By Stan Gabruk
As long as I can remember the word “Gringo” has been a word used to refer to “Americans” by the Mexican nationals. Many of us wonder why they call us “Gringos”. Canadians say that they’re not Gringos, only Americans are gringos. The question of where the term came from seems to be something of a rumor at best. So I started looking into it, just for my own knowledge, being a “Gringo”.
The popular story I keep hearing is how the Mexican – American war was the origins. When the war ended, the Mexican Soldiers would say “Green- Go” as in “go home”. Which according to popular belief happened because the Americans wore green uniforms. Makes sense until you research it a bit and find out the American didn’t wear green uniforms at all. So that little urban wisdom just falls apart.
Still, the term is widely used. Mexican Nationals would have you believe it’s a term of affection. Something not at all negative. I’ve been in Mexico now for many years and have never heard the term used in a positive or affectionate manner. But that’s what we “gringos” are told.
Still there are other Stories where the Mexican Nationals used a similar saying back in the same Mexican-American war where they would march and sing songs that morphed into “Gringo”. But that’s just another fabrication by some creative mind telling a story. Sounds plausible until you do some research where there is no scrap of facts or evidence to support this version of the origins of “Gringo”. Another urban myth of international scale.
No, it all happened in 1787 with “El Diccionario Castellano” by Estaban De Terreros where it was explained that that Foreigners in Malaga were called “Gringos”. It seems they had an accent issue with the Irish who joined the Spanish Castilian army from the Sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, that’s 200 years. They called the unintelligible English of the Irish “gibberish”. So the foreigners in Malaga were called Gringos! Basically Castilian language doesn’t or didn’t translate well from Latin to English when monastic scribes (priest in monasteries) tried to translate many words, but it just didn’t fit. It all filters down from the word “Greek” or “Greigo” which was meant as unintelligible “Foreign Talk”. Or as English speaking people would say “It’s Greek to me”. Again, the Monastic Scribes had a hard time translating this meaning.
So the original connection to “Greigo” or “its Greek to me” mutated into the word “Gringo”. The connection of the two words were lost over the years. Obviously the term “Gringo” came to Mexico with the Spanish. So there you have it, “Gringo” is essentially a mutated version of “Greigo” or unintelligible Foreign Talk. And there is the “Origin” of the word “Gringo”!
“If It’s ‘All Greek To You,’ Blame Monks And Shakespeare.” With Greigo mutating into the variant form gringo in Spanish, the original resonance with Greek was likely lost, but the epithet’s use in Latin America is just a reminder of how language interpretatations can cause a cultural divide and cultural tensions.
After learning the origins and the history of the word, it appears it was never used in a positive sense. Today Mexicans will tell you it’s an endearing term. I hear my girlfriend us the term all the time and while I know she doesn’t mean anything negative by it…. I’ve heard her use the word in mostly negative speech. So we “Gringos” smile, tolerate it, even use the term ourselves. But remember, it’s not a positive term or an endearing term, it’s a label. The Mexican equivalent to “Beaner”. So all you Canadians, you’re in the “Gringo” group as well.