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A Gringo by Any Other Name

Phyllis Mc



A Gringo by Any Other Name


A day doesn't go by that I don't read, hear or use the word gringo.

I refer to myself as a gringa when talking to Panamanians. When describing a meeting she attended, my friend said it consisted of half Panamanians and half gringos. As I walked past two little Noble Bugle children, they giggled, pointed at me and chimed: “Hola gringa.” When I lived in a rental house in Volcanic, I heard my Panamanian neighbor call us “Los gringos”.

There are all sorts of different versions of what the etiology of the word gringo is. Some people say that it is a derogatory term that originated when American soldiers were in Mexico during the Mexican-American war (1846-1848) wearing green uniforms. The Mexicans wanted the soldiers to leave their country, so they said. “Green” (from the color of the uniforms) and “go" (as in get out of here). “Green go.” But the term gringo was used long before the Mexican-American war, and the American soldiers didn't wear green uniforms, they wore blue uniforms. So there goes that theory.

Another story says that Yankee soldiers of the Mexican war sang a popular song based on a Robert Burns poem that went ”Green goes the rushes, or Green goes the lilacs. The Mexicans got tired of hearing the song, and started referring to the Yankees as “green goes” or spelled phonetically in Spanish, “gringos.” A variation of this story is that it wasn't Yankees, but Irish soldiers in Bolivia's army that sang the song, and originated the word gringo.

And yet another version hails from Brazil. When the British were building railroads, they would tell the Brazilians that the traffic lights worked like this: “red meant stop, green- go.” Eventually (so the story goes), the Brazilians started calling the British gringos.

These are all imaginative stories. Very creative. The stuff of urban legends.

They're just not true.

Spanish literature contains the word gringo as far back as the 18th century. The Diccionario Castello, stated that gringos were “foreigners who have a certain type of accent which keeps them from speaking Spanish easily or naturally.” Gringo was also used in Madrid, but referred mainly to the Irish. Don't ask me why. Maybe the Irish brogue combined with Spanish is worse than the North American accent.

Most scholars think that Gringo is probably derived from the Spanish word, griego, or Greek. When foreigners came to Spain, they didn't speak Spanish very well, and were called “Griegos” possibly from the reference “It is Greek to me”. If someone speaks poor Spanish, it is said that he “hablar en griego” or speaks in Greek. Or maybe the first foreigners were actually Greek. No one is sure. Eventually, griego turned to gringo, and was used to denote foreigners.

In some countries in Latin America, the term gringo is pejorative, but not here in Panama. Here, it is simply a friendly label. The Panamanians usually refer only to people from the United States as gringos. However, if you are from Canada or Europe, you might hear yourself referred to as a gringo if you are lighter skinned and don't speak Spanish nearly as well as a Panamanian.

So the next time that you hear yourself referred to as a gringo- please don't take offense. It is all in the Greek tradition.


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But really, aren't Canadians the worst form of "Gringos"? They look like us, they dress like us, but then they go all Trudeau on us? C'mon!!

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Allow me to register a formal Request for Appeal from the Board of Negative Reputations here on Chiriqui.Life.


Yet again, a (rather lame) attempt at light-hearted banter has been misconstrued as some kind of an affront towards:

1. Gringos

2. Canadians

3. Canadian Gringos

4. Gringo Canadians

To reiterate, in my own defense, I hate everybody. I consider myself to be an equal-opportunity hater. I have worked very hard to be a kinder, gentler, and more compassionate hater.

Additionally, it is well known that Canadians are actively involved in a fell conspiracy to conquer the world with their cheerful miens, their happy-go-lucky attitudes, their neighborliness, and other dangerous things like donuts.

(Cheerful, friendly, neighborly donuts have already compromised my own ability to react forcefully to Canadian incursion by stealthily coating my manly fast-twitch musculature with multiple layers of too-sweet donut-meat.)

Do not be swayed from the mission to closely observe and catalog wily Canadian Gringo methodologies! Beware the turtleneck!

Oh. Yeah. And site Management? Remove this negative reputation immediately, or you may expect to hear from my team of Abogados!


(Remember, Dear Reader, positive reputations are ALWAYS AVAILABLE here at wryawry.gov for only $9.99 Balboas, plus $9.99 Balboas shipping and handling.)


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