Is it Offensive if Someone Calls you “Gringo”?



Probably you have heard this word several times, probably none. Maybe while you were watching a movie or that time when you went abroad and even though you couldn’t understand a word, you overheard it. You might be debating whether it is a bad word or just some kind of slang.


If you do a quick Google search, you will find that online forums and blog comments are full of Americans and Canadians who are insulted at the thought of being marginalized, by the use of this word. In an age where people get easily offended, we believe it is important to find out what a word actually means and what is the story behind it.


Gringo: Is it a Good or a Bad Thing?





According to the Oxford dictionary, a gringo or gringa, is basically an informal noun. A person with a foreign origin who doesn’t speak Spanish. Spanish speakers use it mostly to refer to people born in United States.


The reason Spanish speakers (and even Portuguese speakers) use this word is because is shorter. People from the United States call themselves “American”, but in Spanish, an American is someone from the American continent. So a Colombian or a Peruvian is also an American. The correct term in Spanish is “Estadounidense”, but people don’t use that word simply because it is long.


Where did gringo come from?


There are several theories about it:

A song: A marching song with the name of Green Grows the Lilacs became popular in Mexico during the US occupation of northern Mexico. Some Spanish speakers have difficulties saying the second ‘r’ in Green Grows so  then it became “green gos”.

A uniform: The US military wore a green uniform in Puerto Rico. The locals didn’t want to see them anymore so they started saying “Green go”.

Greek: Yes. When people don’t understand a word, they say it is like Greek to them. The word gringo shows up in Diccionario Castellano con las voces de ciencias y artes since 1786 meaning foreigner. The theory says that gringo is a deformation from the word griego (Greek).


In conclusion, if it is spoken with disgust or malice, any word would bother anybody. Even a word like “señor” could sound as an insult depending on the tone and context. If someone says this to you, do not feel offended immediately. Check the context and have an open mind. If you want to use it, always ask if it is OK. There might be people who would get offended thinking it is a derogatory word.


Something you should know:


If you travel to a Latin American country, don’t be so shocked if you hear words like: Flaco (Skinny), gordo (fatty), gordito (little fatty), and negrita (little black). These are all common terms of endearment. Mostly, people will say these words to family members or friends, but if they feel comfortable with you they might say it too.


Do you know which Spanish word has an Arabic origin? Find out!


Do you need the right sentences and expressions to use in a Spanish speaking country? Download this Survival Guide for free!



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Learn all the Spanish you need for real life.