Photo by Meg Rorison

Chilapastroso. I fell in love with this mouthful immediately and without reserve.

SOMEONE WHO IS CHILAPASTROSO is sloppy, descuidado de la imagen, has grease stained pants from eating too many gorditas while walking down the street, wears the same rumpled shirt for the third day in a row. My co-worker René taught it to me, and I had to put it into action immediately.

“¿Cómo andas?” asked my friend Ana.

“Ando chilapastrosa,” I said with glee. For me, new slang is like money burning a hole in my pocket.

“¿Chilapastrosa? Who taught you that? Only my abuelo says that.”

And that was how I found out that I had learned slang from another generation. Even though I was wearing the same unwashed shirt for the fourth time in two weeks, I was not chilapastrosa because that is something that only a grandfather would say. I was so excited about learning slang that I hadn’t taken into consideration that the age of the person teaching it to me could stir up generational differences.

I heard my friend Luis Jorge talk about his cuates (friends) and I asked, “Can I have cuates too?”

“You can, but mostly men use the word cuate.”

Just to get some practice, I began to call him my cuate and in return he called me his cuatita. Even if it was not gender appropriate, I enjoyed taking the word for a test drive.

And then there is scatological vocabulary like chingar (to fuck) and pedo (fart), which produce an absolute riqueza of slang. At work, when my boss asked me how long it took me to edit a report, I replied, “Un chingo de tiempo.”

He laughed. “Un putero de tiempo,” he added, aware of my obsession with new phrases. I got caught up thinking, “if a puto is a male prostitute and putero is a whorehouse, how would I translate un putero de tiempo? Then my boss said, “Sometimes foreigners become too obsessed with slang, and they use it in inappropriate situations.” He recounted the story of a U.S. official who came to Mexico for a meeting, and replied to a proposal made by a Mexican official with the following: “¡Que chido, güey!” (“How cool, dude!”).

Arturo, a painter better known as el maestro, taught me the varying uses of pedo. He explained, “If a friend calls you to say that they will be late to a party due to overcrowding on the metro, you can reply ‘cero pedos,’ as in ‘no problem.’” Other pedo phrases include “está pedo/pedísimo” (“he’s drunk”), “que pedo, güey” (“what a problem, dude”) and “no hay pedo” (“no problem”). A few days later, Arturo texted me to say he wouldn’t be able to meet me because his mother was sick. With joyous speed, I texted back “cero pedos.”

When I met up with other gringos, I speculated about what slang they knew and what slang they had invented. One friend constantly exclaimed “¡Chingíssimo!” (“Fucking awesome!” according to him), while another jokingly called him “putaface.” Along with all this invention came the overuse of the word pinche (“fucking”). We drank “pinches chelas” with “pinches amigos” near the “pinche parque España.”

I have to hold myself back, rein myself in, temper my use of slang, mourn the loss of my dear chilapastroso in private. Even if I can’t find the right situation to use words and phrases, I walk the streets collecting them. One day, a guy on his cell phone used a joking tone to call someone a “pendejo viejo decrépito” (“decrepit old asshole”). I wrote it down in my notebook, relishing the combination of the delivery of a terrible insult in a tender, playful tone. However, I could not resist the urge, and, instead of writing down exactly what I heard, I wrote “pinche pendejo viejo decrépito.”

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