Cabo Bob's Amazing




I heard another gringo in a mechanic’s shack deep in the Baja, trying to explain things about repairing his schoolbus/camper. His Spanish wasn’t bad, actually, but when you get around auto repairs, you start running into a vast vocabulary for little gadgets and actions. Kind of like medical school.

He was trying to communicate that the guy would be best served in his work if used a jack to raise the car. Instead of rolling it up on old boxes, like he had my panel/camper. He was trying out variations of Juanito and getting nowhere. He’s lucky there wasn’t a Juan working there and wondering why he was going to get thrown under the bus.

I moseyed over (I mosey a lot when in the Baja) and told him the word he wanted was gato.

He stared at me incredulously and blurted, “Why the hell would they call it a cat?”

I said, “Why the hell would we call it “Jack”?”

Introducing an article on “oddball” names (from the gringo perspective) for stuff in Mexico. There is no rhyme or reason here… just more loose change you pick up on piece by piece. And here are some pieces:

If he thought gato is weird for an automobile jack, he’d really love what they call a “dolly” for rolling boxes around.Which is diablo. And, again, why shouldn’t their UPS drivers call it a “devil” if we call it a “dolly”?

One of my favorites is the word for a sledgehammer. Because it’s macho. A word which actually means “male” in Mexico, not our use of the word to mean ultra machote. This usage might actually explain a lot.

Cars and tools tend to lend themselves to a lot of this sort of wordage. A paleta should be a spade or a small shovel, as the diminutive of pala, but it turns out to be a lollipop, sucker, or popsicle, any goodies you eat off a stick.

You assume a car’s steering wheel would be some kind of rueda, but no, for some reason it’s a volante which means “flying” or a hand-out “flier”. Meanwhile a stoplight isn’t any kind of luz, but a semaforo, nothing to do with what we call a semaphore. And a crane is a garza,not too odd considering the word normally refers to birds like storks, ibis or… cranes. A change-up is frenos, which we usually know to be brakes, but in Mexico are also found in peoples’ mouths… what we call orthodontic braces.

On the distaff side of things, the word for hair curls is chinos. Odd that a chino can be a person with curly hair or a Chinese person, not known for curly hair. How a sanitary napkin came to be called a caballo is anybody’s guess. There might be some knowing speculation on why handcuffs are called esposas, but wives probably wouldn’t appreciate it.

Palomas, which we’d call doves or pigeons, lend their names to a lot of things.  A paloma is the whitecap of a wave, and palomitas are the much more poetic-named things we call popcorn.

Wrapping up with a term that’s far from our transliteration, but makes more sense, many learn early on that a hangover is la cruda.