In recent years, many Chicanas and Mexicanas I admire have begun calling themselves “Xingonas,” a tweak of the Mexican Spanish word “chingona.”
To me, this “reclaiming” is awesome. Other folks, however, are offended by the root word, “chingar.”
Why? What does it mean? Where did it come from?
At the risk of angering the same neo-Mexicanists I always provoke, “chingar” does NOT derive from Nahuatl, as Octavio Paz purports in the otherwise shocking and important fourth chapter of his book The Labyrinth of Solitude. The supposed original word Paz suggests, “xināchtli,” couldn’t have evolved phonologically into “chingar.” Also, though “xināchtli” means “seed” (or tantalizingly, “semen”), none of its derivatives connote the violence and violation of “chingar.”
The other folk etymology involving Nahuatl claims that “chingar” comes from “tzinco,” which ill-informed people translate as “anus.” Actually, “tzinco” is a locative (something like an adverb) meaning “at/near the butt” from the noun “tzintli” (butt, haunches, lower half, foundation).
There is no evidence that this adverb became “chingo” and then the verb “chingar.” It would be highly unusual (and I can think of no other example of a locative becoming a verb).
In place names, this locative suffix just meant “on a low hill.” Like Huexotzinco (“where the willow’s on a low hill”). Check out its name glyph, a willow tree coming out of someone’s haunches (okay, their butt).
Place names ending in -tzinco that have been Hispanicized usually end in cingo, not -chingo, like Chilpancingo, originally “Chilpantzinco.” That tz → ch in this locative isn’t well substantiated (though compounds formed from “tzintli” do have that phonological transformation, as with the tzincualactli rash that is called chincual in Spanish).
Besides which, “chingar” existed in Spanish on the Iberian Peninsula BEFORE the Conquest of Mexico.
“Okay, David,” you’re thinking, “then where did it come from?”
To understand its origin, let’s go back 3500 years to northern India. There, a language we know as Old Indo-Aryan (OIA) was spoken by the common people. A refined dialect of OIA known as Vedic was used to compose the sacred hymns of the Rigveda, the earliest Hindu literature. In time, this variety would evolve into Sanskrit (literally “assembled,”…