Heymatt: We all know the story of how many Lassies there were covering the collie’s illustrious career in show biz. How many Matthew Alices have there been? I have noticed a dramatic change in the style of writing from the first Matthew Alice columns to the most recent musings. Not a more mature or subdued style but a totally different pattern of writing. Fess up, Alice, if that’s your real name. What have you done with the original Alice? — Bob, via email
I guess it’s about time for this question to circle around again. “Who are you, Matthew?” “What are you, Matthew?” “How can you be who you say you are, Matthew?” “Why don’t I ever see you downtown?” “Where do the elves go at night?” Decades of the same questions that I re-answer from time to time, just to cut down on the volume temporarily. But this one has a twist. Sounds as if Bob maybe did a lit-crit paper on “The Evolution of Alice Grammar and Syntax” or something. Exactly how far back did you go, Bob? Did you get permission to search through the crumbling clip files in the Reader offices, back to the simple days when we were an eight-page beach broadsheet published out of a garage? Well, I claim the right to change. A totally different pattern of writing? Like, what? I didn’t use verbs and now I do? Poppycock. Granted, there was a time when I tried out each of the elves to see if any of them knew a topic sentence from a gerund. That failed pretty miserably, and since then I’ve cobbled everything together myself. So, until I get more details about how I’m completely different from the Reader’s salad days, I claim no harm, no foul. I’m me, and proud of it. But I’m open to examples of how radically different I used to be (full examples, with pub dates, please). Humph. What did I do with the original Alice? Well, the original Alice is now better dressed, with a cooler, classier air than the board-short hippie I used to be. Okay, does that answer everybody’s “who are you” questions for the next few years, at least? I hope so. We’ll throw out all the ones that are lurking in the files and start over clean. Yippee!
Hey, Matt: While passing the time with my fellow brothers here at the San Diego Rescue Mission, the subject came up regarding the term GRINGO. I think this means white American in Spanish, I said. But when corrected by a fellow brother, he said GRINGO means GREEN GOLD. He went on to explain that way back when people used gold as a way of buying and selling stuff. And when the U.S. came up with paper money that was green and did the same thing as gold did in commerce, the people, South (Mexico) of the border referred to the green paper money as GREENGOLD, and also that the people from North (USA) of the border were referred to as GRINGOS because they possessed the GREENGOLD! HUH!!! I have lived in San Diego for 38 years and hope you and the elves, if they are available (I know it’s Spring Break and they’re probably in TJ), can finally put some closure on this subject once and for all. — Stephen, San Diego
Green gold, eh? That’s probably the most convoluted, confounded, con-fusing explanation we’ve ever heard here. And we’ve heard a few. It’s bogus, of course. Sorry to say that ’bout a brutha, but he’s got it all wrong. But you already suspected that, didn’t you? You just wanted me to tell him so he wouldn’t get all grumpy with you. Glad to be of help.
Add “green gold” to the list of wrongheaded explanations: it comes from a song sung by Americans during the Mexican war, “Green Grow the Lilacs” (“green grow,” “gringo,” got it?) or from Americans’ green uniforms (the Mexicans yelled “Green go!” which is nutty since they’d be speaking Spanish, not English). So, what’s true?
First recorded use of “gringo”? In a Mexican publication of 1787; it meant “foreigner” or someone who speaks funny. Bird boy John J. Audubon in 1849 wrote that he and his party were hooted at and called “gringoes” by local Mexicans. An American book published in 1850 was titled Los Gringos: or, an Inside View of Mexico and California. So much for the “green gold” idea.
The word nerds have rooted around for a source for “gringo,” and they think they’ve hit on the answer. Consider the Spanish word griego, Greek. There’s an expression translated into virtually all European languages, which began in ancient Rome: “It’s all Greek to me,” meaning, “What the hey…?” Something Greek has always been something incomprehensible, especially speech. Likely that Americans were first griegos, then compressed to “gringos.” A much more boring explanation than “green gold,” but that’s the world of word nerds. You start out excited and end up with a big snooze.