Messaging old friends about the nicknames they remembered was like swinging a guayaba-coated baseball bat at a hive of Cuban bees. My phone began buzzing almost immediately:
- Chiqui, Cuca, Papo
- Camarón, Bombillo
- Gallego, Tata
I didn’t remember that last one. It sounded vaguely aquatic. I responded: Moraima? WTF is Moraima?
He wrote back: Erik’s mom!
I laughed, realizing I was staring at a mom-joke that lay dormant for decades. Our shared adolescence had woken from a deep slumber. Each message that came through had the same jolting effect as a shot of espresso from La Carreta on Bird, where many Cuban fathers would convene for café, a cigarette, and a dramatic, hands-waving analysis of the state of our disunion. They were normal conversations that would easily be mistaken for vicious arguments anywhere north of Hialeah.
More notifications, more nicknames:
- Chiqui, Chichi, Conchi, Boli
- Cuarto Pollo
- Pepi, Paco, FIERA
- Capitán Araña –— aka Capi
- Gordo, Flaco
- Papo, Chela
- Filete, Capitán
- Bombero, Gallo, Tigre
- Abi, Abu, Aba
- El Dentista
- Bacalao, Conejo, Cepillo, Cachita
As soon as I read Cherna and Penco, I wanted to smoke these bees back into the hive. I knew where the swarm was headed. In recalling and re-sharing nicknames, we’d walked back into our classrooms, cafeterias, and phys ed classes, where nicknames and insults naturally blended together as by-products of friendly affection, youthful ingenuity, and inadvertent cruelty, i.e.:
- Culo Pato
- Peíto Mal Tirado
- Bicho, Frente Guagua
- Tapón, Balita, Fofito
- Cara Dura
- Barril sin Fondo
- Nalga Triste, Buitre
- Postalita, Puchipluma
- Cara Papa, Mamífero, Espécimen
- Mamao, Ganso, Sapingo
And then on the comments section on my Facebook post, two words appeared that I’d never seen or ever imagined combined — in either language:
- Pinga Dulce
Yea that’s right: Pinga Dulce.
Pinga Dulce (pronounced peeng-gah dool-seh) literally translates to Sweet Dick — there is no figurative translation. The words were typed into a comment field and left there, swinging in the cool Facebook breeze, and that’s where they’ll stay.
Then the stories attached to the nicknames poured out:
J —— passed away a few years back, the 250-pound lineman and heavyweight wrestler who always had your back no matter who you got into a fight with at Hobie Beach. Or Manhattan’s. Or anywhere else in Miami. His friendship and loyalty know no boundaries.
P —— is in Costa Rica doing whatever he wants to do, which is all he’s ever wanted to do.
Herpes left our school in the ninth grade. No, not Hermes. Herpes: a mere mortal with scabby elbows. I secretly called him Desitin—the over-the-counter cream for diaper rash and other skin irritations—but kept my mouth shut. The guy and his elbows had waded through enough pride-drowning muck. I hope he found relief in his new school and became a wildly successful dermatologist.
One classmate, now a cardiologist, had saved a fellow classmate’s life by admitting him into the hospital in the nick of time.
J —— got into a fight with D —— whose blood wound up on A —— ’s Ford Bronco. A—— made him clean it up.
Someone may have had a sex change.
Then a few folks threw out some popular pet names:
- Mi cielo
- Mi alma
- Flan de coco
They just don’t have the same effect as something like mama-tronco.
I’m grateful to Gustavo Arellano, who initially asked about the Cuban nicknames, Gordo and Flaco on twitter. The question inspired me to focus-group my past, which led to a day full of much-needed, tears-inducing laughter. And gracias, amigos y amigas near and far, for responding and sharing. I’m sure I’ll see many of you before we become viejos cagalitrosos.
¡Abrazos! ¡Y hasta la próxima, mamertos!
Obviously, nicknames and insults mean different things to different people and cultures depending on when and how they’re used. Some of the nicknames in this post are also used in different countries. So, if you’ve got any corrections or additional meanings and helpful context, feel free to add them in the comments section and I’ll update the post.
If you contributed, thank you. If you laughed, you contributed.
Bebo: Derived from baby, bebé. Used to refer to a male child.
Chiqui: Derived from small, chiquito/ chiquita; it’s also proper name for a woman
Cuca: Most Cubans have a woman in their family they call Cuca. Using it in certain Latin American countries, however, will get you slapped. It means vagina in some of them.
Papo: Derived from papi – — dad – — but used as a term of affection among friends, almost like brother or pal.
Camarón: Spanish for shrimp, refers to a small person; or I assume someone who enjoys shrimp.
Bombillo: Spanish for light bulb; refers to a man with bright white hair
Gallego: A language spoken in Northwestern Spain; refers to a person from Spain
Tata: Term of endearment for grandmother
Magnate: same as in English – — a wealthy and successful business person
Moraima: Erik’s mom
Chichi: a term of endearment; you can call anyone Chichi
Conchi: a pretty woman who always catches people’s eyes in a crowd
Cuarto Pollo: quarter chicken
Pepi: Derived from Pepe, which is a nickname for José; but Pepi? He’s a little smaller
Paco: Nickname for Francisco
Fiera: Spanish for fury
Capitán Araña: Spanish for Captain Spider, but refers to someone who makes plans but backs out at the last minute. Background here.
Flaco: Skinny, refers to a very thin man. Or flaca for a woman. Check out La Flaca by Santana featuring Juanes
Gordo: Fat, refers to someone who’s fat OR skinny, a term of endearment
Chela: unknown, but it’s also Mexican slang for beer
Filete: Filet, said of someone who’s large
Capitán: Captain, used mostly with respect
Bombero: Fireman, usage unknown
Gallo: Rooster, said of someone who walks proudly but in an almost over-dramatic fashion
Abi: Term of endearment for Grandmother
Abu: Term of endearment for Grandfather
Aba: Term of endearment for Grandmother
El Dentista: The Dentist, a nickname my father gave a kid on my baseball team who stopped a fly ball in left field with his mouth.
Bacalao: Cod, usage unknown
Conejo: Rabbit, refers to someone with buck teeth
Cepillo: Comb, used by my father to refer to a bald friend
Cherna: Grouper, used to refer to flamboyant gay man
Penco: Penis, used to refer to a weak man
Culo Pato: A duck’s ass, anybody can be one
Peíto Mal Tirado: A poorly laid fart, used to refer to a weak man
Conejo: Bunny, refers to someone with large front teeth
Monguito (Mongui for short): look it up, it’s politically incorrect
Bicho: Bug, refers to someone small and annoying
Frente Guagua: Front of a bus, refers to someone with a large forehead
Tapón: Plug, usage unknown
Balita: Little bullet, refers to someone who’s extremely energetic
Fofito: Diminutive for fat person (fofo), refers to someone who’s large and short, or just a little fat
Chocha: An ugly word for vagina, refers to a woman’s vagina or a weak man
Cara Dura: Stone face, refers to a woman who won’t give you a second look
Barril sin Fondo: Bottomless barrel, refers to someone who can’t stop eating or drinking or both
Nalga Triste: Sad butt, refers to someone with no ass. My father and his brother were both Nalgas Triste.
Cara Papa: Potato face, refers to someone with a large face
Mamífero: Mammal, derogatory term referring to someone who’s a pain in the ass
Mamao: One who is sucked
Ganso: Goose, usage unknown
Sapingo: Derived from cock (pinga), refers to someone who’s being annoying
Mi cielo: My heaven
Mi alma: My soul
Flan de coco: Coconut flan
Pupi: Term of endearment shared between couples
Viejo Cagalitroso: Old fart
Mamerto: Derived from the Spanish mamar, which means to suck