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AlwaysSpanish is Retiring!

After a long awkward silence, here's something to break the ice – all over again. I can totally see why you should be upset to see no action from the Burro for over a month now, but trust me, your wait was all worth it. The news here is that your beloved Burro has just moved into a brand new home – one that's a whole lot richer, swankier, and easier to live in. I'm talking about PeppyBurro. That's the name of the new website! Isn't that cool? At least it tells you all about the Burro's pepped up temperament right off the bat, right? This post is not about Spanish-learning tricks (although I will drop in a couple out of habit, I guess) or grammar lessons. This one's all about our new home!

The Witchcraft Of Spanish Vocabulary

The very first step to conquering a language is to tame its vocabulary. And sadly, that's the part that puts off most novice learners because memorizing strange-sounding words is too darn boring! A never-ending chant of rote rehearsal and a nervous prayer can see you through an upcoming test, but the process just won't cut it if your goal is to actually use the language in the street. It's a mystery how this incredibly inefficient method has survived this long and still continues to be perpetuated by schools and educators around the world. So is there any nirvana around this assault of monotony in our miserable lives? Anything that could make learning foreign words less painful?

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: Always Spanish has retired. Please visit the new blog at for all future articles.

Six Words That Rule The Streets Of Mexico

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Having more Spanish speakers than any other country on the planet, Mexico naturally holds the lion’s share in vernacular creativity. Mexican slang lexicon is not only matured and complex but also as colorful and diverse, if not more, as any of its counterparts. Given the proliferation of Mexicans in not only entertainment but rather every aspect of life and trade in the Western world, we already enjoy a healthy exposure to its slang vocabulary. Although an exhaustive study of any country’s colloquialism would be overkill, learning some of the most common expressions is mighty fun and useful. Here, we explore six of them from Mexico.

1. Achis

This is one of the lesser known expressions outside of Mexico but come to Mexico and you’ll quickly realize how indispensable this little word can be. Depending on where you are and who you hear, this word comes with at least two other variants, each with the same nice ring to it – cachis and mariachis. All three words mean the same thing with just a slight difference in implied intensity. So what does achis mean to begin with? Well, it’s just a quintessential Mexican expression of disbelief or surprise. So when someone tells you they got a part on your favorite TV show (or even a not-so-favorite one), you go, “Achis, ¡a ver!” You might also step it up with mariachis instead of achis if the part in question is as the lead who gets to romance Kat Dennings on screen! All this means is that mariachis is a more extreme version of achis.

So how do you remember the term? If you’re a regular here, you know this is where the fun stuff comes in. I’m talking tricks. Magic. Shortcuts. Or, in other words, cool memory hooks or mnemonics. I have no idea where the word came from, although it might be tempting to see a connection between achis and mariachi. So etymology is not much help here. So we try the next best thing – Word association. Achis sounds like the sound of a matchstick being struck. And if you think about it, the word also sounds somewhat like a tame sneeze. So conjuring up an image involving these two ideas should be super easy. Just picture a massive wildfire that was accidentally started by a hiker trying to use a matchstick in the jungle. A wildfire from matches! Achis! If you need reinforcement, imagine putting out that wildfire with a sneeze. Again, isn’t that too hard to believe? That’s what achis implies, doesn’t it?

2. Ándale

The spelling is wrong but the spirit isn’t!
The spelling is wrong but the spirit isn’t!
Photo credit: Gary Stevens licensed CC BY 2.0
This word is no stranger to you if you’ve ever enjoyed Looney Tunes as a kid. Hell, I still dig the show and I’m nowhere near a kid myself anymore! After all, Speedy Gonzalez is not your regular rodent; he’s one who speaks Spanish and yells ándale a trillion times a day! Ándale is as classic Mexican as it gets and, more often than not, is uttered in a rather excited voice. The word essentially translates into come on or hurry up as an interjection. But that doesn’t mean you can say this word in a calmer mood. But the meaning changes to a rather unceremonious okay when you do. In case you’re intrigued, I have discussed ándale and several of its cousins including órale and híjole in greater detail before.

So now that you know what ándale means, how do you ensure you never forget? Imagine you and your friends are out on an adventure trip to South America. And what’s the adventure? What better than a hike up the Andes! But the hike is hard and the trail, backbreaking. It’s easy for you to lose the will to continue if not for your friends shouting ándale every few minutes to get the adrenaline going. Ándale up the Andes! Catchy, wasn’t it?

3. ¿A poco?

Remember achis? A poco is somewhat similar in connotation and usage. You say this phrase with a startle on your face when your friend tells you something hard to believe. The most appropriate way to translate this into English would be no kidding!. That being said, you could also use a poco with a rather wry face when you’re being sarcastic. It’s like a mocking reaction to something your friend told you that’s obvious; somewhat like no shit, genius or duh.

If you know that a means to and poco means little, you’re probably wondering how a poco makes any sense whatsoever and, more importantly, how it translates into what it does. Trust me, that stumps me too and I would love one of you to research it for me if you’re curious enough. In the meantime, let’s figure out a way to never forget it. Imagine reacting with an a poco when you learn that the hobo you pass every day on your way to work just won himself a brand new mansion and a Lambo in a poker tournament. Hard to digest, hard to forget.

4. Bronca

In Standard Spanish, the word translates into quarrel or uproar. But Mexico gives it a little twist that makes the effect a tad milder. To Mexicans, the word simply means a problem, nothing to sweat. Who doesn’t have problems? We all do, but the Mexicans don’t fight over theirs. They just tell you, no hay bronca. That means there’s no problem. How sweet. Speaking of colloquialism, if you venture further south and wind up in Argentina or Uruguay, you’ll hear the word used with dar as darse bronca. The expression means to make someone mad or angry. So it makes me angry is me da bronca.

Memorizing bronca is a non-issue especially if you dig football. Doesn’t matter which team you root for, remember who won this year’s Super Bowl. “Beat the Panthers? No hay bronca,” said the Broncos. Don’t follow NFL? No problem. Just think of what bronchitis is to a chain smoker. That’s right, one of the many problems.

5. Cabrón

Pretty sure these güeys are not using cabrón in a flattering tone.
Pretty sure these güeys aren’t using cabrón in the most flattering tone.
Photo credit: Esparta Palma licensed CC BY 2.0
It doesn’t get more Mexican than this. You’d rarely hear a bunch of Mexicanos go five minutes without saying this word at least twice already. Cabrón derives from cabra, Spanish for goat. The -ón suffix is what we call an augmentative. It serves to make the root word bigger or more significant that it otherwise would be. Thus, cabrón is technically a male goat (males are bigger than females, don’t you know?). That being said, you can be pretty sure goats are never implied when the word is used in everyday Mexican conversations. Actually, cabrón, in its implied translation, all kinds of vulgar you can imagine – frombitch to son of a bitch and from asshole to bastard. Told you it was vulgar. Having said that, cabrón is rarely used with such extreme connotations either. Friends use it all the time for each other in an endearing way much like Blacks use the word nigger. But just like it’s not advisable for you to use nigger with your Black friends unless you’re one yourself, it’s not advisable for you to try cabrón with your Mexican buddies unless you’re Mexican too.

How goats came to be related to cussing is inconsequential to this discussion. It is the way it is and there’s no point fussing over its why’s and how’s. What we should focus on instead is memorizing the word which is super easy if you’re even a little creative. Remember bronca? Of course you do, we just discussed it. Just remember to be careful with cabrón because it might cause you a lot of broncas. Just remember: Careful or bronca.

Oh, and cabrón can also be heard used as an adjective in almost the same way you use freakin’ in English. In that context, the word translates into friggin’ hard, tough, or even skilled! That’s one super-versatile word right there.

6. Güey

No word in the entire Spanish lexicon defines Mexico the way güey does. Depending on who uses the word and in what context, güey has connotations ranging from endearment to downright offensive. Long story short, it’s the Mexican equivalent of bro or dude as a form of address. But in certain situations, it can also refer to someone stupid, a nincompoop or a jerk if you will. Given this versatility, güey is arguably the most overused word in all of Mexico and you’ll do well to have it in your active vocabulary if ever in that country.

I’ll not go into where and how the word originated, which is no doubt a very interesting story (in case you’re curious, read up my earlier article titled Local Words for “Boy”.), because that would derail the discussion very quickly. What we need to figure out is a way to avoid forgetting it. By the looks of it, güey seems to sound a lot like the English word gooey, although that’s not how it’s actually pronounced. So we’ll go with that. Gooey is sticky and we all have that one clingy friend who is never willing to leave us alone, the BFF kind if you know what I mean. Imagine having one such friend who is on your back like a gooey muck that’s hard to shake off. It’s this clingy nature that makes you call him the gooey güey every time you two meet!

This is by no means a complete list of even the most popular Mexican slang terms, not even close. That would take a massive tome to itself whereas this is just a measly blog post. But these are good enough to get a headstart nonetheless. There are literally hundreds of fun words Mexicans use everyday some of which don’t even sound Spanish. A quick search on Google will be enough to expose you to most of them. And if you happen to have any favorite, I’d love to hear about it! Even better if you have invented your own mnemonic to remember it. I will soon be doing more posts on similar slang terms from not only Mexico but other Spanish-speaking worlds as well. So keep reading!

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