Lingo for Gringos: Ten Spanish Words All Anglos Should Know

These words will help non-Spanish speakers navigate a multicultural and multilingual state.

By W. F. Strong and Lupita Rodriguez StrongMay 31, 2017 10:12 am| ,

I call this commentary “Lingo for Gringos” mostly because it rhymes, but it should really be called “Ten Spanish Words all Texans Should Know.”

I’m not talking about the easy words like cervezavinotortillataco and baño. And I’m not talking about the common words you say every day that are actually Spanish words – patio, plaza, armadillo, mosquito, etc. I’ve chosen 10 words that are important for their social significance. If you know very little Spanish but at least know these words, you will have a clue as to what is going on around you. Listos? Ready? Here we go.

Aguas means “watch out” or “be careful.” My wife uses it often when children are in danger: “Aguas, aguas,” she says with the same tone of impending doom, whether they are really about to walk off a cliff or could just get gently bumped by the fridge door. The expression has its roots in the cities of long ago when water used to be tossed out the second story windows and walkers below would warn their companions by yelling “aguas.”

Guácala is a slang word, popular throughout Latin America. It means “gross” or “disgusting.” It is also fun to say. It has an onomatopoeic quality that makes the word sound like what it describes. It animates the moment. Guácala, for all that disgusts you. And a true grammarian who just heard me torture the pronunciation of the adjective form for onomatopoeia probably just said it.

Ni modo is two words, but always sounds like one to me. I love this expression. It means “What can you do?” Or “It is out of our hands.” Or “Whatever will be will be.” Ni modo. Someone says, “They’ve changed the computer system at work again.” Ni modo.

N’ombre is not the meaning for “name,” but a word with an apostrophe that is short for “no, hombre.” N’ombre. “No way.” It has many nuances of meanings, but for the most part it expresses surprise, disbelief, or even shock. “Did you know Lisa and Chuy eloped?” N’ombre!

Güey means dude. N’ombre, güey! “It can’t be, dude!” The Big Lebowski would be the ultimate güey. “El Güey aguanta.” “The Dude abides.”

Chisme is gossip or rumor. Good, juicy stories. “Tienes chisme?” “Got any good gossip?” When Facebook was new, I would hear people say, “Facebook es puro chisme,” meaning that private information could easily slip out and travel to all the last places you would want it to go.

Naca or naco. Don’t confuse this with narcos – those who work for cartels. A naca is a girl or a woman who sports unsophisticated tastes or at least less sophisticated than you. She is often, like true rednecks, proud of being authentic. If Jeff Foxworthy spoke Spanish he might do this routine: “If you think Sharpie eyebrows are high-fashion, you might be a naca. And if you think mullets are in – hate to say it – ‘N’ombre, que naco!'”

Sin vergüenza means without shame, or without embarrassment. It is used when someone stuffs her purse with buffet food at the reception. We say, “sin vergüenza.”

Resaca is a hangover. It is a common word in the Rio Grande Valley. It is another name for the oxbow lakes so common there. Just as the oxbow lake is a leftover or hangover from the Rio Grande, resaca is the name for a hangover from the tequila of the night before. “Tengo una resaca horrible.” “I have a horrible hangover.”

Órale is famous for having about 40 different meanings achieved by variations in vocal inflection and situation. Some linguists say it has 820 meanings depending on the tone, time of day, style of hair and what shoes you’re wearing. It is used for enthusiastic affirmation. Someone says “vámonos por una cerveza” and you say, “órale.” It means, “Let’s go ahead,” “absolutely,” “let’s do it,” “hurry up,” “wow,” and dozens of other things. One Texas English equivalent for órale is simply, “there you go.”

So there you have the 10 words that will be helpful to you. I want to say gracias to my gorgeous wife Lupita Rodriguez Strong, who has taught me these words and many others I cannot share on radio. But these 10 will serve you well in our increasingly multilingual world.

Soy W. F. Fuerte. Estos son Cuentos de Tejas. Algunos son ciertos.

I’m W.F. Strong. These are Stories From Texas. Some are true.