By Gustavo Arellano
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By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
Illustration by Mark DancyDear Mexican,
For decades, I've heard mexicanos refer to one another as güey. For example, the other day I overheard one mexicano refer to his amigo as "pinche güey," and the amigo responded with, "Ay, güey." What's up with güey?
Here's my request: I would like to ask for translations of all the smutty street-Spanglish put-downs my courtly maestros de español wouldn't have dreamed of teaching me. Pendejo—I've long assumed it means "hanging one," as in, "can't get it up": a pansy, contemptible cake boy. Is that right? What does gabacho mean? What does cabrón mean? Something relating to a goat?
Dear Pocho and Gabacha,
Welcome to the wonderful world of Mexican-Spanish swearing, where words assume different meanings according to placement but ultimately reference gonads! Güey is actually spelled büey and means ass, as in a hooved ass, not an ass ass. It's the Swiss Army knife of Mexican-Spanish cussing—we use it affectionately ("¡No mames, büey!" translates as "Don't suck dick, ass!" but actually means "Don't bullshit me, brother!"), in anger ("Eres un pinche büey" is "You're a fucking idiot") or as a boast ("No me haces büey"— "You won't make an ass out of me"). Pendejo and cabrón, meanwhile, are synonyms for "idiot," but their actual definitions are "pubic hair" and "castrated goat," respectively.
But Mexicans rarely use büey, pendejo or cabrón literally—instead, we forge them into some amazingly baroque insults. To wit: when a Mexican tells his friend, "¡Büey, no seas pendejo, cabrón!" we're saying, "Man, don't be an idiot, jerk!" but it literally translates as "Ass, don't be a pubic hair, ball-less goat!" So much better than the English "stupid-ass fucking faggot," no? As for the meaning of gabacho, Pommie . . . to paraphrase Louis Armstrong, if you gotta ask, you're one.
Got a spicy question about Mexicans? Ask the Mexican at firstname.lastname@example.org. And those of you who do submit questions: give your name or a pseudonym, por favor, or I'll make one up for you!