I’m always searching better ways to explain dichos to my amigos.
Most of the time I say, dichos are pearls of wisdom passed down from generation to generation. Sometimes witty. Sometimes serious. Sometimes funny.
Some get it. Most don’t.
In my second attempt, I say think of it as a short English proverb. Kinda like an aphorism or an idiom.
At this point most people either get it or act like they do so we can change the subject.
But there’s a select group of people who want to know more. They want to know why it works.
Especially those familiar with the Mexican culture or have traveled extensively in Mexico. Others are just enthusiasts of quirks, nuances and idiosyncrasies of a culture.
Either way for those amigos, I often take more time to explain. I mention that dichos are engrained in our culture because they are interwoven in the Mexican Spanish language.
It seems to me that they work because they’re sometimes a passive aggressive way to get a point across. And in a culture that goes to extremes to avoid direct conflict or confrontation, we’ve turned this into an art from. lol
Sometimes my explanation works. But most of the time it doesn’t.
I work at a retail furniture store. I see all kinds of customers. From all walks of life.
Recently, I worked with a Mexican couple from el Districto Federal.
Mauricio and Alma were cordial. They looked around and finally found a bedroom suite they liked.
Alma really liked it. Mauricio was not quite so sure. I gathered it was more a dislike for the price than the actual bedroom suite. If you like it we’ll get it but not today, he said. Let’s go think about it. His words said we’ll come back tomorrow but his tone said, forget about it.
Her demeanor instantly changed. She looked like a kid whose parent’s didn’t let her open the Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. And Christmas morning seemed like an eternity.
So we made small talk as I accompanied them to the door.
Mauricio opened the glass door but before they stepped outside she quickly turned to me, smiled and said, nos vemos manana.
I laughed and quipped back “andele pues.”
She won. Alma will have a new bedroom tomorrow. Mauricio just doesn’t know it yet. But by the expression on his face I think he was preparing for it. lol
I stood there looking through the big glass windows as they got in the car.
My friend, Shelby, who’d been within earshot of the conversation looked confused.
Why in the world did you tell them to hurry up and go?
What? I never said that, I exclaimed.
Yes you did. You said, Andale! And that means hurry up and go.
I laughed out loud.
Shelby knew just enough Spanish to get himself in trouble. He knew the bad words, innuendos and the little phrases a kid from Arkansas picks up watching Speedy Gonzalez on Saturday morning cartoons. lol
First of all, I said andele not andale, I corrected. Secondly, I didn’t mean andele as in hurry up , I meant it as in, ok.
I explained how a word or phrase can be used to mean something totally different than its literal translation. Depending on the context and how you say it.
His eyes glossed over. Spanish is hard, he said. I knew this was my cue to change the subject.
But it got me thinking. I’d never considered this before. Growing up in the Mexican culture, we pick up nuances in the language very early on. It’s unspoken. It’s hidden in plain sight. It’s like an inside joke.
Ya me cayo el veinte!
Dichos are equivalent to an inside joke. They work the same way. Eureka!
According to Wikipedia, “an inside joke, is a joke whose humor is understandable only to members of an ingroup, that is, people who are in a particular social group, occupation, or other community of shared interest. It is an esoteric joke that is humorous only to those who are aware of the circumstances behind it.
In-jokes may exist within a small social clique, such as a group of friends, or extend to an entire profession such as the film or professional wrestling industries, or a particular sporting field or chess team. Ethnic or religious groups usually have their own in-jokes.”
And although dichos aren’t technically inside jokes they are inside phrases built on similar cultural cues and references. It’s the difference between being an outsider and an insider in a conversation.
And being and outsider will have you wondering why I just said my twenty has fallen (ya me cayo el veinte.)
Learning how and why dichos work is the difference between communicating and connecting. And once you learn dichos, a whole new world opens up to you. A world hidden in plain sight.
Until now. Welcome to this new world amigos.
Here’s a translation and explanation of the dicho I used above.
Dicho: Ya me cayo el veinte.
Literal Translation: My twenty has fallen.
Meaning: To suddenly realize or understand something. It just dawned on me. It all makes sense now.
Explanation: A “veinte” was a common expression for the Mexican 20 cent coin. The expression derives from the use of public telephones. It refers to the 20 cent coin used to make calls at the time. Those of us who’ve used public telephones know that sometimes the coin takes a couple of tries before it “catches.” However, sooner or later the phone accepts the coin and we could make the call. Ya me cayo el veinte.
How it’s used: Most often used like the words “eureka moment” in English.
For example: Let’s say you hear whispers of a birthday party but can’t figure out whose birthday is being celebrated. Everything seems to be hush hush. You finally discover that it’s on the same day as your birthday. Wait a second! Ya me cayo el veinte. They’re planning your surprise birthday party!
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