Dear Mexican: I'm a Spanish-language student struggling with tenses and the gender of nouns. The other day, some friends and I were discussing street slang, and the word verga (penis) came up (no pun intended). It occurred to me that the definitive symbol of masculinity ends in the feminine -a. What's up with that?
Dazed and (Gender) Confused
Dear Gabacho: I feel your pain. Learning a new language is difficult, especially when it comes to grammar. I still don't get the difference between the comparatives "like" and "such as," and my parents smuggled me into this country decades ago. You didn't indicate any problems with tenses, although Spanish is infamous for its multiple possibilities (especially that pinche pluperfect). On the other mano, grammatical gender in Spanish is relatively straightforward: nouns that end in -a tend to be feminine and use the article la, while those ending in -o are masculine and use the article el. That's the case with verga, as you correctly note. So how did this most macho of words get emasculated? Simple: verga actually means "rod," and its etymological origins are in the Latin virga, which also had the same formal and colloquial definitions as verga. The Romans classified virga as feminine for reasons known only to them (read: They were all gay), and the Romance languages inherited this syntax sin from them (the French verge, which also means "rod," is feminine). Perhaps it's all a divine joke: Romance cultures are famously chauvinist, so what better way for Diós to get back at His wayward children than to wussify a much-cherished synonym for penis?
Gender in Spanish grammar
Dear Mexican: I sent you a question months ago, but you still haven't answered it. I knew you'd be too much of a pussy to answer. Pussy!
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The Great Gabacho
Dear Readers: The Mexican gets e-mail similar to the one above almost every week, each hurling varying degrees of insults against my manhood, mexicanidad and mother. Sorry, putos: No slurs will convince me to answer your questions faster. Unless your pregunta is especially sexy -- or if you're an illegal immigrant -- you have to wait your turn in line. And what a line it is: In the past year, ¡Ask a Mexican! has spread beyond SanTana and across los Estados Unidos -- it now runs in eighteen papers and has a weekly circulation of over one million. As a result, the questions just keep on coming. Gracias to all of you -- gabachos, chinitos, wabs, negritos, jotos, racists and Guatemalans alike -- for making this column as spicy as it is.
On that note, and in the spirit of the holidays, I leave you with a Christmas gift: the below picture, which says more about Mexican culture than this humble wab ever could. ¡Feliz Navidad!