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A gringo (/ˈɡrɪŋɡ/, Spanish: [ˈɡɾiŋɡo], Portuguese: [ˈɡɾĩɡu]) (male) or gringa (female) is a term for a foreigner in Latin America.[1][2][3] There are regional differences in meaning and in the frequency of usage, and the context matters greatly, but it refers most often to White people from the United States or other English-speaking countries.[4] The level of its offensiveness is disputed in the US[5] and "is also sometimes used as a name for [US] Hispanics who are not in touch with their Latino roots."[6] The word likely derives from xenophobic usage by the Spanish for Greek: griego.[7][8]According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use in English comes from John Woodhouse Audubon's Western Journal of 1849–1850,[9][10] in which Audubon reports that his party was hooted and shouted at and called "Gringoes" while passing through the town of Cerro Gordo, Veracruz.[11]


The word gringo originally referred to any kind of foreigner. It was first recorded in 1787 in the Spanish Diccionario castellano con las voces de Ciencias y Artes:[12][13][a]

GRINGOS, llaman en Málaga a los extranjeros, que tienen cierta especie de acento, que los priva de una locución fácil, y natural Castellana; y en Madrid dan el mismo, y por la misma causa con particularidad a los Irlandeses.

Gringos is what, in Malaga, they call foreigners who have a certain type of accent that prevents them from speaking Castilian easily and naturally; and in Madrid they give the same name, and for the same reason, in particular to the Irish.

The most likely theory is that it originates from griego ('Greek'), used in the same way as the English phrase "it's Greek to me".[7][14] Spanish is known to have used Greek as a stand-in for incomprehensibility, though now less common, such as in the phrase hablar en griego (lit. 'to speak Greek'). The 1817 Nuevo diccionario francés-español,[b] for example, gives gringo and griego as synonyms in this context:[15]

... hablar en griego, en guirigay, en gringo.
Gringo, griego: aplícase a lo que se dice o escribe sin entenderse.

... to speak in Greek, in gibberish, in gringo.
Gringo, Greek : applied to what is said or written but not understood.

This derivation requires two steps: griego > grigo, and grigo > gringo. Corominas notes that while the first change is common in Spanish (e.g. priesa to prisa), there is no perfect analogy for the second, save in Old French (Gregoire to Grigoire to Gringoire).[16] However, there are other Spanish words whose colloquial form contains an epenthetic n, such as gordiflón and gordinflón ('chubby'), and Cochinchina and Conchinchina ('South Vietnam'). It is also possible that the final form was influenced by the word jeringonza, a game like Pig Latin also used to mean "gibberish".[12]

Alternatively, it has been suggested that gringo could derive from the Caló language, the language of the Romani people of Spain, as a variant of the hypothetical *peregringo, 'peregrine', 'wayfarer', 'stranger'.[17][18]

Folk etymologies[edit]

There are several folk etymologies that purport to derive the origin of gringo from word coincidences. Many of these folk etymologies date the word to the Mexican–American War (1846–1848):

  • Gringo is a result of American troops singing songs which began with "Green grows..." such as "Green Grow the Rushes, O", "Green Grow the Lilacs", and various others.[7]
  • Another theory involves locals yelling "Green, go home!" at invading American soldiers (sometimes in conflicts other than the Mexican–American War), in reference to their supposedly green uniforms.[19]
  • Another derives from the Irish "Erin go bragh" ("Ireland forever"), which served as the motto for Saint Patrick's Battalion who fought alongside the Mexican army.[20][21]

Regional usage[edit]


The word gringo is mostly used in rural areas following the original Spanish meaning. Gringo in Argentina was used to refer to non-Spanish European immigrants who first established agricultural colonies in the country. The word was used for Swiss, German, Polish, Italian and other immigrants, but since the Italian immigrants were the larger group, the word used to be mostly linked to Italians in the lunfardo argot.[22][23] It has also found use in the intermittent exercise Gringo-Gaucho between Argentine Naval Aviation and USN aircraft carriers. Though, nowadays, the youth may use gringo to refer to USA citizens.[citation needed]


In Brazil, the word gringo means simply foreigner and has no connection to any physical characteristics or specific countries. Most foreign footballers in the Brazilian Championship that came from other Latin American countries are nevertheless referred as "gringos" by the sport media[24][25] and by sport fans.[26] Tourists are called gringos, regardless of their real ethnic origins (i.e. Latin Americans or people from other regions, like Europe).[27]

As the word has no connection to physical appearance in Brazil, black African or African American foreigners are also called gringos.[28] Popularly used terms for fair-skinned and blond people are generally based in specific nationalities, like "alemão" (i.e., German), "russo" (Russian) or, in some regions, "galego" (Galician)[29] which are used for both Brazilians[30][31] and foreigners[32] with such characteristics, regardless of their real ethnic origins.


A woman reading the English-language Gringo Gazette in Baja California Sur, Mexico

In Mexico, the use of the word "gringo" has been restricted, since the end of the 19th century, to inhabitants of the U.S.

The term is mentioned in its meaning of "incomprehensible language" from the 18th century (1789) to the 1830s, but also to indicate foreign troops, at first, coming from Spain in the second half of the century. XVIII.[33] A text published in Mexico, but written by a Spaniard, denigrates a Mexican from Sonora for speaking "gringo", in reference to the indigenous language. After the War with the United States, gringo began to be used for citizens from that country, with expressions such as "American gringo" or simply gringo, attested as in popular use in Tepetitlán in 1849.[34] Since then, gringo became a way to designate exclusively the United States citizens.[35]

United States[edit]

The term is also used by Chicanos in the US to refer to Whites. It's level of offensiveness is debated, with many White people feeling it is offensive or a racial slur.[5] Some Anglo-Americans have re-appropriated it.[2]

Other uses[edit]


In Mexican cuisine, a gringa is a flour tortilla with al pastor pork meat with cheese, heated on a comal and optionally served with a salsa de chile (chilli sauce). The name is either a reference to the white flour used,[36] or its creation, when two women from the United States asked a Mexico City taquería for a Mexican dish but disliked corn tortillas.[citation needed] In Bolivia, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru, the term is used for referring to blonde people.[4]


In 1969, José Ángel Gutiérrez, one of the leaders of the Mexican American Youth Organization, said his and MAYO's use of the term, rather than referring to non-Latinos, referred to people or institutions with policies or attitudes that reflect racism and violence.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Castilian Dictionary including the Words of the Sciences and the Arts, and their Correspondents in Three Languages: French, Latin, and Italian"
  2. ^ "New French–Spanish Dictionary"


  1. ^ Ayto, John AytoJohn; Simpson, John SimpsonJohn (2010-01-01), Ayto, John; Simpson, John (eds.), "gringo", The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/acref/9780199543700.001.0001/acref-9780199543700-e-1894, ISBN 978-0-19-954370-0, retrieved 2021-10-15
  2. ^ a b Thompson, Nicole Akoukou (2013-11-11). "John Leguizamo & Kanye West Use Re-appropriation to Change Perceptions". Latin Post - Latin news, immigration, politics, culture. Retrieved 2021-10-14.
  3. ^ Croom, Adam M. (2014-11-01). "Spanish slurs and stereotypes for Mexican-Americans in the USA: A context-sensitive account of derogation and appropriation: Peyorativos y estereotipos para los Mexicano-Americanos en EE. UU.: Una consideración contextual del uso despectivo y de apropiación". Pragmática Sociocultural / Sociocultural Pragmatics. 2 (2): 145–179. doi:10.1515/soprag-2014-0007. ISSN 2194-8313.
  4. ^ a b English dictionaries:
    • "gringo". Cambridge Dictionaries Online. Cambridge University. Retrieved 20 February 2014. used in Latin American countries to refer to people from the US or other English-speaking countries
    • "gringo". definition of gringo. The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 20 February 2014. Used as a sometimes disparaging term for a foreigner in Latin America, especially an American or English person.
    • "gringo". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 20 February 2014. a foreigner in Spain or Latin America especially when of English or American origin;
    • "Gringo". Retrieved 20 February 2014. (in Latin America or Spain) a foreigner, especially one of U.S. or British descent.
    Spanish dictionaries:
    • "gringo, ga". SM Diccionarios. Retrieved 20 February 2014. Persona nacida en los Estados Unidos de América (país americano)
    • "gringo, ga". Diccionario de la lengua española. Real Academia Española. Archived from the original on 4 November 2015. Retrieved 20 February 2014. Extranjero, especialmente de habla inglesa, y en general hablante de una lengua que no sea la española; Am. Mer., Cuba, El Salv., Hond. y Nic. estadounidense.
    • "gringo - Definición -". (in Spanish). Retrieved 1 December 2018. Persona nacida en Estados Unidos, en especial la de habla inglesa.
  5. ^ a b Shepard, Alicia C. (2011-01-24). "Is The Word "Gringo" Offensive Or Just Distracting?". NPR. Retrieved 2021-09-29.
  6. ^ "Who, Exactly, Is A Gringo?". TPR. 2013-08-07. Retrieved 2021-09-29.
  7. ^ a b c "Etymology of Gringo". 17 April 2011. Retrieved 20 September 2017.
  8. ^ "Gringo: origen y significado de la palabra". (in Spanish). Retrieved 2021-09-29.
  9. ^ Audubon, John Woodhouse; Audubon, Maria Rebecca; Hodder, Frank Heywood (20 September 2017). "Audubon's western journal, 1849-1850; being the ms. record of a trip from New York to Texas, and an overland journey through Mexico and Arizona to the gold fields of California". Cleveland, A. H. Clark. Retrieved 20 September 2017 – via Internet Archive.
  10. ^ "Gringo" From the Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved November 28, 2008.
  11. ^ Audubon, John W. (1906). Audubon's Western Journal 1849–1850, p. 100. Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Company.
  12. ^ a b Beatriz Varela, "Ethnic Nicknames of Spanish Origin", in Rodríguez González, Félix (1996). Spanish Loanwords in the English Language: A Tendency Towards Hegemony Reversal. Walter de Gruyter. p. 143. ISBN 978-3-11-014845-9. (backup link)
  13. ^ Esteban Terreros y Pando (S.I.) (1787). Diccionario castellano con las voces de ciencias y artes y sus correspondientes en las tres lenguas francesa, latina é italiana: E-O. en la imprenta de la Viuda de Ibarra, Hijos y Compañia. p. 240.
  14. ^ Johann Jakob von Tschudi (1847). Travels in Peru, During the Years 1838-1842: On the Coast, in the Sierra, Across the Cordilleras and the Andes, Into the Primeval Forests. D. Bogue. p. 122.
  15. ^ Antonio de Capmany y de Montpalau; Imprenta de Sancha (Madrid) (1817). Nuevo diccionario francés-español: en este van enmendados, corregidos, mejorados, y enriquecidos considerablemente los de Gattel, y Cormon. Under Hebreu and Parler: Imprenta de Sancha. pp. 448, 628.
  16. ^ Griego at Diccionario crítico etimológico de la lengua castellana, Vol. II, pag. 784 (25), Joan Corominas, Francke Verlag, Berna, 1954, ISBN 978-84-249-1361-8
  17. ^ Irving L. Allen, The Language of Ethnic Conflict: Social Organization and Lexical Culture, 1983, ISBN 0-231-05557-9, p. 129
  18. ^ Sayers, William (2009). "An Unnoticed Early Attestation ofgringo'Foreigner': Implications for its Origin". Bulletin of Spanish Studies. 86 (3): 323–330. doi:10.1080/14753820902937946. S2CID 193235188.
  19. ^ "The Colorful Origin Stories of "Gringo"". Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  20. ^ Nikito Nipongo (2001). Perlas. LD Books. p. 24. ISBN 978-968-5270-38-0.
  21. ^ José Hernández (1925). "Martín Fierro", comentado y anotado. p. 421.
  22. ^
  23. ^ Falcón, Ricardo (2005). La Barcelona Argentina: migrantes, obreros y militantes en Rosario, 1870-1912 (in Spanish). Laborde Editor. p. 221. ISBN 978-9879459966.
  24. ^ "gringo footballers in Brazil 2015". Lance Net. Archived from the original on 11 February 2015. Retrieved 10 February 2015. The word being used for Hispanic American footballers in Brazil.
  25. ^ "gringo footballers in Brazil 2015 (ESPN)". Lance Net. Retrieved 10 February 2015. The word being used for Hispanic American footballers in Brazil.
  26. ^ "Expanded "gringo" limit in Brazilian Championship". 2014-07-28. Retrieved 10 February 2015. The word being used by a fan as a synonym of "foreigner" in the Brazilian Championship.
  27. ^ "turistas gringos". Terra. Archived from the original on 25 January 2016. Retrieved 10 February 2015. The word being used for European and Latin American tourists in Brazil.
  28. ^ "Cameroon gringos". Migra Mundo. Archived from the original on 2 December 2014. Retrieved 10 February 2015. Black immigrants from Cameroon play the "Copa Gringos" in Brazil.
  29. ^ "Significado de "galego"". Retrieved 2016-01-25.
  30. ^ "Brazilian reality show celebrity nicknamed Alemão". Extra. 2015-01-25. Retrieved 10 February 2015. The word Alemão as nickname for non-German Brazilian.
  31. ^ "Brazilian footballer nicknamed Alemão". Bol. Retrieved 10 February 2015. The word Alemão as nickname for non-German Brazilian Footballer.
  32. ^ "Complexo do Alemão". Encontra Penha RJ. Retrieved 10 February 2015. The word Alemão as nickname for Polish Immigrant Leonard Kaczmarkiewicz eventually lead a whole community to be known as Complexo do Alemão(German's Complex).
  33. ^ Martínez Levy, Adrián Rodrigo (2019). "Acerca de los significados del marcador adverbial dizque en el español de México: una aproximación desde el Enfoque dialógico de la argumentación y la polifonía". Pragmalinguistica (27): 155–174. doi:10.25267/pragmalinguistica.2019.i27.08. ISSN 2445-3064.
  34. ^ Garone Gravier, Marina (2020-04-10). "Los catálogos editoriales como fuentes para el estudio de la bibliografía y la historia de la edición. El caso del Fondo de Cultura Económica". Palabra Clave (La Plata). 9 (2): e085. doi:10.24215/18539912e085. ISSN 1853-9912.
  35. ^ "DESARROLLO HISTÓRICO DE LA REPRESENTACIÓN FÍLMICA DEL ESPACIO FRONTERIZO ENTRE MÉXICO Y ESTADOS UNIDOS", Miradas que se cruzan, Vervuert Verlagsgesellschaft, pp. 31–62, 2014-12-31, doi:10.31819/9783964563248-002, ISBN 978-3-96456-324-8, retrieved 2020-11-16
  36. ^ "Tacos in LA: A Complete Taco Encyclopedia of L.A." Los Angeles Magazine. July 24, 2015. Retrieved February 10, 2018.
  37. ^ Diehl, Kemper (26 April 2006). "STATEMENTS BY JOSE ANGEL GUTIERREZ, SAN ANTONIO EVENING NEWS, APRIL 11, 1969". Archived from the original on 17 September 2007. A person or an institution who has a certain policy or program or attitudes that reflect bigotry, racism, discord and prejudice and violence.