Origins: The rather improbable saga of the origins of the word "gringo" has it that the term began during the Mexican-American War
Other versions of this etymological legend attribute the singing to Irish Legion volunteers serving in Simon Bolivar's army during Venezuela's war for independence from Spain in the early
All of these charming explanations have chronology working against them. Although the first recorded use of "gringo" in English dates from 1849 (when John Woodhouse Audubon, the son of the famous nature artist, wrote that "We were hooted and shouted at as we passed through, and called 'Gringoes'"), the word was
The true origin of gringo is most likely that it came from griego, the Spanish word for "Greek." In Spanish, as in English, something difficult or impossible to understand is referred to as being Greek: We say "It's Greek to me," just as in Spanish an incomprehensible person is said to hablar en griego (i.e., "speak in Greek"). The English version of the proverb shows up in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (1599), when Casca, one of the conspirators against Caesar, proclaims:
It is certainly possible (and even likely) that the Mexican-American War precipitated the introduction of the Spanish word gringo into the English language, but the word itself antedates that conflict by at least sixty years and had nothing to do with singing soldiers, American or otherwise.
Last updated: 13 April 2011
Graeme, Donald. Sticklers, Sideburns & Bikinis. Long island City, NY: Osprey Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-1-84908-157-3 (p. 150) Rawson, Hugh. Devious Derivations. New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1994. ISBN 0-517-88128-4 (pp. 92-93). Room, Adrian. The Fascinating Origins of Everyday Words. Chicago, NTC Publishing, 1986. ISBN 0-8442-0910-4 (p. 75). The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. ISBN 0-19-861258-3.