When Should You Italicize Spanish Words?

[¡Ask a Mexican!] And why do Univisión and Telemundo look so sharp?

DEAR MEXICAN: Grammar question/rant. If Spanglish is a legitimate dialect/language, why do you feel the need to italicize every instance of code switching? I seriously doubt that when you speak, you emphasize every puta palabra (emphasis intended here), but that's what your article reads like. We all know that you are speaking Spanglish—not a foreign language—so tell the gabacho (no emphasis intended here) editors to back off and let you use italics for what they are intended for: emphasis.

Strunk & Brown

DEAR WAB: Gracias for thinking that Spanglish is a legitimate form of communication—you just made the custodians of Cervantes and shepherds of Shakespeare get angrier than Joe Arpayaso surrounded by a group of Mexicans! But we're talking two separate cosas here. My linguistic goal with this columna isn't for America to accept Spanglish, but for American English and its speakers to pick up more Spanish words so that one day, I won't have to use italics on said words to differentiate their otherness. It's happened over the decades: At one point, editors italicized Spanish words such as amigo, tequila, fiesta and siesta because they were foreign concepts to gabacho audiences, but the words were used enough we no longer italicize them. Think of it as a linguistic Reconquista, of Latin slowly beating down English's Germanic influences! The only way to teach an audience a new palabra, then, is to signify a code switch via the italics, but I make sure to use simple Spanish words that can possibly gain wider currency—gabacho, pendejo, desmadre—and eventually assimilate into the American lingua franca and cultura. And I don't have to worry about any gabacho editors telling me when to use italics and when I can't—I'm the pinche Mexican, for crying out loud. But even this cabrón cannot evade the unforgiving glare of his copy editor, who can make the most grizzled reporter tremble with just a flash of the red pluma.


Ask the Mexican at themexican@askamexican.net, be his fan on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or ask him a video question at youtube.com/askamexicano!

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DEAR MEXICAN: Do you have any idea why Univisión and Telemundo look so much sharper and better than any other HD programming on any other channel? They looked better even before HD was en vogue. My guess is they don't use the filters that everyone else uses.

Techie Gabacho

DEAR GABACHO: Same reason porn is always at the forefront of technology—gotta make those chichis shine!

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DEAR MEXICAN: I just learned that Nueva Vizcaya was "settled" by Basques, and it got me to thinking: Are there any noticeable regional differences in Mexico based on the regions in Spain where the original Spaniards came from? If so, where can I read more about it?

Euskadi Enthusiast

DEAR GABACHO: Nueva Vizcaya, of course, refers to the province of New Spain that nowadays roughly encompasses Chihuahua and Durango, as well as parts of Sonora, Sinaloa and other northern Mexico states, and was named by the Basque explorer Francisco de Ibarra after Biscay. Other Spanish explorers also named provinces in New Spain after their home regions—Nuevo Galicia, Nuevo León (which the modern-day Mexican state is named after) and the awesomely titled Nuevo Santander, after the city in the kingdom of Cantabria. But in terms of large-scale regional Spanish migration to particular areas of Mexico during the era of the Conquistadors, the Mexican is going to have to plead partial mestizaje on this one. The most famous mass settling of particular groups happened in what's now the United States—Canary Islanders in San Antonio and marranos (crytpo-Jews) in New Mexico—while outside of northern Mexico and its concentration of Garzas, most of the other Spaniards just melted into the pozole. All the early Spanish immigrants ultimately left as a legacy in Mexico was Spanish, surnames and a taste for ultra-violence.

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If you translate the italicize words would you still be allowed to post them? Just a little disturbed by the vulgar words used. This is my first time reading your blog. I was just chocked. i thought I was going to love it but might stay away because its not my cup of tea. Other than that proud that a Mexican has his own section.  


Mexico was in fact settled by large groups of people from the Iberian Peninsula during the colonial period. Quoting the book "1491", it has been estimated that 75% of the Native American population in the Western Hemisphere was wiped out due to either Smallpox or Influenza. Which makes the despised Gachipin contribution to the Mestzo gene pool more substantial than you might want to admit. In Nueva Galicia: Jalisco/Guanajuato/Aguascalientes/Sinaloa, many of the settlers were from either Galicia or Portugal, quite a few of whom were "Crypto Jews". To this day I have heard shopkeepers in Leon, GTO, joke about why they are such good business people.

Face it, there are a lot of gueros running around Mexico nowadays, no they are not Novela stars or captains of industry. They are just ordinary Mexicans, they are not so lucky to trace their bloodlines straight to Aztec royalty as many Chicanos do. Your statement, such as: "All the early Spanish immigrants ultimately left as a legacy in Mexico was Spanish, surnames and a taste for ultra-violence" (?!) perpetuates the self hatred of the Chicano towards his or her own often light skin, not to mention the tens of millions of people in Mexico

and other Latinoamericanos, who don't look like Benito Juarez. Lastly, are you joking when you imply by omission that the worshippers of Xipe Totec, and Huitzlopochtli weren't ultraviolent?

No Manches....


I hesitate to pettifog, but here's an underlying assumption in the third question that Mexico is simply Spain v. 2.0.  There were over 10,000 African slaves in Mexico City in 1810, part of the reason Allende chose not to sack it.  On the Atlantic coast, as with Venezuela and Colombia, there are many African descendants.  Many Sephardic Jews expelled from Andalucia came to Mexico and Colombia rather than fleeing to Holland.  There are not so many northern Europeans as in Argentina or Chile, but they came here too, the gingers with freckles.  And not all the almond eyes arrived via the Bering Land Bridge (see Fujimori in Peru), but during active Asian immigrant waves post-Conquista.  The Mennonites flooded Chihuahua a hundred years ago, and are now flocking to Tabasco and Chiapas.  And of course there are those spots deep in the Yucatan where malaria and impassable jungle prevented the conquistadors from ever truly settling, and I feel like one long tall glass of water next to 4'6" women whose faces resemble Sitting Bull more than Cortes.  Like every other spot in the New World,Mexico is a melting pot.

That pedantry behind us, well, sure, I still stand out as a gringo fifty yards away.......

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