basic word for “stupid” (including “boring” and such) across large parts of Germany. In the places where it’s native it actually gets declined with -/v/-, but I’m not sure many people know it’s the cognate of High German taub “deaf”.


    That’s the name of a make of car by Renault.

  36. Jen in Edinburgh says

    My mum’s cousin Rita is a Margaret, and I think Greta is another Margaret name, so names from the end are out there, if not in exactly that form.

  37. Hey, the subject of the OP is right up my alley as I grew up speaking Spanglish. I don’t have time for a long comment right now but I’ll be back later to yank the thread out of the hands of the Peggies and Meghans and put it firmly back into the hands of Spanglish.

    ( I have time to write, though, that as far as I know “pana” is originally Venezuelan slang but I’m not surprised if it spread to Peru and the rest of South America. )

  38. J.W. Brewer says

    @hat: You of course already have Greta, Gretel, Gretchen,* etc. as clippings of Margaret that work off the end rather than the beginning. That none of them thought the /g/ detachable from the following /r/ seems evidence of something relevant. OTOH, you have “Rita” clipped from “Margarita.”

    *Gretchen was a top 300 name for U.S. girls born between 1961 and 1981, including a cousin of mine plus various schoolmates, but subsequently declined in favor, falling out of the top 1000 after 2008. Greta remains in the top 1000 but except for a few years in the Sixties was only in the top 500 from 1928 to 1938. (Perhaps the impact of Garbo?)

    ETA: Jen in Edinburgh posted first, and confirms that this data is not US-specific. And of course some prominent Liverpudlians once sang about Lovely Rita, the Meter Maid, capitalizing on a Rita/Meter rhyme that only works for the non-rhotic.

  39. David Eddyshaw says

    I had an aunt Rita. It had never occurred to me until now that she might have been a latent Margaret.

    It would make sense. Almost all the senior women in my family were called Margaret, including both my grandmothers (one of whom, however, was “Daisy” in private life.)

  40. The Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources has a splendid entry on Margaret (“The name of a number of saints, including a perhaps apocryphal 5th C saint, an 11th C queen of Scotland, a 12th C Hungarian nun, a 13th C Hungarian, a 13th C Italian, a 14th C Italian, a 15th C Italian, and two 16th C Englishwomen; the name of a 13th C Empress consort of Byzantium, a 13th C queen consort of France, a 13th C queen of Scotland, 14th-15th C queen of Denmark, a 15th C queen consort of England, a 16th C queen consort of Scotland, a 16th C queen of Navarre, and a 16th C queen of France”) which includes lists of variant forms in various languages; the English section goes on forever (my jaw dropped open as I scrolled).

  41. Pancho: I’m glad you found this, and I look forward to your future comments!

  42. Y: The variety of “Spanish” in question is the one that is known as Afro-Bolivian Spanish and should instead be known as Afro-Yungueño Spanish (AYS), which in fairness probably deserves to be considered a separate language altogether and not a variety of Spanish.

    The first published linguistic description is by John Lipski (AFRO-BOLIVIAN SPANISH, 2008, Vervuert and Iberoamericana). A couple of examples (page 103): “Yo taba ti disinto” “I was telling you”, “Yo va ti avisá” “I’m going to tell you”.

    (No, the “va” of the second example is not a mistake: AYS lacks Spanish person + number marking verb morphology, even with the copula, and has only preserved the present, preterit, and imperfect forms -third person singular, etymologically – plus the infinitive, gerund and past participle).

  43. David Eddyshaw says

    Quite right too. Nobody needs person and number marking on verbs. It’s nothing but ostentation and waste. The socially conscious Scandinavians have already shown us a better way.

  44. David Marjanović says

    which includes lists of variant forms in various languages; the English section goes on forever (my jaw dropped open as I scrolled)

    It’s a list of occurrences; if the name occurs five times in the same work and they’re all spelled identically, they’re all listed separately, it seems.

  45. I used to think baby Maggie Simpson was named after her blue-haired mother, Marge. But, whereas Maggie is revealed to be Margaret, Marge is Marjorie. Even though the names have a common source I don’t think it’s tenable.

  46. “puchis puchis” referred to dancing at a club […] because this onomatopoetically resembles the incessant percussion track of modern dance music

    parallel to “untz untz”/”nts nts” in some of my (u.s.) circles, used to refer to certain kinds of 4/4 techno, the clubs that spin it, and sometimes the people who frequent them. i wouldn’t be surprised* if someone were to try to derive it from a connection between the PLUR ethos and the 1st-person plural “yuns”.

    * okay, i would be. but mostly because the geography of “yuns” doesn’t really work with the historical geography of techno. and, i suppose, because it’s generally not a complimentary term, focused as it is on overly repetitive beats and overused drum-synth sounds.

  47. “untz untz”/”nts nts”

    = “douche douche”.

  48. where it’s native it actually gets declined with -/v/-

    I never heard any other pronunciation. In fact, /f/ would sound rather silly.

    I’m not sure many people know it’s the cognate of High German taub “deaf”

    I am sure most people don’t know that. Although a few years ago I heard on the radio the phrase “Haste doofe Ohren?”, meaning “Are you deaf?” It seems in some regions the original meaning has been preserved, at least in fixed phrases like doofe Ohren..

    The dictionaries tell me doof was first introduced (from Low German) into the High German spoken in the cities of Northern Germany in the 18th/19th century, and during the 20th century (beginning in the 1920s) it spread from Berlin to the rest of Germany.

  49. = “douche douche”

    regular sound changes, huh?

  50. I can only remember knowing one Maggie personally (the mother-in-law of one of my great-aunts), and on checking into it I find that she was not a Margaret but a Mary Magdaline (born 1889 in Kentucky).

  51. I don’t know … “Do you have stupid ears?” sounds like a perfectly cromulent question to me.

  52. That “Maggie” is not necessarily short for “Margaret” is the key to the mystery in Christie’s Peril at End House.

  53. David Eddyshaw says

    “Do you have stupid ears?” sounds like a perfectly cromulent question to me

    And to me.

    Kusaal for “deaf” is the bahuvrihi tʋbkpida “dead-eared”, of grammatical interest because the class suffix is always plural (in honour of the ears) even when the adjective applies to just one person.

    For the somewhat less mutton, there is tʋbliid “blocked-eared” (also always formally plural.)

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