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Gringo, Farang, Yankee, Norte Americano... Frankly who cares...

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  • jerry
    Gringo… It seems like a lot of people get upset by being called this colloquial name for a person of European descent, yet no one has been able to prove
    Message 1 of 5 , Jan 30 7:11 PM
      Gringo… It seems like a lot of people get upset by being called
      this colloquial name for a person of European descent, yet no one has
      been able to prove definitively the source of this word.

      According to Yahoo, they "had always assumed that it was simply a
      Spanish word meaning "a pesky European settler," but once we looked
      into the matter, it turned out that things weren't quite so cut and
      dried.
      After entering the phrase "gringo origin" into the Yahoo! search box
      and clicking on some of the web page matches, we uncovered a
      controversy over the word's history.
      It seems that many amateur etymologists believe the term comes from a
      song sung by American frontiersmen ("Green Grow the Rushes" or
      possibly "Green Grow the Lilacs") during the Mexican-American War.
      You can find details of this theory at a page hosted by Clan
      Sinclair, along with the lyrics to both songs.
      A second theory postulates that American troops, during that same
      war, wore green uniforms and were taunted with cries of "Green go!"
      Frankly, we found that one hard to swallow. Thankfully, most of the
      sites we consulted viewed this idea with a healthy dose of
      skepticism.
      One such site, a question-and-answer column called The Word
      Detective, offers a more compelling explanation of "gringo" and its
      origin. The detective says, "The most likely source of 'gringo' is
      the Spanish word 'gringo' itself, which means 'foreigner'
      or 'unintelligible gibberish.' The root of 'gringo,' in turn, is
      thought to have been 'griego,' Spanish for 'Greek,' often applied as
      slang to any foreigner."
      Further research led us to conclude that this last theory is the most
      likely. The Word Wizard concurs wholeheartedly with the Word
      Detective, offering "griego" as the immediate root of "gringo."
      Finally, we located a comprehensive article from Honduras This Week
      that outlines the long history of the term predating the Mexican-
      American conflict. As far as we're concerned, it firmly places the
      far-fetched theories of overheard singing and anti-American
      sloganeering into the category of "urban myth," where they surely
      belong.
      That article from HONDURAS THIS WEEK is as follows:
      ORIGIN OF THE WORD GRINGO
      Dear Editor:
      Over a period of many years, I have read in this paper letters to the
      editor that have addressed the subject of the use of the word gringo
      as used by Latin Americans to describe North Americans. I would like
      to add what I believe to be an accurate explanation of the origin of
      this word.
      Almost all countries have their nicknames for foreigners. Just as we
      from the United States sometimes call Canadians "Canucks" and we are
      called "Yanks" by them.
      If an American who crosses the line into Mexico from Arizona to
      Nogales, Agua Prieta or any other border town will listen closely he
      will occasionally hear the word gringo and while he may not realize
      it, quite often, it is to the visitor himself that the word is being
      applied.
      In former years, the term gringo was often used by the Mexicans in a
      derogatory sense as applied to Americans or other English-speaking
      persons. But as turismo brought more free spending Americans to the
      border towns, the word became more of a friendly term for an American.
      During the several years that I have traveled and worked in Mexico
      and Central America, I have heard the word gringo many times,
      occasionally applied to myself. Even before living in Latin American
      countries, I had found the term in books of travel and adventure and
      had assumed it was referring to citizens of the United States only,
      and in a derogatory manner.
      However, after traveling a few years in Mexico and Central America, I
      found that it also applied to some other foreigners, particularly the
      English, and sometimes to the French, Germans and Italians. The
      Spaniards were sometimes called Gachupines.
      While the word gringo did not necessarily have a slurring
      implication, yet I found that it was sometimes used in a derogatory
      sense, as in ¡Que gringo tan bruto! Translated roughly into "What a
      stupid gringo!"
      One rather far-fetched story says gringo was derived from the
      song, "Green Grow the Rushes, O" by Scottish poet Robert Burns, as it
      was sung by English sailors in Mexican seaports. Many of the
      explanations and interpretations of this word have used this "Green
      Grow the Rushes, O" theory or slight deviations of it. I am saying
      that all of this is bunk and not supported by any real evidence. An
      article in the University of Arizona historical quarterly "Arizona
      and the West," by Charles E. Ronan S.J., of the Department of History
      of Loyola University of Chicago, discredits that origin. It gives
      many examples of the use of the word gringo, but does not find any
      positive source from which it is sprung.
      To quote from Father Ronan's article:
      "The word gringo was mentioned in Spanish literature as early as the
      eighteenth century. In his famous Diccionario, compiled some time
      before 1750, Terreros y Pando, a Spanish historian states that gringo
      was a nickname given to foreigners in Malaga and Madrid who spoke
      Spanish with an accent, and that in Madrid the term had special
      reference to the Irish. The pertinent passage in the Diccionario
      reads:
      "Gringo in Malaga, what they call foreigners who (have) a certain
      kind of accent which prevents their speaking Spanish with ease and
      spontaneity; in Madrid the case is the same, and for some reason,
      especially with respect to the Irish."
      "Another instance of its early use is in Bustamante's 1841 edition of
      Francisco Javier Alegre's Historia de la Companis de Jesús en la
      Nueva España, in which he explains that the Spanish soldiers sent to
      Mexico in 1767 by Charles III were called gringos by the Mexican
      people.
      "Between the late 1760's and the early 1830's, however, the word
      apparently was rarely used, for no mention of it during that period
      has been found.
      "Beginning in the 1830s, there are numerous references to the word
      gringo in the New World travel accounts, in dictionaries, and in
      Spanish-American literature. For example, two early 19th century
      travelers, the German Johan Jakob von Tschudi and the Frenchman
      Arseve Isabelle, both testify to the use of the word. In his travels
      in Peru during the years 1838-1842, Tschudi recounts how the Peruvian
      women 'prefer marrying a Gringo to a Paisanito, or (native).' In
      this 'voyage,' Isabelle complains about the insulting names, such as
      gringo, that travelers were called in South America. As for
      dictionaries, two, Diccionario (1846) of Vicente Salva y Perez, list
      gringo as a nickname given a foreigner who speaks an unintelligible
      language. Interestingly enough, the word is not incorporated into
      Diccionario de la Real Academia until the 1869 edition. In Spanish
      literature, gringo appears in Manuel Breton de los Herreros Elena, a
      drama presented for the first time in Madrid in 1834. Que es eso?
      Contais en gringo? (What is this / Are you using gringo language?)
      Scholars are not in agreement about the correct use and origin of
      this word. According to one opinion, gringo is a corrected form of
      griego as used in the ancient Spanish expression hablar en griego,
      that is, to speak an unintelligible language or "to speak Greek."
      What I think is very evident from all of this is that this word was
      used long ago before any English-speaking calvary soldiers were
      riding and singing near the Mexican border as has been suggested by
      some in previous reports.
      Please let us lay this debate to rest and conclude that this word was
      in dictionaries and daily use in the Spanish language in the 18th and
      19th centuries. It will continue to be interpreted by all of us in
      many different ways.
      Whatever the source, in Costa Rica it is not a derogatory term. Nor
      is it rude to be called one or to call some one a Gringo. We call
      Costarricense Ticos or Ticas… They call us Gringos as I refer to
      myself as a Gringo and at the local gym I am known as the Big
      Gringo..

      So I hope the terminology problem can be laid to rest…

      Jerry
    • lesscranky
      Good summary, Jerry. I am, though, interested to know how the term is generally used in Costa Rica. There are certainly individual differences; but according
      Message 2 of 5 , Jan 31 9:30 AM
        Good summary, Jerry.

        I am, though, interested to know how the term is generally used in
        Costa Rica.

        There are certainly individual differences; but according to my
        personal, unscientific straw poll, most of the Ticos I have talked to
        use "gringo" to refer to Americans, not Canadians or Europeans.

        The term "gringo" is used sometimes neutrally, sometimes positively,
        and sometimes negatively.

        This issue first arose when I first came to Costa Rica, and described
        myself as a gringo, whereupon Ticos who knew I was Canadian corrected
        me, saying I was not a gringo, not an American.

        Other experiences?
      • Thor
        In my experience The term gringo is used sometimes neutrally, sometimes positively, and sometimes negatively and often includes Canadians and occasionally
        Message 3 of 5 , Feb 1, 2007
          In my experience The term "gringo" is used sometimes neutrally,
          sometimes positively, and sometimes negatively and often includes
          Canadians and occasionally British or Northern Europeans. An
          observation of mine is that any Latina referred to as a "gringa" is
          done so in a derogatory manner.

          Regards
          Thor
        • Lisa Campbell
          The correct term is Estadounidense. I don t know if anyone uses it, and I didn t catch the beginning of the conversation. Just for gods sake if you re
          Message 4 of 5 , Feb 1, 2007
            The correct term is Estadounidense.

            I don't know if anyone uses it, and I didn't catch the beginning of
            the conversation.
            Just for gods sake if you're American, don't call yourself Americano.
            We're all American, whether we live in Costa Rica, Canada, Argentina,
            or the USA.

            :P

            elle.
          • marcus collier
            There is only one country in all the world that has America as part of it s name. Mexicans are from Mexico, French from France and Americans from the United
            Message 5 of 5 , Feb 1, 2007
              There is only one country in all the world that
              has "America" as part of it's name.
              Mexicans are from Mexico, French from France and
              Americans from the United States of America.
              My experience has been that latins only claim to
              be Americans when talking to a US citizen, never
              among themselves.

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