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Gringo (/ˈɡrnɡ/, Spanish: [ˈɡɾiŋɡo], Portuguese: [ˈɡɾĩɡu]) (masculine) or gringa (feminine) is a term in Spanish and Portuguese for a foreigner. In Spanish, the term usually refers to English-speaking Anglo-Americans. There are differences in meaning depending on region and country. In Latin America, it is generally used to refer to non-Latin Americans. The term is often considered a pejorative,[1] but is not always used to insult,[2][3][4] and in the United States its usage and offensiveness is disputed.[5]

The word derives from the term used by the Spanish for a Greek person: griego.[6][7] According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use in English comes from John Woodhouse Audubon's Western Journal of 1849–1850,[8][9] in which Audubon reports that his party was hooted and shouted at and called "Gringoes" while passing through the town of Cerro Gordo, Veracruz.[10]


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:[11][12][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".[6][13] 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:[14]

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).[15] 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".[11]

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'.[16][17]

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.[6]
  • 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.[18]
  • 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.[19][20]

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 primarily referred to Italians in the lunfardo argot.[21][22] It also found use in the intermittent exercise Gringo-Gaucho between Argentine Naval Aviation and US Navy aircraft carriers.


In Brazil, the word gringo means "foreigner" and has no connection to physical characteristics or specific countries. For example, foreign football players in the Brazilian Championship that come from other Latin American countries are referred to as "gringos" by the sports media[23][24] and by sports fans.[25] Tourists are called gringos regardless of their ethnic origins (i.e. Latin Americans or people from other regions, like Europe).[26]

As the word has no connection to physical appearance in Brazil, black African or African American foreigners are also called gringos.[27] 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, "polaco" (Polack) and "galego" (Galician)[28] which are used for both Brazilians[29][30] and foreigners[31] with such characteristics, regardless of national or ethnic origins.


In Chile, the word gringo is mostly used to refer to people from the United States.[32][33] The word gringolandia is used as synonymous with United States of America.[34]

Sometimes, it is used for people from some English-speaking countries, like Great Britain[35] or Canada.[36]


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

In Mexico, the use of the word "gringo" has been reserved for people from the U.S.,[37] especially Anglo Americans, since the end of the 19th century.

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 18th century.[38] 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 Mexican–American War, 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.[39] Since then, gringo became a way to designate United States citizens exclusively.[40]

The term is deeply rooted in Mexican culture and art; for example, in the novel The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes or in the songs Frijolero by Molotov and Somos Más Americanos by Los Tigres del Norte.[2]

United States[edit]

In the United States, gringo is often used by Latino Americans to refer to Anglo Americans.[5] Sometimes it is also used by Americans to refer to themselves.[41] It is considered to be a racial slur targeted towards non-Hispanic white people but it may also refer to any person that is not Latino.[42][43] Among the US Latino communities it may also disparagingly refer to another Latino person perceived to not be culturally Latino, e.g. inability to speak Spanish.[44]

Alicia Shepard stated that there is a disagreement between Hispanics and non-Hispanics about its offensiveness.[5] She argued that even though in Spanish it is defined as a neutral term and not as an insult, in English it can be interpreted as such, and should be avoided.[5]

Gustavo Arellano said that the term is "technically a slur", but "its power to offend nowadays is minimal". He compared the ban on the term as an attempt to cancel aspects of Mexican culture.[41]

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). Some attribute the name to the white flour used.[45]


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.[46]

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. ^ English dictionaries:
    • "gringo". Cambridge Dictionaries Online. Cambridge University. Retrieved 17 November 2021. used in Latin American countries to refer to people from the US or other English-speaking countries Note: This word is usually considered offensive.
    • "gringo". definition of gringo. The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 17 November 2021. Often Offensive: (in Latin America or Spain) A foreigner in Latin America, especially an American or English person.
    • "gringo". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 17 November 2021. often disparaging: a foreigner in Spain or Latin America especially when of English or American origin;
    • "Gringo". Retrieved 17 November 2021. Sometimes Disparaging and Offensive: a term used in Latin America or Spain to refer to a foreigner, especially one of U.S. or British descent (often used facetiously).
    Spanish dictionaries:
    • "gringo, ga". SM Diccionarios. Archived from the original on 6 December 2013. Retrieved 17 November 2021. desp.: Persona nacida en los Estados Unidos de América (país americano)
    • "gringo - Definición -". (in Spanish). Retrieved 1 December 2018. Persona nacida en Estados Unidos, en especial la de habla inglesa.
    Portuguese dictionaries:
    • "gringo, ga". Dicio. Retrieved 17 November 2021. Pessoa que não nasceu no Brasil; estrangeiro
  2. ^ a b Llorente, Analía (2020). ""Gringo", "yanqui", "yuma" y "gabacho": por qué los estadounidenses tienen tantos apodos y de dónde viene cada uno". BBC News Mundo (in Spanish). Retrieved 2023-06-23.
  3. ^ Carl Franz; Lorena Havens (2012). The People's Guide to Mexico. Avalon Publishing. p. 494. ISBN 9781612380490.
  4. ^ Ramirez, Aida (2013). "Who, Exactly, Is A Gringo?". NPR. Retrieved 23 June 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d Shepard, Alicia C. (2011-01-24). "Is The Word "Gringo" Offensive Or Just Distracting?". NPR. Retrieved 2021-09-29.
  6. ^ a b c "Etymology of Gringo". 17 April 2011. Retrieved 20 September 2017.
  7. ^ "Gringo: origen y significado de la palabra". MILENIO (in Mexican Spanish). 7 April 2019. Retrieved 2021-09-29.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Gringo" From the Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved November 28, 2008.
  10. ^ Audubon, John W. (1906). Audubon's Western Journal 1849–1850, p. 100. Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Company.
  11. ^ 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)
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ 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
  16. ^ Irving L. Allen, The Language of Ethnic Conflict: Social Organization and Lexical Culture, 1983, ISBN 0-231-05557-9, p. 129
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "The Colorful Origin Stories of "Gringo"". Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  19. ^ Nikito Nipongo (2001). Perlas. LD Books. p. 24. ISBN 978-968-5270-38-0.
  20. ^ José Hernández (1925). "Martín Fierro", comentado y anotado. p. 421.
  21. ^ "En busca del término "gringo". Precisiones caracterológicas en Argentina (In search of the term "gringo". Characterological precisions in Argentina)" (PDF) (in Spanish). Retrieved 2024-02-08.
  22. ^ Falcón, Ricardo (2005). La Barcelona Argentina: migrantes, obreros y militantes en Rosario, 1870-1912 (in Spanish). Laborde Editor. p. 221. ISBN 978-9879459966.
  23. ^ "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.
  24. ^ "gringo footballers in Brazil 2015 (ESPN)". Lance Net. Retrieved 10 February 2015. The word being used for Hispanic American footballers in Brazil.
  25. ^ "Expanded "gringo" limit in Brazilian Championship". 2014-07-28. Archived from the original on 2014-07-30. Retrieved 10 February 2015. The word being used by a fan as a synonym of "foreigner" in the Brazilian Championship.
  26. ^ "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.
  27. ^ "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.
  28. ^ "Significado de "galego"". Retrieved 2016-01-25.
  29. ^ "Brazilian reality show celebrity nicknamed Alemão". Extra. 2015-01-25. Retrieved 10 February 2015. The word Alemão as nickname for non-German Brazilian.
  30. ^ "Brazilian footballer nicknamed Alemão". Bol. Retrieved 10 February 2015. The word Alemão as nickname for non-German Brazilian Footballer.
  31. ^ "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).
  32. ^ Reyes, Felipe (24 March 2022). ""Nos echaron de Chile": profesor y youtuber "gringo" se va tras años sin residencia para su esposa". Retrieved 26 August 2023.
  33. ^ Donoso, Carlos (11 August 2014). "La singular historia del "Gringo", el estadounidense que logró un ascenso en Chile y dejó el fútbol para convertirse en sacerdote". La Tercera. Retrieved 26 August 2023.
  34. ^ "Cómo sobrevivir en "gringolandia" según una chilena". 1 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2023.
  35. ^ Jeria, Diego (11 November 2021). "Danilo Díaz vuelto loco y en éxtasis con Ben Brereton frente a Paraguay: destaca "el partidazo del gringo" de la Roja". Redgol. Retrieved 26 August 2023.
  36. ^ Rodriguez, Alejandro (13 July 2023). ""A very chilean moment": Tiktoker gringa es viral al mostrar cómo se pasan los días de lluvia en el campo chileno". Retrieved 26 August 2023.
  37. ^ Diccionario del español de México. "gringo". (in Spanish). El Colegio de México. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  38. ^ 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.
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ "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
  41. ^ a b Arellano, Gustavo (2022-02-11). "Column: The last lament of the California gringo". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2023-06-24.
  42. ^ 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.
  43. ^ 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. S2CID 27718979. ...and the slur gringo by Anglo-Americans, explaining that "The act of re-appropriating or re-contextualizing, the process by which a group reclaims a term or artifact that disparages that group and then uses it in a different context, is not something new"
  44. ^ "Who, Exactly, Is A Gringo?". TPR. 2013-08-07. Retrieved 2021-09-29.
  45. ^ "Tacos in LA: A Complete Taco Encyclopedia of L.A." Los Angeles Magazine. July 24, 2015. Retrieved February 10, 2018.
  46. ^ 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.