Gringo (, Spanish: , Portuguese: ) is a term, mainly used in Spanish-speaking and in Portuguese-speaking countries, to refer to any foreigner.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

The word was originally used in Spain to denote any foreign, non-native speakers of Spanish.[8]


  • Etymology 1
  • In English 2
    • Folk etymologies 2.1
  • Brazil 3
  • Portugal 4
  • Argentina 5
  • Other uses 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8


The word gringo was first recorded in Volume II of[9] 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.[10]

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. And according to a 1787 dictionary, it often referred to someone who spoke Spanish poorly.[11][12]

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 Caló, the language of the Romani people of Spain, as a variant of (pere)gringo ‘peregrine’, ‘wayfarer’, and ‘stranger’.[13][14][15][16][17]

The gringo entry in the Nuevo diccionario francés-español (New French–Spanish Dictionary, 1817), by Antonio de Capmany, records:[18]

. . . hablar en griego, en guirigay, en gringo.[19]

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

Gringo, griego: aplícase a lo que se dice o escribe sin entenderse.[20]

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

Moreover, besides “Hablar en gringo”, Spanish also contains the analogous phrase “hablar en chino (To speak in Chinese)”, when referring to someone whose language is difficult to understand, thereby re-enforcing 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”.[21]

In English

"Gringo" has been in use in the English language since the 19th century.[22] 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,[23] in which Audubon reports that his party were hooted and shouted at and called "Gringoes" while passing through the town of Cerro Gordo, Veracruz.[24]

Folk etymologies

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)[25] and frequently sang the song "Green Grow the Rushes, O"..

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. 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.[26] This theory also has it that native Spanish speakers have difficulty pronouncing a second "r" in "green grows", which was elided as "green-gos". Shortly afterwards Mexico City newspapers like El Universal and Excelsior began to use the word "gringos" for Americans. 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. 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.

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 1916-1924 and again from 1965-1966.

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".

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.


In Brazilian and Portuguese popular culture, someone unintelligible is traditionally said to speak Greek,[27] or Chinese.[28]

In Brazil, the word 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 came from other Latin American countries and are nevertheless referred as "gringos" by the sport media [29][30] and by sport fans.[31] 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 [32]

As the word has no connection to physical appearance in Brazil, black African foreigners are also called gringos,[33] 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) or "russo" (Russian), which are used for both Brazilians[34][35] and foreigners [36] with such characteristics, regardless of their real ethnic origins.


In Portugal the word gringo is 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 USA (as does "Ianque"), and is not related to any particular physical or racial features.[37] The most common slang terms used throughout the country are "Camóne" (from the English "come on") and "Bife" ("steak" in English, probably due to their skin colour after sun burns, for which "lagosta" is specifically used). Probably the most used and correct expressions are "de fora" ("from abroad" in English) or simply "estrangeiro" ("foreigner" in English).


The term yankee is mostly used in Argentina to refer to people originating from the U.S. 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.[38]

Other uses

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


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  8. ^ Diccionario de la lengua española, Royal Spanish Academy, 22nd. edition
  9. ^,+latina+e+italiana&hl=en&sa=X&ei=srvqUqnlMITNsQTNk4LACA&ved=0CEUQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false
  10. ^ Beatriz Varela, “Ethnic Nicknames of Spanish Origin”, in Spanish Loanwords in the English Language, Félix Rodríguez González, ed., ISBN 3-11-014845-5, p. 143 text at Google Books; referring to Corominas 1954
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  13. ^ Irving L. Allen, The Language of Ethnic Conflict: Social Organization and Lexical Culture, 1983, ISBN 0-231-05557-9, p. 129
  14. ^ William Sayers, "An Unnoticed Early Attestation of gringo ‘Foreigner’: Implications for Its Origin", in the Bulletin of Spanish Studies 86:3:323 (2009)
  15. ^ Griego at Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico, Vol. III, Joan Corominas, José A. Pascual, Editorial Gredos, Madrid, 1989, ISBN 84-249-1365-5
  16. ^ Urban Legends Reference Pages
  17. ^ Ask Yahoo: How did the term "gringo" originate?
  18. ^ Hebreu at Nuevo diccionario francés-español, Antonio de Capmany, Imprenta de Sancha, Madrid, 1817
  19. ^ Nuevo diccionario francés-español at Google Books, p. 28
  20. ^ Nuevo diccionario francés-español at Google Books, p. 448
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ "Gringo" From the Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved November 28, 2008.
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  24. ^ Audubon, John W. (1906). Audubon's Western Journal 1849-1850, p. 100. Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Company.
  25. ^ "The San Patricios: Mexico's Fighting Irish"
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  27. ^ Portuguese Dictionary "Grego" From Priberam Portuguese Language On-Line Dictionary
  28. ^ Portuguese Dictionary "Chinês" From Priberam Portuguese Language On-Line Dictionary
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  37. ^ Portuguese Dictionary "Ianque" From Priberam Portuguese Language On-Line Dictionary
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