Today’s show brought to you by the letter “P”

(If un-ladylike language upsets you, read no further…and honestly, maybe you’ll want to avoid my blog altogether since you never know when I might let one slip out.)

“P” is for “pissed off”
“P” is for “peleando”
“P” is for “pinche”

In “real life”, I don’t usually cuss in polite company but as a writer, I love words, and that includes the dirty ones.

Latin America has a colorful rainbow of cusses to choose from, words as diverse as the countries themselves. When I first started learning Spanish and picked up a book subtitled “the words your teacher won’t teach you”, I was like a kid in a candy store, picking and choosing the words I liked best and committing them to memory. I noticed that most of the words I chose had a (mx) symbol next to them, signifying that the word was of Mexican origin. Ah, Mexican vulgarisms! They were by far my favorites.

And so it came to be that “pinche” became my word of choice. I love the way it looks, the way it sounds, the way native speakers linger on the first syllable, and the creative stream of unpredictable language that follows. It looks so cute and harmless to native English-speaking eyes, a false cognate for “pinch”. I’ve heard that in Spain the word simply refers to a boy who works in the kitchen, and in other Latin American countries it can mean various other things which are equally mild. Really, there’s no way to know if someone will be offended by it, whether they be Mexican or not, but that doesn’t stop me from using it once in awhile. (Something I’ve discovered my husband fails to appreciate.)

The other day Carlos and I got into an argument, which isn’t really news in itself. The thing is, our arguments have a new dimension to them now that we have text messaging on our phones. This allows me to not answer his calls but continue fighting through my preferred method – writing. Chévere, no? Well, my husband doesn’t think so.

When we were finally face-to-face once again he said to me, “Stop texting me when we fight… And stop using the word pinche!”

“Hey, you can’t tell me what words to use. I’ll use pinche if I want to.”
“I hate that word. We’re not Mexican.”
“I’m not Salvadoran either, what’s your point?”
“Pinche is a Mexican word.”
“Y qué? I don’t tell you how to speak English. You can say ‘bloody hell’ like Harry Potter for all I care.”

In the end, I knew that this conversation simply couldn’t have a happy ending, and so I just walked away muttering, “… pinche tonterías…”


  1. The one and only time I have used Pinche was when in my one big “fight” with my MIL. She ran out and told my husband I was pregnant before he could walk in the door and be told by his daughter and I. I think “Pinche vieja mentiche” was probably not so nice coming from a daughter in law. I regret the outburst, but I still secrectly giggle that that sentence came out of my mouth with such clarity and force, without any foresight or planning of any kind. I blame pregnancy hormones, but to be fair, my inlaws use that word on such a regular basis, using it in ways I would maybe use damn, hell, or crap. So maybe I just said “Damn nosy old woman!” Heh heh. Maybe not.

    • @ Humincat – LOL! Okay, I have cussed in conversation with my Suegra. I have cussed in the vicinity of my Suegra. I have listened to music with objectionable lyrics in front of the Suegra – but I have NEVER cussed AT her. Wow… My mind explodes with the possibilities of what would happen if I called her what you called your Suegra. I’m thinking cat fight with nails and hair pulling, (except I don’t fight like that and Suegra better know how to block a punch.) LOL.

      I had a somewhat similar situation when I was training in martial arts. I was a teenager at the time and there was this one Korean guy who used to piss me off. He was my opponent one day when we were sparring and he was being a total a-hole. (We were on-again-off-again friends, and this day were were most certainly OFF!) … Well, he landed a solid kick in my gut and knocked the wind out of me. When I recovered, I let loose a string of Korean curses directed at him and attacked. My Master immediately stopped the fight and chewed me out for my behavior so loud that the whole school could hear. It felt like the walls literally shook…. Well, the next day when I came to class with my head hung in shame, my Master called me to his office. I closed the door behind me and sat down and my Master started laughing. He told me he only chewed me out for propriety’s sake and that he was actually proud of me and amazed at how well I cursed in Korean.

      So I guess I wasn’t always Latina-ish. I was Korean-ish at one time, too. LOL.

  2. I love foreign cuss words! You can really let it out without worrying there’s a child behind your back (and there is ALWAYS a child behind your back when you cuss).

    • @ Jana – This brings up another thought on the subject of cursing in another language. I’m wondering if this is true for other people – when speaking your non-native language, are you more likely to cuss and not feel any guilt? LOL. I think the words don’t carry the same weight for non-native speakers because we weren’t told growing up that they were “bad words”. When a cuss is learned as an adult, there is no stigma attached to it and we can see the word simply as “useful” rather than “naughty” … Learning another language really makes you think about language in general, and the strange importance we put on some words over others. It’s just letters, it’s just a sound coming out of a person’s mouth – yet the combination of letters and sounds matters a great deal. If you say the word “luck” or “duck” in polite company, no one bats an eyelash. Change just one tiny letter, one tiny sound to make it “fuck” and suddenly it’s offensive. It’s a weird world we live in.

  3. The P factor! I’ve always been in awe of pinche when used by older folks. When I was a kid and we’d go to visit my aunt (mom’s cousin), she’d always yell out “Mira, el pinche Cisco!” Cisco is my nickname. At 94, she is still cantankerous and humorously vulgar. My mother was the same way and would get her riled up, which is part of why they were so close all their lives.

    Years ago, we had an old Dalmation that we had to euthenize. Part of an email eulogy I sent out to friends were my mom’s words “Pinche Puto Pero Pinto”, she liked that old dog, and like all things she liked and loved, she affectionately called them pinche. I have an uncle who has also bestowed pinche on everything, usually animals and inanimate objects.

    I know that as a kid running around if an adult yelled out “muchacho cabron!”, my friends and I would all stop and turn around. We heard it so much, it almost became a new nickname for every young boy in the area.

    Now I like referring to some things as “chingaderas”. Such as: “Here, hold this chingadera while I grab another beer.” It’s part of the beauty of being bilingual and bicultural, it has a natural flow.

    • @ Federico – No sabía eso, y suene chistoso porque en México “pinche” se utilizan como “fucking” o “damn” en inglés. Por ejemplo, “Aquí viene el pinche gringo, vestido en sombrebo y serape para celebrar el Cinco de Mayo.” o “Se quebró esa pinche carro otra vez y me ha dejado caminando hasta mi trabajo.” … Esos son ejemplos simples porque soy gringa, pero los mexicanos son muchos más creativos con esa palabrita :)

  4. Him saying “bloody hell” with an English accent…now wouldn’t that just make you bust out laughing during a fight? I’ll have to picture that the next time my husband and I are fighting.

    • @ Susan – You’re right. I would probably burst out laughing, so maybe this is a fantastic idea after all. What better way to cut the tension in a fight?

  5. I am going to start saying “pinche, pinche, pinche.” I love how it sounds…and, indeed, thanks for the hilarious post. I love looking in your window, senora.

  6. is it like “bastard” or “mongrel”? kind of a term that can be serious, factual or backhanded affection?

    I have to side with your husband on this one though. There are a select few words that make me cringe with absolute revulsion, and if I asked my husband NOT to use those words and he continued…. well it could seriously scar our relationship. Thankfully they are words I have never heard him use in my company. But there are people that do, and I avoid those people — dismissing them as vile excuses for humans. I am not a prude, just old-school when it comes to public conversation.

    • @ Pol – Well, to each their own, I suppose. I agree that in polite conversation with people one doesn’t know well, cursing is to be avoided. I’m also not fond of when men curse a lot in front of women, or when anyone curses around children – but in adult company, with friends, a well placed cuss word sometimes adds a little flavor and humor. It’s a spice to be used sparingly but it loses its charm when thrown about too often :)

  7. hi there. there are a bunch of spanish words that i dont use because they are el salvadorian, and sometimes i feel guilty.
    Im not racist but the point is I dont feel them, i dont know how or when to use them, and I have a lot of El Salvadorian friends. A couple of (dirty )examples: guanaco, i know this is not as dirty as others. Serote, I know this one may be a little too offensive to El Salvador people.
    Anyway, i dont mean to offend anybody, i just want to share my personal experience.

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