Warning: Simplified and/or fonetic spelling ahed!
Once again I hav heard yet another folktale of the upspring of the word gringo. Truly tho, it was only another take on the one that I had heard before but the guy strongly believd it was true.
There are two things we need to look at here and they are somwhat akin to one another.
1. The rise or upspring of the word.
2. Is it only for Americans?
First, the the upspring of the word. The latest one that I heard was that the word gringo is from Mexicans saying “green go” to American soldiers when Pershing was roaming about Mexico looking for Pancho Villa. That was in 1916 … Well, the timeline wrong, the word had alreddy come into English in 1849 so that dog didn’t hunt.
The other take that I’v heard is that it happend in the Mexican War. That would fit the timeline better but the troubl with that one is that the Americans wore blue uniforms, not green.
Both of these also assumes that Mexicans, in mass, lernt the English word green (for verde) and the imperativ command go. But then, why not lern and say, “Go home!” or “Go back!”?
There’s a third take and that is that a few Mexicans heard some Irish-American soldiers singing “the green grass goes” and got gringo from that. That’s a bit of a stretch to say the least tho there is, for true, a slender link to the Irish and the word gringo but it comes well before this time.
The truth is that gringo is an older word from Spain and is thought to be only a slight twisting of griego ‘Greek’. The Spanish hav the phrase hablar en griego ‘to speak Greek’; much like we say in English … It’s all Greek to me. From that it came to mean anyone who babbls in an outlander tung and thus is an outlander.
From the Diccionario General de la Lengua Española Vox:
ETIMOLOGÍA Alteración de griego en el sentido de ‘lenguaje incomprensible’ y, aplicado a quien lo hablaba, ‘extranjero’. — Alteration of griego in the sense of ‘incomprehensibl language’ and put to those who speak it, ‘foreigner’.
When is it first seen in Spanish? Way back in a 1787 wordbook … even before there was a Mexico and France still wielded the land (Louisiana) that was between the Spanish and the newly born United States of America. There we find Esteban de Terroros y Pando wrote:
... 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 hav a certain kind of accent that prevents them from speaking Castilian easily and naturally; and in Madrid they give the same name, in particular, to the Irish.
Once again we hav that slender thred to the Irish. It could be that the Irish are indeed at the root of the twisting of griego into gringo. It could be a Spanish play on the words green (meaning the Irish) and griego by blending them into a new word for the Irish. But that would be nothing but a gess. There is no proof of that whatsoever.
It is also likely that since this word was known in Madrid that it would hav been known by the upper class scions that came to the New World and would hav been put to any other-than-Spanish caucasian in the New World as well.
The rise of the word has nothing to do with neither Mexico nor Americans.
Next, does gringo only mean Americans? The short answer is no.
Here is what the Spanish wordbooks says:
Amér: Que es de origen extranjero, especialmente el estadounidense o de rasgos anglosajones – One of foreign origin, especially the US or the Anglo-Saxon race.
Arg, Urug: Que es extranjero o de ascendencia europea, excepto los españoles. – A foreigner or of European ancestry, except the Spanish.
Chile: Que es extranjero, en especial de origen anglosajón o germano – A foreigner, especially of Anglo-Saxon or Germanic origen.
hacerse el gringo Chile coloquial Querer dar la impresión de que no se entiende del tema sobre el que se está hablando – Make like a gringo – Giv the impression that one doesn’t understand the theme about which one is speaking
BUT, it is a widespred word for Americans and you can see abuv that Americans are singl'd out and the main reason for that is geography.
In English, German, French, Russian, and, as far as I know, every other tung besides Spanish (and maybe Portuguese?) the word America is understood to be short for the United States of America (USA) and American (noun) means someone from the USA or (adj) something of or about the USA ... Made in America. ... American English. Nowadays it is politically correct to giv lip service that it could mean anyone from the Americas and you will even fine the singular America in the wordbook meaning the whole western half of the world. The other 99% of us don’t even think about it and America means the United States of America.
In English, North America and South America are two sunder continents and together they make up the Americas (that is with an s). Thus, anyone living north of the Panama Canal is a North American (Central America is a region, not a continent, and is part of North America) and anyone living south of the Canal is a South American. Thus, there is never a muddling of the words nor the meanings. No one outside of the few who kowtow to political correctness would even think for a half-second that America means anything other than the United States of America and American means other than the folks of the United States of America or, as an adjectiv, of or about the USA.
While som may say that the Panama Canal is a fake line, I’ll mind you that the Panama Canal is shorter than the Suez Canal and no one thinks of Africa and Asia as one continent … or that Europe and Asia are one continent … or that Europe, Asia, and Africa are all one continent. The truth is that there are two landmasses, North and South America, that are, more or less, evenly split and both taper to narrow, 50-mile spot and barely tuch. These two landmasses share less land than does Asia with either Europe or Africa so there is no good reason to think of them as one landmass.
However, this is not so in Spanish. Why is this? In the Spanish sight or outlook, North and South America are not two continents but one ... name'd America. Therefore, in their eyes, everyone from the ice of northern Canada to Tierra del Fuego is an Americano. Think of it this way, every one from Europe is a European ... no one land can call themselves Europeans. That’s the way the Spanish speaking world sees the western half for the world.
For them, South America, América del Sur, North America, América del Norte, and Central America, América Central are regions of one continent call'd América and the folk are all Americanos.
Only to befuddl things a bit more here, there is an university in Chile call'd La Universidad de las Americas — University of the Americas (rather than, as one would expect, University of America. So it isn’t unheard of in Spanish.
But what to call someone from the USA? Now we come to the pith of the troubl. Nothing works truly well. The politically correct word is estadounidense. As you can see, that is a mouthful, seven syllables, even for Spanish speakers. Narrowly speaking that could be said for Mexicans as well since they are the Estados Unidos de México but they don’t get upset that the word estadounidense is put to someone from the Estados Unidos de América but they don’t want to call anyone from the USA an Americano.
An aside here, the shortening of Estados Unidos de América in Spanish is not EUS as one might think but EEUU ... I reckon they don’t even like the name America in the shortening.
The next best thing is norteamericano but then again, even if they think of Mexico as Central America (in English, it isn’t) that still leaves the Canadians who are north of the USA. So, narrowly speaking, norteamericano should also be for Canadians. Besides, it’s a mouthful too ... also seven syllables.
So what does that leav? You gesst it ... gringo. Gringo is a short, fast way to put a word to Americans without giving in to the moniker Americano.
Not amazingly, in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean lands, most of the caucasians are from the USA; thus, most of the gringos are Americans. But this doesn’t mean that the word gringo is only for Americans. There is a German with a website call'd Gringo Alemán (German gringo). While not all gringos are Americans, all Americans are gringos!
Truthfully, in Mexico and in English overall, Americans hav taken ownership of the word gringo. Not only do they call themselves gringos, they also note it to sunder themselves from the not-gringos even in the rest of the word. In short, Americans are spreding the word about the world. Here is a quote talking about embassy security in Iraq:
They were using puffers and swabs at the embassy in Baghdad (metal detectors too, but that was for the Iraqis - us gringos were armed to the teeth) and that was fine.
Another aside here, while it mostly is put to caucasians, it is also noted for other Americans as well. In a 2008 writ, it is made clear that Obama is a gringo.
Pero la realidad es más terca que la corrección política, y el hecho real es que Barack Obama, próximo presidente de los Estados Unidos, es un gringo, y es un negro. O, si se prefiere así, es un negro, y es un gringo. ... Antonio Caballero, “El negro gringo (o el gringo negro)”, Semana, 2008 [But the reality is more stubborn than political correctness, and the true fact is that Barack Obama, the next president of the United States, is a gringo, and is black. Or, if you so prefer, is a black, and a gringo.]
Be warnd tho, once you get below the equator, it is less likely to mean an American by default. So while one can say, soy gringo in Mexico and they will likely understand that to mean I’m American, that doesn’t work so well in Argentina ... I know, I’v seen it.
Is it derogatory? By itself, no. It’s all in the tone. So if somone in Mexico is talking about you to somone else, he might say, Está mi amigo. Él es un gringo. And not mean anything derogatory at all. It is the same in English with Mexican. I can say that he is a Mexican in a frendly way or I can say, “He is a Mexican.” It’s all in how it is said and not the word itself..
Also, in Brazil, they'v borrow'd the word into Portuguese. As noun, it means foreigner. As an adjectiv, it can mean foreign or (slang) cool, fashionabl.