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Monday, July 24, 2006 Bookmark Now! | Email to a friend  

How did the term "gringo" originate?

I had always assumed that it was simply a Spanish word meaning "a pesky European settler," but once I looked into the matter, it turned out that things weren't quite so cut and dried.

After entering the phrase "gringo origin" into the Google search box and clicking on some of the web page matches, I 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.

A second theory postulates that American troops, during that same war, wore green uniforms and were taunted with cries of "Green go!" Frankly, I found that one hard to swallow. Thankfully, most of the sites I consulted viewed this idea with a healthy dose of skepticism.

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 me 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, I located a comprehensive article from Honduras This Week that outlines the long history of the term predating the Mexican-Amercian conflict. As far as I am 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.

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