Feminist Nahuatl Lexicon, Part I

In pivotal, monumental times such as these, indigenous languages can give us the strength we need to effect change. Here are some feminist words and expressions from Nahuatl, language of the Nahuas (“Aztecs”).

  1. CIHUAPOHTLI. Literally “a woman like me/us,” used always with a possessive prefix, typically by a woman addressing or speaking of another woman. The term is hard to adequately translate, but it has nuances of “sister.” “friend” & “equal.” There’s a better translation in Spanish: “comadre,” especially as used in Mexican and Mexican American communities to designate a bond between and among women. Here are some examples of the Nahuatl word. Nocihuāpoh. My sister/friend/equal. Huel tinēchīximati, tinocihuāpoh. You know me well, my sister / friend / equal. The plural is cihuāpohqueh, as in “tocihuāpohqueh” or “our sisters / friends / equals” (women like us).
  2. Cihuāpohtia. To accept someone as a woman like me. Nimitzcihuāpohtia. I accept you as a woman like me.
  3. Neneuhqui (plural neneuhqueh). Equal. In cihuah ihuan in oquichtin in zan huel neneuhqueh. Women and men are exactly equal.
  4. Tētōnal. The privilege that comes with a person’s birth into a particular race, ethnicity, class, or gender role. Mā mopohpoloa īntōnal in iztācoquichtin. Let the privilege of white men be destroyed. (Note: This is the general possessed form of “tōnalli,” which normally means “birth sign/day,” here with its specialized meaning of “privilege.”)
  5. Oquichtlattaliztli. The male gaze. In oquichtlattaliztli quintlamancuepa in cīhuah. The male gaze makes women into objects.
  6. Ciyaliztli. Verbal consent. Mācamo xictēnnāmiqui ce cihuātl in ahmo mitzmac in iciyaliz. Do not kiss a woman without her verbal consent.
  7. Cihuātlahpalihui. [Physically] strong woman. Badass. Chingona (Mexican Spanish). In cihuātlahpalihui ahmo mocāhua. A strong woman never gives up.
  8. Nēmoquichtli. Useless, ill-omened man. Inon nēmoquichtli quinequi in nāhuatīllāza. That worthless man wants to tear down our legal rights.
  9. Nō neh. Me too. Nō neh oninococoh. They have hurt me, too. (“I too have been hurt.”)
  10. Nāmiquiltia. To make equal. Mā tonāmiquilticān īntlaxtlāhuīl in cihuah, in oquichtin. Let us make the salaries of women and men equal.

A Mexican-American author and translator from deep South Texas, David Bowles teaches literature and Nahuatl at the University of Texas Río Grande Valley.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store