Santa Fe Slang
Nowhere in the U.S. is the original culture of Native Americans more alive and visible than in New Mexico. The state's first residents are represented by the 22 American Indian tribes who still reside there, including the Navajo, Apache, Zuni and Pueblo peoples. Their language, dance, art, stories and traditions truly define the Land of Enchantment, as well as the local lingo.
The first permanent Spanish settlement in New Mexico was Mission San Gabriel, which was founded in 1598 by Juan de Onate near what is now known as the San Juan Pueblo. Four centuries later, visitors and residents can walk through the original missions to glimpse the influence of the Spanish on the state and its language.
The Morman settlers are also responsible for coining Santa Fe slang phrases. These pioneers named the desert, "Deseret" – desert with an extra "e." I believe this was to make it sound more attractive. It seems a few picture postcards of New Mexico would have been enough...
Of course, the language of the Old West had a great impact on our modern American slang. Santa Fe speak may include phrases like the following:
"Taos Lightening" - any potent liquor.
"Dyed in the Wool" – ingrained, dyed like wool that would not easily fade or vanish.
"Let Drive" - to let it fly, let it slip, let loose a blow.
"Kick Up a Row" - create a disturbance.
"Necessary" – once an outhouse or water closet; today a bathroom.
"No Count" or "No Account" – worthless, probably meaning of no account.
"Out And Out" – completely, without reservation.
"Out-and-outer" – first-class.
"Let Her Rip" – let it go free or unrestrained.
"Little End of the Horn" – to come away from a situation at a disadvantage; similar to the expression "short end of the stick."
"Long and Short" – the result, the upshot. "That's the long and short of this subject."
New Mexicans are very open about their feelings and tend to be rather romantic. "Corazon," which literally means "heart," is one of my favorite romantic slang phrases. Santa Fe locals use it to tell someone they love that the person is their heart or owns their heart.
Originated by Chicanos in the U.S. Southwest, a lowrider is a style of car that has a modified suspension system so that it rides as low as possible. Lowriders are very often classic cars from the 1950s, which rode low to begin with. Large numbers of 1940s and 1960s cars are also modified, as are newer vehicles, but to a lesser degree. You will find these trademark autos throughout the state.
The drivers of these distinctive lowriders are inventive, vibrant characters which use a mix of colorful language. Most of these slang phrases developed in New Mexico, but some were adopted from other urban centers in the southwest: LA ("El Lay"), Phoenix and Tuscan.
"Orale" - a greeting that is a bit like the Hawaiian expression Aloha. It means "hello" but can also mean "pay attention."
"La plebe," "el vato loco," "cholo" and "chavalo" – These all mean "young kid."
"Chuquitas" - a variation of pachuquitas, which means young girls.
"Cuerota" - a very attractive, sexy woman.
If you are traveling from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, about 60 miles away, it's good to know that Albuquerque has been referred to as Burque (pronounced like: Booor-ke). No one knows where this name came from, as generations of "Burquenos" (people from Albuquerque) have used this name for their home. It is one of those slang phrases only locals are allowed to use - non-New Mexicans should avoid it.
Recently, there has been a resurgence of this nickname in response to a tourism and business development campaign that included the re-branding of Albuquerque as the "the Q." This new nickname has nothing to do with Albuquerque and was created by an advertising agency. Natives see it as a sanitized view of Albuquerque that is designed to attract outside tourists and investors. "The Q" is plastered on new city buses, every city building and all city communications.
"The Burque" was also stolen by a local free weekly magazine and anglicized in the promotions by changing the pronunciation from Burque to "Ber-kee." None of this has worked, and to locals it is still pronounced "Booor-ke."
"The 4-C" is one of the Santa Fe slang terms for northwest New Mexico. "The 4-C" specifically refers to the place where the four corners of the "square" states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet. It may just seem like lines on a map, but for some unknown reason this is regarded as a mystical spot.
Because New Mexico is a border state, unfortunately it is influenced by the international drug business. Like any major enterprise, this business has its own slang phrases. Santa Fe language includes terms like the following, as well as hundreds of others:
"Drug cowboy" – slang for a drug smuggler from the southwest.
"Gimbly Gimbly" a name for marijuana that originated in New Mexico.
In New Mexico, many words move from Spanish to English. The resulting phrases are sometimes humorous and often nonsensical. For example, the Mexican Spanish expression for cigarette, "frajo" mutated into "froghole" in Santa Fe slang and is often shortened to "fro" in parts of Albuquerque. But, it retained its original meaning - a cigarette. Most people who use the expression have no idea about the origin. Likewise, if you want to call someone short, you might call the person "El Chapo," which comes from the word "chaparrito," meaning "very short" in Mexican Spanish. (Much like "shorty" or "short stuff" in American slang).
In Santa Fe, many English words also become "hispanicized," keeping the rhythm of Spanish but the root of English. A few examples:
"Carrucha" – from the English word for "car," meaning lowrider.
"Wachando" - comes from "to watch"
"brecas" - derived from the brakes of an automobile.
"Bohemio" - used to describe unplugged-live-music bars (bares bohemios). This word is probably a reference to the Bohemian culture of the U.S. in the 1950's.
"mechas" – what you really need to light your cigarette with – matches.
So, next time you're in Santa Fe, remember the multifaceted nature of the language. Be sure to take a moment or two to listen to the local Santa Fe slang – you're likely to get an unintended history lesson.
- Overview: Santa Fe Travel Guide