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A gringo (male) or gringa (female) (/ˈɡrɪŋɡ/, Spanish: [ˈɡɾiŋɡo], Portuguese: [ˈɡɾĩɡu]) is a term, mainly used in Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking countries, which may have different meanings depending on where it is used. In some Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, gringo refers to someone who is foreign and English-speaking, particularly someone from the United States, sometimes disparagingly.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

The word was originally used in Spain to denote any foreign, non-native speakers of Spanish.


The word gringo was first recorded in Volume II of[8] the Diccionario castellano con las voces de Ciencias y Artes y sus correspondientes en las 3 lenguas francesa, latina e italiana (Castilian Dictionary including the Words of the Sciences and the Arts, and their Correspondents in 3 Languages: French, Latin, and Italian, 1787), by Terreros y Pando, wherein it is defined as:

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.[9]

The dominant view among etymologists is that gringo is most likely a variant of griego 'Greek' speech (cf. Greek to me).

A purported problem with this theory is that such usage of "gringo" in Spain had to do with peoples who originated in the eastern Mediterranean, rather than the northern European stock that dominated in the United States. However, the word gringo originated in Spain long before there was a Spanish-speaking Mexico and at one time, the word in Spain was often used to refer specifically to the Irish (at the time, the migrations known as Flight of the Wild Geese brought a constant stream of Irish exiles and mercenaries to Spain). And according to a 1787 dictionary, it often referred to someone who spoke Spanish poorly.[10][11]

It has also been suggested that griego > gringo is phonetically unlikely, because the derivation requires two steps: (i) griego > grigo, and (ii) grigo > gringo. Instead it is claimed that gringo might derive from the Caló language, the language of the Romani people of Spain, as a variant of (pere)gringo 'peregrine', 'wayfarer', and 'stranger'.[12][13][14][15][16]

The gringo entry in the Nuevo diccionario francés-español (New French–Spanish Dictionary, 1817), by Antonio de Capmany, records:[17]

. . . hablar en griego, en guirigay, en gringo.[18]

. . . to speak in Greek, in gibberish, in gringo.

Gringo, griego: aplícase a lo que se dice o escribe sin entenderse.[19]

Gringo, Greek : applies to what is said or written without understanding it.

Moreover, besides "Hablar en gringo" when referring to someone whose language is difficult to understand, re-enforced the notion that alluding to the languages of other nations is a cliché. Furthermore, in the 1840s, Johann Jakob von Tschudi said that gringo was common Peruvian Spanish usage in Lima:

Gringo is a nickname applied to Europeans. It is probably derived from griego (Greek). The Germans say of anything incomprehensible, "That sounds like Spanish", — and, in like manner, the Spaniards say of anything they do not understand, "That is Greek".[20]

In English[edit]

"Gringo" has been in use in the English language since the 19th century.[21] According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of the term in an English source is in John Woodhouse Audubon's Western Journal of 1849–1850,[22] in which Audubon reports that his party was hooted and shouted at and called "Gringoes" while passing through the town of Cerro Gordo, Veracruz.[23]

Folk etymologies[edit]

A woman reads the Gringo Gazette in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico

There are several conjectures within folk etymology that purport to derive the origin of gringo from word coincidences.

When the Mexican-American War began in 1846, several hundred recently immigrated Irish, German, and other Roman Catholic Americans who were sent by the U.S. government to fight against Mexico came to question why they were fighting against a Catholic country for a Protestant one, combined with resentment over their treatment by their Anglo-Protestant officers, and deserted to join forces with Mexico. Led by Captain Jon Riley of County Galway, they called themselves St. Patrick's Battalion (in Spanish, Batallón de San Patricio)[24] and frequently sang the song "Green Grow the Rushes, O".[citation needed].

One theory has it that there was no mention of the word "gringo", in any publication in New Spain, or what would later be Mexico, until 1847, following the US occupation of northern Mexico during the Mexican–American War.[citation needed] Marching songs reportedly sung by US soldiers, such as "(Green Grows the Grass in) My Old Kentucky Home" and "Green Grow the Lilacs", became popular in Mexico.[25] This theory also has it that native Spanish speakers have difficulty pronouncing a second "r" in "green grows", which was elided as "green-gos". Although in reality Spanish speakers have no difficulty to pronounce the particle 'gro'. Shortly afterwards Mexico City newspapers like El Universal and Excelsior began to use the word "gringos" for Americans.[citation needed] The English-born Frances Calderon, who published an account of her husband's terms as the first ambassador to Mexico from Spain (from 1842) never mentioned the word, even though she was fluent in Spanish, and familiar with Mexican vernacular.[citation needed] The word was never used in reference to the English-speakers who had settled in Texas when it was part of Mexico, although the settlers were known by names such as filibusteros, presbeterianos, vikeños, judios, hereticos, protestantes, and barbarianos.[citation needed]

In Puerto Rico, folk etymology states that the word "gringo" originated from the English words "green" and "go" referring to the desire of some locals to have the U.S. military (who allegedly wore green uniforms) leave the island by telling them: "Green, go!" Similarly in the Dominican Republic, the "green, go" folk etymology may refer to military commands uttered by U.S. during their occupation of the country from 1916 to 1924 and again from 1965 to 1966.[citation needed] This is likely incorrect, and Puerto Ricans most likely inherited this word from other Spanish speaking countries.

Rafael Abal considered the word gringo to derive from English "green horn", a novice, or raw, inexperienced person. He claimed that in the United States, men from the west coast are called "westman", while people from the east coast are called "green horns".[citation needed]

The 3rd Cavalry were the only U.S. Cavalry unit to wear green stripes on their trousers, and some believed that during their campaigns in the Southwest they were referred to as Gringos because of that stripe. Because of the prominence of Irish Americans in the regiment, the regimental song was "Green Goes the Rushes, Ho".

Yet another version is on display currently at the Alamo, in an exhibit claiming that the term gringo originated from Mexican soldiers hearing their Irish counterparts yelling "Erin go bragh" (the Irish battle cry) whenever they charged.

Another version of the origin of the word is in the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) When Francisco "Pancho" Villa attacked Columbus, New Mexico the US Army was sent to Mexico in the Villa Expedition, so when the American Army asked the people for Francisco Villa, the people answer "Green Go" ("Verde vete") because of the green uniforms that the American Army were wearing; this version is patently spurious because of the word's documented usage predates these events by many years.

Activism usage[edit]

In 1969, Jose Angel Gutierrez (one of the 5 leaders of the Mexican American Youth Organization) said his and MAYO's use of the term, rather than referring to non-Latinos, instead referred to institutions or persons with attitudes or policies/programs that reflect bigotry, discord, prejudice, racism and violence.[26]


In Brazil, the word gringo means simply foreigner, and has no connection to any physical characteristics or specific countries. Unlike most Hispanic American countries, in which gringo is never used to refer to other Latin Americans, in Brazil there is no such distinction in the use of the term. Most foreign footballers in the Brazilian Championship that came from other Latin American countries are nevertheless referred as "gringos" by the sport media[27][28] and by sport fans.[29] Tourists are called gringos, and there is no differentiation in the use of the term for Latin Americans or people from other regions, like Europe.[30]

As the word has no connection to physical appearance in Brazil, black African foreigners are also called gringos,[31] unlike some other countries in which the term implies fair skin. 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)[32] which are used for both Brazilians[33][34] and foreigners[35] with such characteristics, regardless of their real ethnic origins.


In Portugal the word gringo is not commonly used. Also, there is the word "Ianque" (Portuguese spelling of Yankee). It is never used in a formal context. It specifically describes someone from the United States (as does "Americano"), and is not related to any particular physical or racial features.[36] The most common slang terms used throughout the country are "Camone" (from the English "come on") and "Bife" (pronounced like "beef", but equivalent to "steak" in English) for English born. The most used and correct expressions are "estrangeiro" ("foreigner" in English).


The term yankee is mostly used in Argentina to refer to people originating from the United States as opposed to gringo which is mostly used to refer to farmers. 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 today is mostly linked to Italians[37] or their descendants.[38] It has also found use in the intermittent exercise Gringo-Gaucho between Argentine Naval Aviation and USN aircraft carriers.

Other uses[edit]

In Mexican cuisine, a gringa is a flour tortilla with al pastor pork meat with cheese, heated on the comal and then served (not necessarily) with a salsa de chile (chilli sauce). Most commonly, it's thought that the dish was born in a Mexico City taquería when the owner served it to two women from the United States (known as gringas) that asked for a Mexican dish but disliked corn tortillas. The name comes from the feminine of gringo.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "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 
  2. ^ "gringo". definition of gringo. The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 20 February 2014. Used as a disparaging term for a foreigner in Latin America, especially an American or English person. 
  3. ^ "gringo". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 20 February 2014. a foreigner in Spain or Latin America especially when of English or American origin; 
  4. ^ "Gringo". Retrieved 20 February 2014. (in Latin America or Spain) a foreigner, especially one of U.S. or British descent. 
  5. ^ "gringo, ga". SM Diccionarios. Retrieved 20 February 2014. Persona nacida en los Estados Unidos de América (país americano) 
  6. ^ "gringo". Diccionario. El Mundo. Retrieved 20 February 2014. adj. y s. amer. Persona nacida en Estados Unidos, en especial la de habla inglesa 
  7. ^ "gringo, ga". Diccionario de la lengua española. Real Academia Española. 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. 
  8. ^ S.I., Esteban Terreros y Pando (20 September 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. Retrieved 20 September 2017 – via Google Books. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ Erichsen, Gerald. "Gringo". Retrieved 20 February 2014. 
  11. ^ "Etimologia de Gringo". Etimologias. Retrieved 20 February 2014. 
  12. ^ Irving L. Allen, The Language of Ethnic Conflict: Social Organization and Lexical Culture, 1983, ISBN 0-231-05557-9, p. 129
  13. ^ William Sayers, "An Unnoticed Early Attestation of gringo 'Foreigner': Implications for Its Origin", in the Bulletin of Spanish Studies 86:3:323 (2009)
  14. ^ Griego at DDiccionario crítico etimológico de la lengua castellana, Vol. II, pag. 784 (25), Joan Corominas, Francke Verlag, Berna, 1954, ISBN 978-84-249-1361-8
  15. ^ "Etymology of Gringo". 17 April 2011. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  16. ^ "Home - Yahoo Answers". Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  17. ^ Hebreu at Nuevo diccionario francés-español, Antonio de Capmany, Imprenta de Sancha, Madrid, 1817
  18. ^ Nuevo diccionario francés-español at Google Books, p. 28
  19. ^ Nuevo diccionario francés-español at Google Books, p. 448
  20. ^ Travels in Peru During the Years 1838–1842: On the Coast, in the Sierra, Across the Cordilleras and the Andes, into the Primeval Forests (1854), Chapter 5, footnote 29.
  21. ^ "Gringo" From the Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved November 28, 2008.
  22. ^ 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. 
  23. ^ Audubon, John W. (1906). Audubon's Western Journal 1849–1850, p. 100. Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Company.
  24. ^ ""The San Patricios: Mexico's Fighting Irish"". Archived from the original on 25 May 2017. Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  25. ^ Voltaire, Roberto Ponce,Red. "Origen de la palabra «gringo», por Roberto Ponce". Retrieved 20 September 2017. 
  26. ^ 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. 
  27. ^ "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. 
  28. ^ "gringo footballers in Brazil 2015 (ESPN)". Lance Net. Retrieved 10 February 2015. The word being used for Hispanic American footballers in Brazil. 
  29. ^ "Expanded "gringo" limit in Brazilian Championship". Retrieved 10 February 2015. The word being used by a fan as a synonym of foreigner in the Brazilian Championship. 
  30. ^ "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. 
  31. ^ "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. 
  32. ^ "Significado de "galego"". Retrieved 2016-01-25. 
  33. ^ "Brazilian reality show celebrity nicknamed Alemão". Extra. Retrieved 10 February 2015. The word Alemão as nickname for non-German Brazilian. 
  34. ^ "Brazilian footballer nicknamed Alemão". Bol. Retrieved 10 February 2015. The word Alemão as nickname for non-German Brazilian Footballer. 
  35. ^ "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). 
  36. ^ Portuguese Dictionary "Ianque" From Priberam Portuguese Language On-Line Dictionary
  37. ^
  38. ^ Falcón, Ricardo (2005). La Barcelona Argentina: migrantes, obreros y militantes en Rosario, 1870-1912 (in Spanish). Laborde Editor. p. 221. ISBN 9879459962.