What Does Gringo Mean And Is It Bad?

If you drop by any small bar south of the Mexican border and on down into Central America, you’ll sometimes hear the locals calling North Americanos, Gringos. There are several stories as to how this name came about, and whether or not it’s considered derogatory to be called that. Here are some perspectives from a traveler of Central America.

If You Can’t Remember My Name, Call Me Gringo

Having spent a number of years in the Latin American country of Honduras, I can honestly say that nearly everyone goes by some kind of nick name, not always related to their real name. That is to say, if there are two guys named Carlos, one is going to be Carlito or “little Carlos,” and that name will stick with him until he’s big and grown up.

Another phenomenon is if one of the Carlos’ is dark, light, fat, slim, or some other feature, he’ll become Gordo, Flaco, Blanco, or Negro Carlos, depending on what fits. As a North American, they tend to just call you Gringo when they don’t know your name. And, as you walk down the street, lots of the little kids will repeat “Gringo” over and over again. It’s not meant to be rude, it’s just the way it is. An odd thing that many North Americans would never do, is my neighbor for many years has called his wife “My little fat girl” or “Mi Gordita” and she doesn’t hit him for it.

The Common Myth Of The Origin Of Gringo

Most of the people you run into when you’re south of the border are either running from something, or running to something, but not necessarily all that educated. In fact, I sometimes wonder how people of so little education are able to amass so much money, but that’s just me.

The most common myth what does Gringo mean is that it came from the Spanish-American war when the Americans wore green uniforms in battle and the locals kept repeating “Green Go!” This sounds good on a first read through, but the word Gringo precedes that war by nearly 100 years. There are various different versions of the story, including that the American soldiers sang a song that began with the words “Green grows…” and there really are several songs that start that way.

The Most Likely Explanation of What Does Gringo Mean

If you dig a little deeper into the etymology of the word, you’ll find that it is very similar to the word “Greek” in Spanish. The word “Griego” is the Spanish word for Greek and they also commonly used the word to refer to anyone they couldn’t understand while speaking.

Even English speaking people have trouble comprehending Greek, there are very few crossover words and it all sounds like “Greek to me” as the saying goes. In Spain, the word Griego was used typically to refer to anyone that didn’t speak Spanish.

Eventually, the Spanish speaking people of Latin America adopted the word Gringo and used it to refer to North Americans, including people from the US and Canada. It’s not meant to be a bad word, and Gringos in Latin American counties usually refer to themselves using that word as well.