Arcaísmos. These are words from archaic Spanish that are common in New Mexico and in rural areas of Mexico. Pachucos also utilized such words, being that they were sometimes from these communities. For example:
Archaic Spanish Standard Spanish
asina así mesmo mismo muncho mucho lamber lamer (from this comes lambe and lambiscón – both meaning ¨kissass)
Anglicismos. These are terms that are derived from English or that have been literally translated into Spanish. For example: birria (bironga) – beer; clica – gang (from “clique”); ganga – gang; dátil – a date (with a person); guachar – to watch (Ay te guacho, gacho.); guaino – wino; songa – song; dar quebrada – to give a break (La jura no me quiere dar quebrada, carnal.); escuadra – a square or unhip person.
Aztequismos. These are words that come from náhuatl, the language of the Aztecs. For example: chante – home or house (from chantli - home); chicloso – well dressed, sharp (from tzictli – glutinous milk produced by the sapodilla tree); chicloso also means “glutinous” in Mexico, and chicle – gum – derives from tzictli; mayate – black man (from mayatl – a black bettle); tacuche – suit (from tacuchi – to bind with cloth), verb form – entacuchar – to dress. Various sources attribute chante as deriving from the English “shanty”. However, “shanty” probably comes from the French chantier – lumberman’s hut – or from the Irish sean tig – old house. Since chante is an old word that exists and is used in central Mexico, far removed from English influence, it is certain that “shanty” has no relevance. Note that chantarse or achantarse means “to get married” in pachuco – you are setting up house when you get married – analogous to the standard Spanish casa (house) and casarse (to get married).
Caloísmos. There are two types: terms imported directly from (1) caló gitano, i.e., caló from Spain, and those from (2) caló mexicano, native to México. Caló mexicano can also be called jerga mexicana (Mexican slang) and it is associated with the underworld, although the reach of the slang goes beyond the criminal class.
(1) Caló gitano: bute (or buti) – much, very; calcos – shoes; catear – to hit with a fist (from catar – to knock down, trample), also cato – blow from a fist (from cate – a blow); chota – police (“informer” in caló); chavalo – boy (from chaval – young man); jando – money (derives from jandoró – money); jarana – guitar (“diversion” in caló); lima (also lisa) – shirt; sardo – soldier; vaisa – hand. Also, bato (vato) – guy or boy in caló pachuco – is probably derived from the caló gitano word chibato (chivato) – young man. Also, bato means “father” and bata “mother” in caló gitano, so I’m sure that the pachuco word bato is caló in origin, rather than of New Mexican Spanish origin as is stated in some sources. For example, A Dictionary of New Mexico and Southern Colorado Spanish by Rubén Cobos states that possibly bato is derived from the name of a shepherd in the play Los Pastores. I favor the caló derivation.
(2) Caló mexicano: apañar – to steal; filero – knife; jura – police (from jurado – jury or jurar – to vow); nel (or nela) – no; tando – hat; totacho (or tatacha or totacha) – language; trola – a match.
Metaphors. These are standard Spanish words that are adopted with changes or extensions of meanings. Thus, al alba – alert, sharp, smart – usually “at dawn” – (the early bird gets the worm, i.e., is sharp); borlo (borlote) – a dance – the standard meaning is “tumult”or “uproar”; carnal – brother – ordinarily “sensual” or “related by blood”; descontarse – to leave – from descontar –“to discount”; rayar – to swear – customarily “to underscore”; refinar – to eat – usually “to refine”; teórica – speech, talk – “theory” in standard speech (from this comes teoricar (or tioricar) – to speak); yesca – marihuana – usually “tinder” or “fuel”.
Alterations (plays on words). Calmantes, Montes. – instead of Cálmate, Montes; cora – heart – from corazón; nelson = no; Nos vidrios. – instead of Nos vemos.; ¿Ontablas? – instead of ¿Dónde estabas?; ¿Qué pasión? – instead of ¿Qué pasó?; simón, sirol = sí; viroles = frijoles; Ya estufas. = Ya estuvo.; Ya sábanas. – instead of Ya sabes.
The metaphors and alterations exemplify the true sense of playful spirit and inventiveness of the language of the pachucos.
Inventions or words of uncertain origin. Chale – “no” in caló pachuco (some sources claim this derives somehow from the English name “Charles”, but I doubt this); clemo – penny; frajo – cigarette; güisa – girl (Diccionario de Caló – El Lenguaje del Hampa en México by Carlos Chabat states that this means “girl” in caló mexicano, but Linda Fine Katz in her UCLA master’s thesis “The Evolution of the Pachuco Language and Culture” states that güisa comes from güisáo – “brothel” in germanía, a more general European slang associated with criminal classes. The pachuco word jaina – girlfriend – is usually attributed as deriving from the English “honey” (for example, Cobos and Katz), but Chabat lists jaña as mujer o amasia and jaño as hombre, so it seems to me that jaina is a variation of jaña and has nothing to do with “honey”. Also, ramfla (ranfla) in caló pachuco means “car”. Cobos claims ramfla comes from the English word “rambler” (which I doubt), while others state that ranfla is a Mexican colloquialism for “old vehicle”. Pachucos were alienated from both traditional Mexican American society and from the mainstream American way of life. Youth everywhere have questions of identity – who am I? how do I confront the world? Caught in a no-man’s land between lo mexicano and lo gringo, the pachucos fashioned their own reality from the tools at hand: a language – caló; a music – swing, jazz and, later, mambo; a social network – la clica; and a mode of dress – the zoot suit (which was incorporated from the styles of Harlem). Certainly, rebellious youth everywhere do similar things, but mainline Anglo American kids were not the victims of racism and class discrimination as were the pachucos. La pachucada flaunted an independent spirit that would not take any crap from anyone.
Some English words associated with drug culture are actually derived from caló pachuco, although such sources as the Dictionary of American Slang give other origins, such as American Negro slang, for these words. For example: “reefer” (marihuana cigarette) – from grifa (pachuco for marihuana); “roach” (marihuana butt) – from roncha (same meaning); “toke” (a “hit” of marihuana) – from toque (touch).
Thus, the language of the pachucos was complex and inventive. The term caló (without modifiers) in the Southwest has come to designate this pachuco linguistic melange, extending the original meaning of caló as simply the language of the gitanos.
In New Mexico I have encountered those who say that pachuquismo was a Los Angeles phenomenon and deny that our home was ever a stage for pachucos. This is a historical blindness induced by shame and antagonism. How do these good folks explain the following interview conducted in the 1970s (from Caló Tapestry by Adolfo Ortega)?:
“Yo me crié en Alburque, en la ciudad. Yo ni cuenta me daba que había otra lengua. Los batos allá en el barrio, todos hablaban así. Los batos locos, tú sabes, todos tiorican así. … Yo podía comunicarme con otros batos y nomás escuchando el totacho de ellos de volada me daba cuenta de qué parte del estado eran. … Los chucos y los batos, son igual carnal. Antes que hubieran batos locos, les decían batos chucos. Como, bueno, yo tengo treintaicinco abriles de edad, ya no estoy chavalón. Cuando yo me estaba criando allí en Alburque, ése, pues en ese tiempo cuando le preguntaban a uno que de qué raza eras, todos los batos decían ‘pachuco’. En esos tiempos me crié yo, en los tiempos de los pachucos, que fue el primer revolucionario que hubo.” The interviewee was from the barrio of Barelas, right there in the Duke City.
World War II marked the zenith of pachuco cultural influence among la raza. Pachucos soared onto the national stage due to the infamous “Zoot Suit Riots” that occurred during June 1943 in Los Angeles. It would be more accurate to call these disturbances the “Sailor Riots” since they were characterized by attacks by American sailors and other servicemen on zoot suiters. Conflicts over access to women aggravated the relations between the mostly white servicemen and zoot suiters, who were mostly Black and Mexican. The Chicano zoot suiters or pachucos were also targets because they were viewed as avoiding military service by means of questionable tactics and they were conspicuously different in language, dress, deportment and skin color.