¿Que Onda Güey? It just Slips Off the Tongue

Here in the US it’s not as much a part of every day exchanges as it’s become in Mexico.

When I was a kid in Nuevo Laredo my buddies’ names were secondary, more of a reference point. All my friends were güeyes. So was I. That and ca’on. As in: ¿Que onda ca’on? Nada güey. ¿Tu? Lo mismo güey.

See how well that flows? Of course, the finer folks didn’t utter the word for fear of sounding ordinarios. But we knew they wanted to; they coveted our freedom of expression…ca’ones.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times it turns out that güey has become an almost universally accepted noun in Mexico, much like “dude” is here in the US.

A guey (pronounced “way”) can be a spiky-haired boy, a stubbly-chinned jitney driver, a college student with a ring in her nose. Take a table near a bunch of Mexican teens and it often sounds as if all other parts of speech were designed to transport you from one “guey” to the next. Even narco thugs have scrawled the word as an epithet in threatening banners, misspelling it wey.

My Mama Grande would roll in her grave!

I’m not sure how this whole thing crept up on us, I just know it did. I’ve also noticed how the words that were once relegated to grocero boys in the school yard and working men in cantinas and work sites have become acceptable among the fairest of Mexican ladies.

Some Mexicans worry about a proliferating usage of slang terms once considered too coarse for common use. They blame the looser talk on television and radio, as well as social changes that have given Mexican women equal access to colloquialisms, even raunchy ones.

There are many people, though, who believe that the laxity of language in Mexico has gone too far. Could it be a sign of the demise of the Mexican formalismo?

There has always been an understood formality of personal exchanges in Mexico. I was taught, as many of you were, the clear distinction between the formal usted and the familiar tu. A slip from the formal to the familiar was met with a raised eyebrow –  in the case of some of my friends, even worse that that. But if you understand Mexican idiosyncrasy you’ll also understand the wider use of some words – at some level we’re all güeyes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it has to do with the creativity of the Mexican language.

The flexibility of Mexican slang allows even some profanities to be stretched and refolded into a mind-boggling variety of uses, some of which no longer carry an X-rated punch. “It’s a magical word. A change of tone, a change of inflection is enough to change its meaning,” Mexico’s revered man of letters Octavio Paz once waxed about a ubiquitous verb that won’t be waxed about here.

All I know is that it’s wonderful to vent in Mexican slang where you can sling profanity, invent new forms and create new meanings in a most explicit and satisfying way. It’s heartwarming to know that güey has become an endearment.

I gotta go now, I have to tuitear this and put it on feisbuk.

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