Spanglish…el bad boy de linguistics

I would like to introduce you to mi gran amigo, the muy creativo and always fascinating, Joe Ray. You may have enjoyed some of his entertaining cuentitos in the comments section, and now it’s my pleasure and honor to host this guest post he has written for us.

Spanglish…el bad boy de linguistics
by Joe Ray

Ask any bilingual professional (especially in marketing) what they think of using Spanglish and they’ll tell you there is no place for it in marketing, advertising, etc. They’ll get self righteous and well postured as they tell you this. Then as soon as they walk out, they’ll start using Spanglish, especially if a couple of beers are involved.

Why is that? Is it butchering the language? If done incorrectly, you just screwed up 2 languages. Especially if a message is being delivered via media channels to get a point across or sell something. Face it, bad use of Spanglish can make you come across as ignorant, illiterate, and like you’re part of the-low-tooth-per-head-ratio crowd.

However, on a personal interaction level, Spanglish can be great. Sort of like speaking your own Secret Global Citizen Code, like an Hombre Secreto on a mission of some sort. Or at the very least you’ll sound like you’re enjoying yourself. One time a non-Spanish speaking friend of mine, upon hearing two of us speaking Spanglish and going back and forth, asked me why we do that. Why? I never thought about it, but I guess it’s because we can. We can, therefore why not, right? It’s that Hombre Secreto Code thing, right?

I’ve always heard a lot of Spanglish. I was born in a Mexican border town and grew up in Arizona, so I’ve heard a lot of this linguistic fusion. I think it’s a natural for bilingual/bicultural gente.

Here’s a good example I’ve heard quite often around farm areas: “Okay, hay me esperas, then I’ll get mi troca y te recojo and then vamos a lonchar en la chuck wagon, okay?”

It’s a beautifully appreciated global code system when you hear it spoken really fast too. Very natural. Especially given the fact that Latinos use our hands to punctuate or tone down dialogue, even on the phone. Then when you factor in the end of the work day, some cervezas and some verbal madrazos, the lenguaje gets very colorful.

In case you’re not a fluent Spanish speaker, here’s a quick crash course in Spanglish and the art of the madrazo (cervezas not required):

  • “Hey, bring me that little chingadera, please.”
  • “If you kids don’t behave, I’m going to get my pinche chancla and then van a ver who’s in charge around here.”
  • “Hey_________(insert MLB player name here)! Don’t be such a maricón…that was a good pitch!”

That last one can be a pretty good, or bad insult. Be prepared for accompanying laughter or a potentially violent reaction. Note: on all of the above, be sure to use hand and head gestures when incorporating them into everyday conversations.

There you go. You’re now ready to start using Spanglish, and on your way to becoming a Secret Global Citizen, complete with your own linguistic code.

What are some of your favorite phrases you hear or use?

Author Bio: Joe Ray is a Latino painter and printmaker living in Scottsdale, Arizona, as well as Creative Director and President of Estudio Ray, a visual branding/marketing agency in Phoenix.


    Spanglish is my first language and still the way I communicate with my familia. I was the oveja negra of the Spanish department in college because I would talk “incorrectamente”. It actually made me doubt a little and even try to remediar el problema. But it’s part of who I am and I won’t change it for nada!! My friends still get annoyed cuando se me sale el Spanglish, pero es cosa de ellos!
    Code switching is such a beautiful art!! Have you heard of Tato Laviera? He’s an amazing Spanglish writer. I had the pleasure to meet him and just hearing him mix the two languages like Picasso mixed the colors for his pinturas me pusó los pelos de punta! Te lo recomiendo!!

  2. congrats con tu blog! IT IS a language all its own. verdad? lol. My dad always said “if someone talks to you in Eng you answer in Eng, if Spanish you answer in Spanish” but over time Spanglish is what we used most. True it has to flow naturally or its just ghetto, lol. V

  3. Joe, I like how you compared Spanglish to a secret code language. When I’m talking to someone and Spanglish slips out between us, it makes me smile inside. I feel like I’m with my “gente” – people who can really understand me.

  4. Love the phrases you pointed out. Love to use Spanglish too and yes, I think it can be hard to use it in marketing pieces cause you never know how it will be read and who you might insult.
    I hand gestures are so true! You reminded me of them and how do we speak. I can’t think of any phrase right now but it is so rico to talk in Spanglish, just because we can!!

  5. lol! We do this with French in Canada… instead of telling somebody to shut-up! you might yell “ferme le bouche!” I probably spelled that wrong but we have lots of phrases that we use in daily convo’s and oddly even if you don’t know french it seems everyone knows what this means!

  6. Great comments! Glad you enjoyed the post.

    One interesting note that I thought of earlier, most of the people who get uptight about the thought of using Spanglish in marketing are men. For some reason almost to the pompous corner, while women just shrug their shoulders and say no or something to that effect. Maybe it’s that whole Homebres from Mars and Mujeres de Venus.

    We’re from various planetas when you think about the gender thing. But, that’s another story…

  7. I feel so part of this Spanglish Tribe! We do just totally get each other.
    There’s nothing like knowing que puedo cambiar de idioma en cualquier momento and that you’ll be able to follow along with me.
    That’s just how my brain works, chingao!

  8. So… are u tellin me que spanglish its not a lenguaje?? tas wey man, uno first learn spanglish and then… and then .. maybe aprendes ingles, KE NO?? THAS WHAT MI AMA TOLD ME.

  9. :) I hate “Spanglish” but that is all I speak. I guess I hate the idea of it. The fact that you aren’t actually speaking either correctly. But, if I am completely honest, if the conversation is longer than unos minutos, te voy hablar Spanglish. Ay unas palabras que salen con mas/menos fuerza en espanol. Por ejemplo, “No te haces chingando!” or “Como eres lluevona!” Other phrases come across as harsh or uneducated in Spanish, or at least, my Spanish, and I want the correct “gist” to be had. I can translate my words, but I want to make sure I translate my MEANING and if I can switch over and then switch back, I definitely will. Bad habit that I’m trying to break, for the kid’s sake. Pero gracias for the reassurance that no soy la unica.

  10. Love the “Secret Global Citizen Code”…You’re absolutely right…! When my sister and I hang out, we do our Spanglish and we totally “get” what we’re talking about. The Spanish words we use are a reflection of a shared history and common experience. Que viva el Spanglish…!

  11. Here’s an appropriate phrase for what’s going on in Phoenix right now (7-29-10): “Wow, this sure is turning into on big desmadre. Que Chingado! Can you believe it?”

  12. Great guest post! There’s actually a term in linguistics for the way that we use Spanglish as a language; it’s called code-switching. I took a linguistics course in college and code-switching was one of the topics explored in the class. It was pretty fascinating. I learned then (and notice even moreso now as an adult) that oftentimes when code-switching, we use words that have a particular connotation or carry a particular sentiment that is not quite expressed the same in the other language. I find myself frequently doing this more on the side of using a word in Spanish over a word in English because of the additional meaning or sentiment of a situation that I can’t quite find the right word for in English. When I speak with other Spanglish-speakers, nothing gets lost in translation because if there’s a word we can’t express in one language, we just use the other language and the person understands perfectly fine. In fact, I’ve definitely bonded and formed lasting friendships with other Spanish-speakers who understand the use and find comfort using Spanglish in friendly conversation. I could go on and on – what a great topic. I’ll end my comment with one final thought: I have a great t-shirt that I proudly wear with a concha on it that says “sweet as pan dulce” – I bought it after a good friend of mine showed me hers and we laughed over it. An excellent example of how Spanglish can bring people closer together.

  13. I’m really learning to appreciate Spanglish more and more. When younger I was very careful not to mix the two, in fact it would drive me crazy when someone did. But as I got older the blend of both languages naturally started to happen. Con las amigas, my sister, anyone that speaks both. Pero no mis papas, ‘cuz they don’t like it. Hahaha. Guess that’s where it all started huh? So glad be part of the Secret Global Citizen Code. Jajaja.

  14. Joe, Spanglish wasn’t a real part of my life up until about 4 years ago when I met my husband. Now that’s mostly what we talk at home. I find when I’m mad it flows even better. My spanish is pritty good but when I talk to my in-laws there are times when I use an english word here or there and they seem to get it. My 2 year old is fluent in spanglish, spanish, and english. It’s crazy how kids pick up things so quickly.


  15. Mi abuelita ODIABA el Spanglish! Decía que era una haraganería. Sorry abue… its a talent! No todo el mundo puede cambiar el cassette idiomático en segundos. Es un vicio? Talvez pero ni me engorda ni me emborracha!!!

    • @ MuyBuenoCookBook – Well, Barbara Bermudo I am not – but I will keep trying to learn. (Though I prefer a more “real” accent as opposed to the sanitized TV one.)

  16. It was great to read this article. I worked as a Secretary for many many years in my country so I learned to write very business like and observe all the grammar rules. However, my entire family lives in California (I live in Canada now) and I love to hear them all speaking Spanglish. Like the author of the article said, this fusion of languages make us feel more united. That feeling is priceless. I am Spanish speaker but I also love English language since I can remember. Hence, the colorfull fusion of the both it seems very natural to me. It comes from the heart.

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