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Tijuana slang is a language of its own

When you don't know Chinaloa from Sinaloa

While nobody with a television or radio is unaware of current American criminal and gang slang, there is an unexplored argot in Tijuana, where the streets of the Coahuila, Colonia Libertad, and Grupo Mexico can be even meaner than anything in Central L.A. or East San Diego. The smugglers, drug runners, and polleros have a jargon as trick, terse, and tough as American gangs. Some of it has been around for generations, some was forged at the border, and some of it springs out of sheer creative perversity.

In addition to injections from L.A. cholo and pachuco lingo, criminal language carries remnants of the ’60s and large doses of calo. Calo (a word that originally referred to the cant of Spanish Gypsies) or calichi is an underground, criminal argot — pure gutter talk originating in the rougher barrios of Mexico City — like the famous thieves’ markets of Tepito — where The Children of Sanchez was filmed — and it spreads around the country in the same way that Harlem jive is now understood in San Diego.

The characteristic Tijuana opener, as ubiquitous as “What up, Cuz?” or “Happenin’, Homes?” across in bangerland, is que onda, guey? La onda means “wave” in the sense of “vibrations” and is hippie talk left over from the ’60s but is still ubiquitous among the hip. Que onda? is “What’s the vibes?” Buena onda means “good vibes” or “good people,” mala onda is a “bummer,” and otra onda is “something else” or “too much.” But the grittier greeting would be que transas? which has the sense of “What’s the deal?”

Guey (also wey) is a form of buey (ox) but a form that acquires rude meaning and is the standard border sobriquet, like the generic “motherfucker” up here. Of course, you have to ease into calling people that. You might call a buddy mano (from hermano, brother), but the closest to “bro” is carnal, meaning “of the same flesh” and the form of address, heard in the alleys and jails as much as “Homes,” “Cuz,” or “Blood” on this side. Simon, carnal is “Right on, bro.” The word for “guys” is tipos, and cuates (pals) are often called cuadernos around the border — a first-syllable pun that actually means “notebook.” More Americanized Latins tend to use the famous cholo/pachuco address ese, which just means “that,” a short form of ese bato [that guy], another very characteristic border term. Bato can mean a guy, a Latin, a friend, or even be used instead of loco or chiflado to call somebody crazy in a complimentary way.

Questions of good, evil, and relative quality tend to get lumped into categories like chide, a word whose inner-city, gutter-level bite has been coopted by yuppies, or gacho a universal negative that can be used as que gacho! (What a bummer!) or no seas gacho, carnal (Don’t be a drag, brother). Bad breaks, rude tricks, and shabby things are gachadas.

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Once one disposes of the social graces and gets down to border-busting business, there’s the typical constellation of specialized terms drugs seem to generate. The well-known mota, for “pot,” is the main word used in most places, with yerba or hierba (herb) a distant second. But as in English, there are many other colorful terms. Some are just puns on mota, like motocicleta or motivosa. Others are nicknames and brand names like clorofila, grifa, de la buena, or fina esmeralda. Unlikely to be heard by an outsider, but sufficiently colorful to be shared, are trueno verde (green thunder), doradilla (little golden), dona diabla (devil lady), dama de la ardiente cabella (lady of the passionate tresses), and nalga de angel (angel’s butt).

Mexican “heads” (marihuanos) or grifos say tostar (toasting) instead of smoking. Other terms include motorizar (“motorize,” but a pun on mota), dorar (gild or toast golden brown), enyerbar (“to herb”), and the poetic enamoriscar, a hybrid of enamorar (to fall in love) and mordiscar (to nibble). “Joint” is porro, butt or “roach” is bachicka, and “hit” or “toke” is an aceleron. An interesting etymology here: “Your turn” in Spanish would be Tu toca, and Spanish slang for a “hit” is toque (touch). So passing one around in Mexico suddenly clears up where the hippies came up with a silly word like “toke.” It’s just how one tokes over the line.

Cocaine is called coca on the street, oddly also what you ask for when ordering a Coca-Cola. Presumably, confusion will be minimal. Heroin is , called chiva (nanny goat) by traffickers (traficantes or narcos).

Other terms for opiates include nieve (snow), cura (meaning both “priest” and “cure”), tecata, medicina, dona blanca (white lady). Opium and brown heroin from Mexico are sometimes called chicloso de mandarin (Mandarin chewing gum), chocolate chino (Chinese chocolate), or, more commonly, Chinaloa (Sinaloa being a major producing state).

Made-in-USA drugs keep names like “crystal” and “acido.” Around the border, one is occasionally offered Sherm, which is PCP, in case you’d like to avoid that experience. The term is interesting (so is the experience...in a nasty, brain-damaging sort of way)because though it has become standard Latino slang for “angel dust,” heard even in Mexico City, it evidently originated in San Diego’s Sherman Heights — probably from a dealer called “Sherman” who wore the barrio tattoo, though that’s just conjecture.

Garda, originally used in Tepito to indicate poor quality goods, has become a user’s term for bad or “beat” dope. I’ve heard La chiva chale es garcia, compa (Chinese heroin is lousy, pal). There are lots of creative ways to describe especially good drugs, of course, my favorite being Es el orgasmo mismo — It’s the same orgasm.

Sacala (take it out) has come to mean “Lay some dope on me.” You could also say alivianame (“gimme some relief” or “lighten me up”) in the big-city style, or mochamt (spare me some), but if you say it too much you’ll be scorned as a gorron or men-diche, a moocher. Too much relief and one can become a tilico (a walking skeleton) — a “sprung” or “wasted” druggie.

Cigarettes are only considered dangerous addictive drugs in Alta California, but they are certainly smuggled in a southerly direction, and having a butt on the lips is such a part of criminal macho posing there are inevitably hepper names for them. The most common term for smokes on any cellblock or street corner is frajo, but you’ll hear old-timers say dame un chiva, and somebody coming on real calichi might use a big-city term like menurron. Border crooks don’t go for old-time slang like cartucho or tambillo anymore, but a cute local equivalent for “coffin nails” is tacos de cancer. By the time you can say “No seas gacho, carnal. Alivianame. Mochame un frajo,” you’re starting to talk like a Mexican border gangster.

But there is more to smuggling than just drugs, and not all the runs go from south to north. In addition to firearms, traffickers run LSD, amphetamines, ecstasy, PCP, and retail amounts of cocaine, from California to Mexico, but by far the bulk of smuggling into Mexico is commercial contraband like VCRs, appliances, tennis shoes, and American cigarettes or candy bars — things that either have high duties or are actually restricted from importation, the Mexican government taking a dim view of its gold outflow to Japan and the U.S. This stuff is all called fayuca and is common in freewheeling Baja but searched for and seized in the airports, stations, and ferries leading to the rest of the Republic. While a load of microwaves, polyester disco shirts, or Walkmans might not seem as thrilling a cargo as drugs or whiskey, it’s still high-risk smuggling, and it’s not uncommon for low-level drug runners to “deadhead” back with whatever fayuca they can pick up or for chiveros (fayuca runners) to swap up with dope if the opportunity presents. It’s all illegal — and where would you rather do time, in California or Mexico?

Speaking of doing time, getting arrested is an occupational hazard that has its own terminology. The most common term for the politia, equivalent to “cops” in English, is placas, which means “badges.” A very underground term is garfil. A cop much given to the “take” (or mordida) is called mordelon. A cry of trucha! (which means “trout” — go figure) means “Cheese it, the cops!”

Being arrested (aprehendido, arrastado) is known by verbs like torcer (twist), rodar (roll), and the alley-wise aparuscar. Or, laconically. Me preguntaron, pero no me invitaron (They questioned me but didn’t “invite” me). The “paddy wagon” is affectionately known as Julia.

Most Americans know that jail is carcel or calabozo, and slangier terms like bote (trash can) or jaula (cage) are prosaic. Prison is often called the peni (short for penetencia), but common criminal slang is la pinta, derived from the expression hacer pinta (to play hookey from school). The gangsters cracked up when the Presidente chain of hotels in Baja changed their names to “La Pinta.”

Not all future yardbirds move contraband, of course. Jobs like cutting purses and cracking cribs are less glamorous, but somebody has to do them. Street terms for stealing are borrar (erase), bajar (lower), pegar (hit), cleptomanear, pelai (peel). A burglar is said to trabajar con fe (work with faith).

Thieves are called unas (claws or fingernails) or ratones (rats) on the street. Pickpockets are carteristas. A pinchon (pigeon) is a “mark” or “fall guy,” and while primo means “cousin,” the street meaning is a “hick,” “chump,” or “mark.” To snitch someone off is to poner rata or poner dedo (put them “rat” or put the finger), and the term for “squealing” is soplar (blow) making a “snitch” a soplon.

Of course, crooks are only in it for the money, and while it is very characteristic of the border to use feria to mean “money” or “cash,” low-life elements prefer the older word, lana (wool), and it is obligatory in greetings like “La lana o la vida” (Your money or your life). (The term can lead to some fairly weird constructions, such as “torta de lana” which doesn’t mean “wool sandwich” but “a rich chick”) Another financially imperative statement is caifas con mi lana, which means “Cough up my bread” and azota con mi lana (literally, “Whip me my money”) means “Cough up now.” Some confusion can arise from the use of droga to mean “debt” as well as “drug,” so droguero and drogado can take on the double meaning of “addicted” and “debt ridden” (not that they are such mutually exclusive conditions at any rate). To be out of money is to be pelado (peeled), jorobado (hunchbacked), or brujo, which means “witch” or “wizard” but has probably been adopted locally since it sounds like “broke.”

Any good hoodlum wants to be “made” or “connected,” and the term for having “pull” is to have palanca (lever). The ultimate “lever” would be a “godfather,” which in Spanish is “El Padrino”; in fact, it’s the title of the Spanish version of the Coppola flick, though in Mexico it would be more common for the “juice” to flow from a cacique, a foreman, or local boss of politics, crime, or business (frequently all three at once).

And would it be worth going wrong without the company of flashy and faithless women? You might hear slangy terms for muchachas, such as chavas, morras, or chamaconas on the streets, but anybody with any panache will use rougher terms like ruca. Ruco is alley talk for “old,” so ruca means “old lady,” but it’s an offhand depreciative like “broad,” the T] bandido’s equivalent of the U.S. banger’s generic “bitch” or “ho.” Less common terms for women include puris (sarcastic for purisima?), muercielagas (bats) espdtulas or, in big-city gangster talk, chundas (amputees). A woman one is making it with is his hueso (bone), changuita (little monkey), catan (a very chilango word for one’s “squeeze”), and recently faje, which at the border is becoming synonymous with lique, a conquest or “score.”

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While nobody with a television or radio is unaware of current American criminal and gang slang, there is an unexplored argot in Tijuana, where the streets of the Coahuila, Colonia Libertad, and Grupo Mexico can be even meaner than anything in Central L.A. or East San Diego. The smugglers, drug runners, and polleros have a jargon as trick, terse, and tough as American gangs. Some of it has been around for generations, some was forged at the border, and some of it springs out of sheer creative perversity.

In addition to injections from L.A. cholo and pachuco lingo, criminal language carries remnants of the ’60s and large doses of calo. Calo (a word that originally referred to the cant of Spanish Gypsies) or calichi is an underground, criminal argot — pure gutter talk originating in the rougher barrios of Mexico City — like the famous thieves’ markets of Tepito — where The Children of Sanchez was filmed — and it spreads around the country in the same way that Harlem jive is now understood in San Diego.

The characteristic Tijuana opener, as ubiquitous as “What up, Cuz?” or “Happenin’, Homes?” across in bangerland, is que onda, guey? La onda means “wave” in the sense of “vibrations” and is hippie talk left over from the ’60s but is still ubiquitous among the hip. Que onda? is “What’s the vibes?” Buena onda means “good vibes” or “good people,” mala onda is a “bummer,” and otra onda is “something else” or “too much.” But the grittier greeting would be que transas? which has the sense of “What’s the deal?”

Guey (also wey) is a form of buey (ox) but a form that acquires rude meaning and is the standard border sobriquet, like the generic “motherfucker” up here. Of course, you have to ease into calling people that. You might call a buddy mano (from hermano, brother), but the closest to “bro” is carnal, meaning “of the same flesh” and the form of address, heard in the alleys and jails as much as “Homes,” “Cuz,” or “Blood” on this side. Simon, carnal is “Right on, bro.” The word for “guys” is tipos, and cuates (pals) are often called cuadernos around the border — a first-syllable pun that actually means “notebook.” More Americanized Latins tend to use the famous cholo/pachuco address ese, which just means “that,” a short form of ese bato [that guy], another very characteristic border term. Bato can mean a guy, a Latin, a friend, or even be used instead of loco or chiflado to call somebody crazy in a complimentary way.

Questions of good, evil, and relative quality tend to get lumped into categories like chide, a word whose inner-city, gutter-level bite has been coopted by yuppies, or gacho a universal negative that can be used as que gacho! (What a bummer!) or no seas gacho, carnal (Don’t be a drag, brother). Bad breaks, rude tricks, and shabby things are gachadas.

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Once one disposes of the social graces and gets down to border-busting business, there’s the typical constellation of specialized terms drugs seem to generate. The well-known mota, for “pot,” is the main word used in most places, with yerba or hierba (herb) a distant second. But as in English, there are many other colorful terms. Some are just puns on mota, like motocicleta or motivosa. Others are nicknames and brand names like clorofila, grifa, de la buena, or fina esmeralda. Unlikely to be heard by an outsider, but sufficiently colorful to be shared, are trueno verde (green thunder), doradilla (little golden), dona diabla (devil lady), dama de la ardiente cabella (lady of the passionate tresses), and nalga de angel (angel’s butt).

Mexican “heads” (marihuanos) or grifos say tostar (toasting) instead of smoking. Other terms include motorizar (“motorize,” but a pun on mota), dorar (gild or toast golden brown), enyerbar (“to herb”), and the poetic enamoriscar, a hybrid of enamorar (to fall in love) and mordiscar (to nibble). “Joint” is porro, butt or “roach” is bachicka, and “hit” or “toke” is an aceleron. An interesting etymology here: “Your turn” in Spanish would be Tu toca, and Spanish slang for a “hit” is toque (touch). So passing one around in Mexico suddenly clears up where the hippies came up with a silly word like “toke.” It’s just how one tokes over the line.

Cocaine is called coca on the street, oddly also what you ask for when ordering a Coca-Cola. Presumably, confusion will be minimal. Heroin is , called chiva (nanny goat) by traffickers (traficantes or narcos).

Other terms for opiates include nieve (snow), cura (meaning both “priest” and “cure”), tecata, medicina, dona blanca (white lady). Opium and brown heroin from Mexico are sometimes called chicloso de mandarin (Mandarin chewing gum), chocolate chino (Chinese chocolate), or, more commonly, Chinaloa (Sinaloa being a major producing state).

Made-in-USA drugs keep names like “crystal” and “acido.” Around the border, one is occasionally offered Sherm, which is PCP, in case you’d like to avoid that experience. The term is interesting (so is the experience...in a nasty, brain-damaging sort of way)because though it has become standard Latino slang for “angel dust,” heard even in Mexico City, it evidently originated in San Diego’s Sherman Heights — probably from a dealer called “Sherman” who wore the barrio tattoo, though that’s just conjecture.

Garda, originally used in Tepito to indicate poor quality goods, has become a user’s term for bad or “beat” dope. I’ve heard La chiva chale es garcia, compa (Chinese heroin is lousy, pal). There are lots of creative ways to describe especially good drugs, of course, my favorite being Es el orgasmo mismo — It’s the same orgasm.

Sacala (take it out) has come to mean “Lay some dope on me.” You could also say alivianame (“gimme some relief” or “lighten me up”) in the big-city style, or mochamt (spare me some), but if you say it too much you’ll be scorned as a gorron or men-diche, a moocher. Too much relief and one can become a tilico (a walking skeleton) — a “sprung” or “wasted” druggie.

Cigarettes are only considered dangerous addictive drugs in Alta California, but they are certainly smuggled in a southerly direction, and having a butt on the lips is such a part of criminal macho posing there are inevitably hepper names for them. The most common term for smokes on any cellblock or street corner is frajo, but you’ll hear old-timers say dame un chiva, and somebody coming on real calichi might use a big-city term like menurron. Border crooks don’t go for old-time slang like cartucho or tambillo anymore, but a cute local equivalent for “coffin nails” is tacos de cancer. By the time you can say “No seas gacho, carnal. Alivianame. Mochame un frajo,” you’re starting to talk like a Mexican border gangster.

But there is more to smuggling than just drugs, and not all the runs go from south to north. In addition to firearms, traffickers run LSD, amphetamines, ecstasy, PCP, and retail amounts of cocaine, from California to Mexico, but by far the bulk of smuggling into Mexico is commercial contraband like VCRs, appliances, tennis shoes, and American cigarettes or candy bars — things that either have high duties or are actually restricted from importation, the Mexican government taking a dim view of its gold outflow to Japan and the U.S. This stuff is all called fayuca and is common in freewheeling Baja but searched for and seized in the airports, stations, and ferries leading to the rest of the Republic. While a load of microwaves, polyester disco shirts, or Walkmans might not seem as thrilling a cargo as drugs or whiskey, it’s still high-risk smuggling, and it’s not uncommon for low-level drug runners to “deadhead” back with whatever fayuca they can pick up or for chiveros (fayuca runners) to swap up with dope if the opportunity presents. It’s all illegal — and where would you rather do time, in California or Mexico?

Speaking of doing time, getting arrested is an occupational hazard that has its own terminology. The most common term for the politia, equivalent to “cops” in English, is placas, which means “badges.” A very underground term is garfil. A cop much given to the “take” (or mordida) is called mordelon. A cry of trucha! (which means “trout” — go figure) means “Cheese it, the cops!”

Being arrested (aprehendido, arrastado) is known by verbs like torcer (twist), rodar (roll), and the alley-wise aparuscar. Or, laconically. Me preguntaron, pero no me invitaron (They questioned me but didn’t “invite” me). The “paddy wagon” is affectionately known as Julia.

Most Americans know that jail is carcel or calabozo, and slangier terms like bote (trash can) or jaula (cage) are prosaic. Prison is often called the peni (short for penetencia), but common criminal slang is la pinta, derived from the expression hacer pinta (to play hookey from school). The gangsters cracked up when the Presidente chain of hotels in Baja changed their names to “La Pinta.”

Not all future yardbirds move contraband, of course. Jobs like cutting purses and cracking cribs are less glamorous, but somebody has to do them. Street terms for stealing are borrar (erase), bajar (lower), pegar (hit), cleptomanear, pelai (peel). A burglar is said to trabajar con fe (work with faith).

Thieves are called unas (claws or fingernails) or ratones (rats) on the street. Pickpockets are carteristas. A pinchon (pigeon) is a “mark” or “fall guy,” and while primo means “cousin,” the street meaning is a “hick,” “chump,” or “mark.” To snitch someone off is to poner rata or poner dedo (put them “rat” or put the finger), and the term for “squealing” is soplar (blow) making a “snitch” a soplon.

Of course, crooks are only in it for the money, and while it is very characteristic of the border to use feria to mean “money” or “cash,” low-life elements prefer the older word, lana (wool), and it is obligatory in greetings like “La lana o la vida” (Your money or your life). (The term can lead to some fairly weird constructions, such as “torta de lana” which doesn’t mean “wool sandwich” but “a rich chick”) Another financially imperative statement is caifas con mi lana, which means “Cough up my bread” and azota con mi lana (literally, “Whip me my money”) means “Cough up now.” Some confusion can arise from the use of droga to mean “debt” as well as “drug,” so droguero and drogado can take on the double meaning of “addicted” and “debt ridden” (not that they are such mutually exclusive conditions at any rate). To be out of money is to be pelado (peeled), jorobado (hunchbacked), or brujo, which means “witch” or “wizard” but has probably been adopted locally since it sounds like “broke.”

Any good hoodlum wants to be “made” or “connected,” and the term for having “pull” is to have palanca (lever). The ultimate “lever” would be a “godfather,” which in Spanish is “El Padrino”; in fact, it’s the title of the Spanish version of the Coppola flick, though in Mexico it would be more common for the “juice” to flow from a cacique, a foreman, or local boss of politics, crime, or business (frequently all three at once).

And would it be worth going wrong without the company of flashy and faithless women? You might hear slangy terms for muchachas, such as chavas, morras, or chamaconas on the streets, but anybody with any panache will use rougher terms like ruca. Ruco is alley talk for “old,” so ruca means “old lady,” but it’s an offhand depreciative like “broad,” the T] bandido’s equivalent of the U.S. banger’s generic “bitch” or “ho.” Less common terms for women include puris (sarcastic for purisima?), muercielagas (bats) espdtulas or, in big-city gangster talk, chundas (amputees). A woman one is making it with is his hueso (bone), changuita (little monkey), catan (a very chilango word for one’s “squeeze”), and recently faje, which at the border is becoming synonymous with lique, a conquest or “score.”

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