Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Dear Mexican: I’m not bilingual, but I am fascinated with the differences and similarities between Spanish and English words and idioms. They often point to interesting differences between the cultures. Some words, like vejigazo (to get smacked in the ass with an inflated cow bladder) are self-explanatory, but there is one that I’d like your help with.

I don’t remember the word, because I stumbled across it in a Spanish-English dictionary once right before I fell asleep, but I do remember the definition. It means “to wear for the first time,” and I can’t think of any reason why a culture would need a verb to describe that situation. Do you know what that verb is, and more importantly, can you tell me why Spanish would need it?

Thanks very much.

El Guapo

Dear Handsome Gabacho: The verb is estrenar, derived from the Latin strena, which meant a “favorable omen.” Estrenar isn’t just a verb to describe wearing new clothes, though: It also means “to premiere,” as in “un gran estreno.” The Real Academia Española doesn’t give any clue how estrenar got its sartorial sense, but the connection is pretty obvious, and it ain’t unique to us hablas: Every materialistic culture on Earth brims with modern-day Beau Brummels showing off their latest kicks, and their most vintage Saint Laurent—and you don’t need one word to describe this anymore with the advent of Snapchat.

Oh, and #fucktrump.

Dear Mexican: I know that in Japanese, when you want to emphasize a relationship with a person, you add -kun or -chan to the end of someone’s name.

Is there anything like that in Spanish? I’ve heard people use an -ita or a -ito, but I need some verification.


Dear Chinito Wab: You have verified correcatemente! The suffixes you cited are diminutives that Mexicans add to the end of male (-ito) and female (-ita) names to signify fondness or endearment toward the cabrones. Grammar rules are generally simple—the diminutive seamlessly latches onto the fín of nombres with consonants (Davidito, Daffodilita) and morphs in strange ways if they end in vowels. (Pepe becomes Pepito, while Maria transforms into Mariquita, and Maclovio’s diminutive is Maclovito.)

Males have two other suffix options, with the same grammar rules: -ote (which is the equivalent of calling someone “Big,” as in Big Miguel—Miguelote), and -ín (Gustavín), which makes no sense to me. You wouldn’t use them with girls—go ahead, try calling one gorda and see how fast mexicanas can punch.

Oh, and #fucktrump.

Dear Mexican: Sope. My question is: What is the proper way to actually eat the damn thing? Do you pick it up like a taco (inevitably making a mess), or do you saw it up with the barely adequate plasticware provided at the counter? And in what part of Mexico did this enigmatic li’l morsel originate?

CUlinarilly CHAllenged

Dear Gabacho: Proper way? Whichever way is your bag, baby. Where it came from? It goes back to the ancients, because putting something on top of a thick tortilla ain’t no thing, you know? Oh, and #fucktrump.

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Dear Readers: The Mexican is currently in the hills of Kentucky, drinking white dog with the good ol’ chicos while doing tamborazo covers of “Molly and Tenbrooks” and bluegrass versions of “Las Isabeles”—because hillbillies and paisas are brothers from another madre, you know?

Anyhoo, onto some oldies-pero-goodies. Salud, and yee-haw!

Dear Mexican: It seems that whenever Chicano professors want to show off their mexicanidad, they wear a guayabera. In fact, I saw a picture of you in the Los Angeles Times donning the shirt, along with Dickies pants and Converse All Stars. How trite and bourgeois! You go to a café or bar in any university town in Mexico, and the students will think you’re totally naco. I stopped wearing the guayabera when a friend said I looked like a waiter in a Mexican restaurant.

Do certain clothes determine your Mexican-Ness?

Sexy Mexy

Dear Pocho: Abso-pinche-lutely. “The bigger the sombrero, the wabbier the man,” is a commandment all Mexicans learn from the Virgin of Guadalupe.

But seriously, Mexican clothes correspond to social and economic status—a sweaty T-shirt indicates laborer, a calf-length skirt means a proper Mexican woman, and if a cobbler used the hide of an endangered reptile to fashion your cowboy boots, you’re probably a drug-dealer or a Texan.

The guayabera (a loose-fitting, pleated shirt common in the Mexican coastal state of Veracruz and other tropical regions of Latin America) also announces something about its owner: The güey is feeling hot and wants to look sharp.

Why the hate, Sexy? Remember what Andy Warhol said: “Nothing is more bourgeois than to be afraid to look bourgeois.” Who cares if people mistake you for a waiter if you sport a guayabera? Just spit in their soup. And who cares if Mexican university students call me, you or any guayabera wearer a naco (Mexico City slang for bumpkin)? They can’t be that smart if they’re still in Mexico.

Dear Mexican: Why do Mexicans pronounce “shower” as “chower” but “chicken” as “shicken”?

Vietnamese About To Orate (VATO)

Dear Chino: This column has provided readers with many indicators of the differences between recently arrived Mexicans and los que have lived here for generations: skin tone, car purchases, whether the Mexican in question flushes his soiled toilet paper or tosses it in the trash can, etc. Another sure-fire way is the ch/sh phonetic test.

Proper Spanish doesn’t feature a “sh” sound (known among linguists as a lingua-palatal fricative), so Mexicans pronounce English words using the “sh” sound with the harsher “ch” (known as a lingualveolar affricate). However, many indigenous Mexican tongues use lingua-palatal fricatives. The most famous example is in the original pronunciation of Mexico: As said in Nahuatl, the word sounds like “meh-shee-ko.” The Spaniards couldn’t pronounce the middle consonant, though, instead substituting a guttural “j” (as in “Meh-hee-ko”) early in the Conquest. They killed most of Mexico’s Indians in the ensuing decades, but the indigenous “sh” sound never wholly disappeared: If you do hear a Mexican using “sh,” it’s probably a Mexican Indian.

So next time you hear a Mexican ask for a “Shinese shicken sandwish with Sheddar sheese,” VATO, por favor, don’t shortle.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican