President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador may or may not “transform” Mexico, but he is certainly reshaping its language.
Elected last year in a surge of anti-establishment disgust, the folksy populist has elicited laughter, groans and head-scratching with his unique take on Mexican Spanish, reviving words that were fading from memory and bringing colorful new ones into widespread use, reports the news service Agence France-Presse.
He dominates the entire news cycle, starting with his daily press conference, held every weekday at 7 a.m. He calls it the “mananera,” from a word meaning “morning sex.”
In AMLO’s Mexico, “fifis” wage political war with “chairos,” “pirruris” get mocked for their “machuchon” style, and the “Peje” is out to stop the “moche.”
Many of those words were little-known until Lopez Obrador came along. Now, nine months into his presidency, they are fixtures of the national conversation.
“Fifi,” is roughly equivalent to “hoity-toity” in English. Lopez Obrador regularly uses this old-school word for business executives, media outlets and opposition politicians he deems conservative.
The Royal Spanish Academy, the sentinel of the Spanish language, defines “fifi” as “a conceited person concerned with following fashion trends.”
A similar word is “pirruri,” coined from the name of a 1970s TV character, an elitist but idiotic rich kid.
The “fifis” and “pirruris” meanwhile have their own word for Lopez Obrador followers: “chairos.”
That word is a “veritable phenomenon,” and it comes from “chaira,” a long, thin knife-sharpener.
“‘Chaira’ has come to be used as a metaphor for a penis, and a ‘chairo’ is someone who masturbates. So politically, a ‘chairo’ is a leftist who mentally masturbates.
Another anti-AMLOism: “pejezombies.” “Peje” is a nickname for Lopez Obrador, from a large freshwater fish with an alligator-like snout, widespread in his home state, Tabasco -— a southern region whose accent he bears.
So “pejezombies” are people who mindlessly follow the “Peje,” like zombies.
“That plane is so ‘machuchon,’ even Donald Trump doesn’t have one like it,” Lopez Obrador said of the presidential jet he put up for sale, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner valued at $120 million. That word, naturally, represents excessively luxurious things.
Lopez Obrador’s linguistic innovations often carry a political message — such as “moche,” or “kick-back payment,” the money that poor welfare recipients, for example, have to pay corrupt officials to receive their benefits.
Many of the president’s favorite words portray his opponents as evil enemies of the noble Mexican people. That worldview is “polarizing,” said political scientist Jose Antonio Crespo.
“I don’t remember ever seeing such deep fanaticism in the country,” he said.
Others are more upbeat about the linguistic phenomenon that is AMLO.
“Words like ‘fifi’ are sometimes reductionist, but they serve to start a debate about addressing inequality in Mexico,” said analyst Hernan Gomez Bruera.