) KEY NOUN: Offensive Slang pl. grin·gos
- Used as a disparaging term for a foreigner in Latin America, especially an American or English person.
Spanish, foreign, foreign language, gibberish
, probably alteration of griego
, from Latin Graecus
; see GreekWORD HISTORY:
In Latin America the word gringo
is an offensive term for a foreigner, particularly an American or English person. But the word existed in Spanish before this particular sense came into being. In fact, gringo
may be an alteration of the word griego,
the Spanish development of Latin Graecus,
first meant "Greek, Grecian," as an adjective and "Greek, Greek language," as a noun. The saying "It's Greek to me" exists in Spanish, as it does in English, and helps us understand why griego
came to mean "unintelligible language" and perhaps, by further extension of this idea, "stranger, that is, one who speaks a foreign language." The altered form gringo
lost touch with Greek but has the senses "unintelligible language," "foreigner, especially an English person," and in Latin America, "North American or Britisher." Its first recorded English use (1849) is in John Woodhouse Audubon's Western Journal: "We were hooted and shouted at as we passed through, and called 'Gringoes.'"