WORDS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORDS > 2001-01 > 0978793405
From: Lee Daniel Quinn <>
Subject: [WORDS] Gringo
Date: Sat, 06 Jan 2001 10:03:25 -0500
>From my files:
The Mexican War was 1846-1848.
The Spanish-American War was in 1898.
I looked those dates up when I first encountered this classic example of
I know of no war occurring in 1835 & 1836, other than the Texas Revolution
The war traditionally associated with the song "Green grow the lilacs" in
the 'fakelore' on the word 'gringo' is the Mexican War. My understanding,
which may be wrong, is that the song became coincidentally popular during
The word 'Gringo' entered American English between 1840 & 1844. It's first
recorded English use is 1841: J. J. Webb, "Memoirs". The OED citation
indicates a New Mexico locale. It was applied by the local Mexican-Americans
to English-speakers in general & 'Norte-Americanos' in particular. Since the
term was also so-used in Mexico as well, the assumption would be that the
term was not new in Mexican Spanish even before 1841. Since the term was
widely used throughout the Spanish-speaking Americas prior to the 1840s with
the generalized sense of "stranger", "not a native Spanish-speaking
European", it cannot to have originated in the American Southwest & spread
"overnight" throughout Mexico & Latin America. Since the meaning of the much
older term 'Griego', shifted from the specific sense "Greek" to the more
general sense "a non-Spanish-speaking stranger", most etymologists have
concluded that "Gringo' arose as a nasalized variant of 'Griego' after the
original sense "Greek" had become lost or blurred. My own conclusion is that
'Griego' was altered to 'Gringo', probably deliberately, in Latin American
Spanish during the late1700s & early 1800s, when there was a large influx of
non-Spanish Europeans into the Americas. I have distant "cousins" [Drehmers]
in Brazil whose ancestors moved there in the early 1800s.
A conservative guess would be that 'Gringo', meaning "stranger", was
probably widespread in Spanish-speaking America by 1820 at the latest. I
believe it was in use long before that. The Spanish may have "relished" the
sound of 'Gringo' over that of 'Griego' when throwing terms of abuse at the
English whenever they encountered them, possibly as early as the 1600s (the
English would not necessarily have been "keen" on preserving the term).
Finding an example of 'Gringo' as a variant of 'Griego' in use in Spain
before 1800 or 1700 would settle the issue.
The Mexicans under Santa Ana during the Texan Revolution (1832-1836) in all
probability also hurled this insult at the American defenders of the Alamo,
but what American would want to preserve the term? [The Mexicans fighting
with the Americans against Santa Ana's troops were probably too imbarassed
by all this to use the term themselves.]
When I first discovered this word's bogus history, I learned a new word:
'fakelore': if you don't know the origin of something, make one up, &
pass it on!
This is why I always suggest looking in a good dictionary first. Most folks
don't seem to bother themselves with evidence.
Of course, the Mexicans who encountered Americans could very easily have
thought that the Americans singing "Green Grow the Lilacs" were actually
singing "Gringoes the Lilacs", & the Americans could very easily have
thought they were hearing "Green Grow" when the Mexicans yelled "Gringo!"
Somehow, this does not seem likely though. But the scenario is a funny one.
Your sedulous sempiternal, Quidnunc & Doyen - Lee Daniel Quinn
[Sedulous: diligent in application or attention; persevering;
assiduous. Sempiternal: everlasting; eternal. Quidnunc: One who
is curious to know everything that passes; one who knows, or
pretends to know, all that is going on; a gossip; a busybody.
Doyen: the senior member, as in age, rank, or experience,
of a group, class, profession, etc.]
At 02:27 AM 01/06/2001 EST, you wrote:
>Uh-oh. Here we go again.
>supposedly the name "gringo" originated with the first two words "Green
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