Espanish 101: ¿Where did we get the word PENDEJO?

You heard it, you said it, you know it.


There’s the Orange Pendejo, first of all, and that pendejo down the block who parks his ranfla like a baboso. Let’s not forget that pendeja on the train with the cheap perfume and those pendejos at the construction site who cat-call every time a mujer walks on by.

But what does PENDEJO mean, exactly? If you’ve ever looked it up, the dictionary says it means “pubic hair,” but how did that turn into “asshat” or “jerkface” or “_______?”

Let’s follow along with University of Texas Río Grande Valley Profe David Bowles:

My wife has 3 pet names for me: “Güero, “Amor,” and “PENDEJO.”

I’d say the last one is her favorite, given how often she uses it, heh.

If you don’t speak Mexican Spanish, you may not get the joke. “Pendejo” has quite a few meanings, but the most common in Mexico is “dumb-ass,” only slightly stronger and with interesting nuances.

Want to know its origin? Okay!

It comes from the Latin “pectiniculus” (diminutive of “pecten”).

“Wait, what? How? And what did the Latin word mean?”

Patience, friends. Let’s take it step by step. This article? It’s going to be long. Grab a cup of coffee.

Here we go!

Remember, Vulgar Latin gave rise to the Romance languages. As the variety spoken in one spot of the Iberian Peninsula began to evolve into Castilian, words with an internal –ct– (/kt/) combination went through an interesting evolution. The /k/ sound first became a “yod,” a sound often represented by the letters “y” or “i,” but written /j/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). As a result, the following “t” was palatalized (drawn up toward the palate of the mouth), become /tʃ/ (“ch”).

/kt/ -> /jt/ -> /tʃ/

Here’s the progression of three example words, going from Classical Latin to early and then late Vulgar Latin and finally Spanish.

noctem -> nocte -> *noite -> noche
pectus -> pectu -> *peitu -> pecho
tēctum -> tectu -> techo

Continued here …