Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the United States, after English. With so many Spanish-speakers, it is no surprise that there is a lot of crossover between the two. There are Spanish words adopted into English and English words that have been adapted into Spanish, and often people will use these two languages in combination or interchangeably (sometimes this is known as Spanglish). Let’s take a look at some of the cool Spanish words that exemplify this ongoing, and growing, trend.
A mojito is “a cocktail made with rum, sugar, lime juice, soda water, and mint.” It’s delicious and refreshing, but have you ever wondered what mojito literally means? There are two theories: one is that it comes from the Spanish mojo, a kind of sauce or marinade. Another is that it comes from the Spanish verb mojar, meaning “to make wet.” The suffix -ito is a diminutive in Spanish, so mojito roughly translates to “a little wet.”
Another popular treat whose name comes from Spanish is the Dorito, the branded tortilla chip. It is said by the company Frito-Lay that the name comes from a combination of the Spanish word oro meaning “golden” or “gold” and the diminutive suffix we have already seen, -ito. (Apparently, the D was tacked on as an afterthought.) Dorito roughly translates to “little golden [thing],” a reference to the color of these chips.
The dessert piragua is a kind of flavored water ice or snow cone popular in Puerto Rico. Unlike the snow cone, which is round, a piragua comes in a pointed shape, which is how it gets its name. The word piragua is a portmanteau of two Spanish terms: pirámide, meaning “pyramid,” and agua, meaning “water.” In other words, piragua is a “water pyramid.”
Remember Chiclets? They were a popular candy-coated chewing gum that was discontinued in 2016. They got their name from the Spanish chicle, “a gumlike substance obtained from the latex of certain tropical American trees, as the sapodilla, used chiefly in the manufacture of chewing gum.” The Spanish chicle itself comes from the indigenous Nahuatl language word for the substance, tzictli.
Another example of a Spanish verb that comes from English is gufear, which is particularly common in Puerto Rico. Gufear means, as you might have guessed, “to fool around” or “to joke around,” from the English word goof. It can also mean more generally “to have fun.”
The popular recording artist Bad Bunny often uses slang from his home of Puerto Rico in his music. One of those slang terms is the verb pichar or pichear, from the English verb pitch. In Puerto Rican slang, like in the song “Yo Perreo Sola,” it means “to ignore.” It can also be used more generally to mean “to pitch,” as in baseball.
Another example of Puerto Rican slang found in Bad Bunny’s music is the verb bregar. The verb bregar literally means “to fight or to struggle (with someone).” It can also mean “to work busily.” But in Puerto Rican slang, it has a slightly different meaning; bregar in this context means “to deal with something difficult.”
One of the differences between Spanish and English is that Spanish requires different registers depending on who you are addressing. In an informal context, such as when talking to a family member or friend, one uses the tú form rather than the more formal ustéd. This is referred to as tutear, meaning that you use the forms tú rather than the formal usted or ustedes, as in tú hablas (“you speak” in English).
güey / guey
An informal or slang word that is particularly common in Mexican or Chicano Spanish is güey or guey. It originates from the Spanish buey, meaning “ox” or “steer.” Although it has a history of negative uses, including as a way of calling someone stupid, it is now often used more generally to mean “dude” or “man,” as in the common greeting ¿Qué onda, güey?, which basically means “What’s up, dude?”
Not all Spanish words are easily translated into English. One example of this kind of word is tocayo, which means roughly “name twin” or “one who has the same name.” While the origin of this term is in some dispute, it most likely comes from the indigenous American language Náhuatl notocayoh where it means roughly “he who has my name.”
A particularly cool word that comes from Puerto Rican and Dominican Spanish is revolú, which means “disorder, mess, hubbub.” It’s possible the word comes from an abbreviation of the Latin expression totum revolutum, meaning “hodgepodge” or “all scrambled.” A related term in Spanish is revoltijo, which means “jumble.”
You may be familiar with the Latinx tradition of the quinceañera. A quinceañera is “a celebration of a girl’s fifteenth birthday, marking her transition from childhood to maturity.” The word comes from the feminine form of the Spanish quinceañero, meaning “15-year-old.” Quince means “15,” año means “year,” and -ero is an adjective suffix in Spanish.
If you have ever watched a daytime soap opera, you are familiar with the broad strokes of the popular Hispanic television genre telenovela. The word telenovela means “a television soap opera.” It comes from a combination of tele- meaning “television,” and novela, a word meaning literally “novel” or, more generally, “serial drama.” Essentially, a telenovela is a serialized story on television.
These are just a few examples of the many cool words in Spanish that may be found in the estadounidense lexicon. (That’s the American lexicon, if you didn’t know!) Now you know where they come from and what they really mean. Here’s one more for you: ¡Disfrute! or Enjoy!
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