First of all, I’d like to share a definition of macho and machismo by Valerie Aguilar, Hispanic Culture Editor of Bella Online: the term has its roots in Nahuatl (the language spoken by the aztec civilisation) and defines the ideal of macho as that of a “brave, wise and strong leader.” The indigenous people of Mesoamerica who spoke Nahuatl used the word to refer to both men and women who shared those characteristics. It was when the Spaniards arrived in the Americas that the meaning of the word macho took a different turn and it evolved into that of a macho male as someone with an unquenchable and overwhelming sexual desire, on a power trip over his girlfriend and lovers, the poor woman (or women) that had the bad idea of marrying him, etc. etc., with the sole exception of his female family members.

Interesting, eh? Got to love etymology 😉

In my previous post, I went into the different forms of grammatical gender from a strictly morphological point of view. There’s an overlap between grammatical and biological gender between many nouns that refer to animate beings. For example:

  • El niño (the boy) — la niña (the girl).
  • El gato (the male cat) — la gata (the female cat).

 In the above cases, los niños could refer to

  • the boys (strictly masculine),
  • the children (super-ordinate term to refer to both genders).

The context in which the word is used helps break the ambiguity.

The masculine used as super-ordinate term does certainly not come from the intersection between Nahuatl and Spanish. I found it in the Quirós Memorials and it had existed before Spaniards landed in the Americas and started their destructive Conquista. My little “trip to the past” is mainly for the purpose of getting a little bit of perspective. It’s Spanish as it’s spoken and written now that I’m looking at now.

So, if the use of grammatical gender doesn’t constitute a marker of machismo or sexism, how is that done in Spanish?

Simple: through the use of lexical items that could be masculine or feminine in their grammatical gender. A few times the machista connection can involve grammatical gender.

Below is part of a tongue-in-cheek list of words from Chistes, Bromas y Tonteras. Trigger Warning #1: I’ve translated the words into English and they’re all very politically incorrect, but the site name can be translated into Spanish as Jokes, Pranks and Nonsense. Trigger Warning #2: Spanish speakers may remember their grandma or el tío Pepe using these words and expressions, and will either let out a chuckle or remember how much they resented their relatives. Oh, I guess I can’t keep everybody happy …

ZORRO: Screen hero played by Douglas Fairbanks and Guy Williams, among others.
ZORRA: Whore.

PERRO: Our best friend who welcomes us wagging his / her tail.
PERRA: Whore.

AVENTURERO: Daring, courageous, risk-taking.
AVENTURERA: Whore.

AMBICIOSO: Visionary, energetic, go-getter.
AMBICIOSA: Gold-digger, whore.

CUALQUIER: Tom, Dick or Harry. Just anyone / anybody.
CUALQUIERA: Whore.

REGALADO: Past participle of the verb regalar (=to give gifts).
REGALADA: Slut, whore.

CALLEJERO: Urban, roaming the streets.
CALLEJERA: Whore, street woman.

HOMBREZUELO: Small or short man.
MUJERZUELA: Slut, whore.

HOMBRE PÚBLICO: Prominent man, public official.
MUJER PÚBLICA: Whore.

HOMBRE DE LA VIDA: Highly experienced man.
MUJER DE LA VIDA: Whore.

RÁPIDO: Intelligent, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed.
RÁPIDA: Slut, whore.

PUTO: Homosexual male.
PUTA: Whore.

DIOS: Creator of the Universe.
DIOSA: Mythological being from superstitious, obsolete and forgotten cultures.

HEROE: Idol.
HEROINA: Drug.

ATREVIDO: Daring, courageous.
ATREVIDA: Insolent, with bad manners.

SOLTERO: A coveted, intelligent male.
SOLTERA: On the shelf, slow.

SUEGRO: Father-in-law.
SUEGRA: Meddlesome, sneaky, patronising (characteristics attributed to a mother-in-law).

MACHISTA: Macho man.
FEMINISTA: Lesbian.

DON JUAN: A manly hearthrob.
DOÑA JUANA: Lady who does the cleaning.

Leaving the joke aside, older people may (and notice I say may) use the above expression with sexist connotations, but if you want to know how to express sexism or machismo in Spanish, stay tuned! That’ll come to you in my third (and last) blog post on the topic.

Is Spanish a “macho” language? Part II: lexical items

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