7 Common Nawatl Words Used By Chicanos and Chicanas

[ Kurly Tlapoyawa ]

Titlahtoa in Mazewaltlahtolli? Do you speak the Nawatl language? If you grew up Chicano or Chicana, odds are that you use hundreds of words every day that are of Nawatl origin! In fact, out of the 63 Indigenous languages that still exist in Mexico, Nawatl remains the most widely spoken with nearly 2 million native speakers. Here are 7 words of Nawatl origin that are common in Chicano communities!

1. Jacalero: From Xakalli, hut. A person who lives in a hut. Often used to describe a transient or poor person.

2. Tlapaleria: From Tlapalli, paint. A small neighborhood hardware store.


3. Tocayo: From Tokaitl, name. Someone with the same name. A namesake.

4. Chueco: From Choko/Chiko, lame in one foot. Used to describe something crooked or “messed up.”

5. Talache: From Talacha, A combination of Tlalli, earth and hacha, axe. A pickaxe.

6. Mitote: From Mitote, a ceremony. Used to describe people who gather and gossip. A snitch or busy body.

7. Cuate: From koatl, snake or “twin.” A good friend.

Interested in learning more? Check out my book “Totacho: Our Way Of Talking” available on In it, I detail the major influence that the Nawatl language has had on the “Spanish” spoken by Chicanos and Chicanas in the Southwest.

Click image to order

Kurly Tlapoyawa is an archaeologist, author, and ethnohistorian. His research focuses primarily on the interaction between Mesoamerica, Western Mexico, and the American Southwest. Kurly has lectured at UNLV, University of Houston, and Yale University on topics related to Mesoamerica. His recent book, “Our Slippery Earth: Nawa Philosophy in the Modern Age” was published in 2017. In addition to his work in Archaeology and Ethnohistory, Kurly is a professional stuntman with over 35 credits to his name.

Follow Kurly on twitter @KurlyTlapoyawa

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About Kurly Tlapoyawa (1010 Articles)

11 Comments on 7 Common Nawatl Words Used By Chicanos and Chicanas

  1. Interesting! Does anybody know the etymology of the word chongo?

  2. I believe it is a Pueblo word from New Mexico. I will look into it!

  3. What about rasquache? Love this word. Lol

    • Hi Dana,

      I couldn’t find anything concrete on the etymology of “rasquache” or “rascuache.” The wiki page states that it’s of Nawatl origin, but no citation is given. My “Diccoinario De Nahuatl” by Remi Simeon skips from the “Q”s to the “T”s — apparently there are no words that begin in “R” (or “S” for that matter) in Nawatl. Kurly might offer some insight into that.

      In my estimation, if it is derived from Nawatl, the term has morphed significantly making it difficult to discern its actual provenance. But perhaps someone has figured it out. If anyone can get a copy of Santamaria’s “Diccionario de Mejicanismos,” I’m pretty sure the term is properly sourced there.

  4. Good one. Which dictionary is that?

  5. The Diccionario de Aztequismos by Cabrera. I spoke to a Nawatl linguist who thinks that the term likely comes from “Tzonko.” This is the tuft of hair that warriors would grab a hold of in combat.

    • NIce. I like using Cecilio A. Robelo’s dictionary by the same name,
      Diccionario de aztequismos, ó sea, Catalogo de las palabras del idioma nahuatl, azteca ó mexicano, introducidas al idioma castellano bajo diversas formas

  6. I thought chongo was a hair bun, and a pony tail is cola de caballo or simply colita. Perhaps it varies from region to region. I lived in Tijuana. “Soltarse el chongo” means to let your hair down.

    • Yes, “chongo” is also used for hair bun, but it’s also used for a simple hair tie on the top or back of the head. Regional specificity might account for the variance.

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