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
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, though 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 are denoted with the article la, whereas 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 also means rod and 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? Dear Mexican:
My girls and I work at a Mexican restaurant, and the Mexican cooks are so infatuated with "the Mexican sandwich." Is this a cultural practice for all horny amigos? Curious Center of a Mexican Sandwich
Few gestures are more revered among Mexican men than the torta, which is what you call the Mexican sandwich. Two hombres grab an unsuspecting mujer preferably a gabacha and proceed to bump and grind her like Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan's "Night at the Roxbury" skit on Saturday Night Live. Sexual harassment? Por supuesto damn straight. But don't call HR just yet, ladies. Consider this: Being in the center of a torta is a profound experience; it's the best sexual harassment you'll ever experience. Ask them to stop, and they will. If you want the torta to reach the next level say, a squirt of mayonnaise the decision is yours, chula. And if you don't enjoy tortas? Chuy gets a one-way bus ride to Mexico.
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! The Great Gabacho
The Mexican gets e-mails 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 you're an illegal immigrant you have to wait your turn in line. And what a line it is! Ask a Mexican now runs in 18 papers and has a weekly circulation of more than 1 million. The questions keep coming as a result; I have so many questions in queue that, if I never received another one, this column could continue uninterrupted for six years.
And the best is yet to come. Scribner will publish the Mexican in book form on May 1, 2007.
Got a spicy question about Mexicans? Ask the Mexican at firstname.lastname@example.org.