etymology of chicano

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sun Apr 28 07:54:57 UTC 2013

On Tue, Apr 23, 2013 at 10:43 AM, Gregory McNamee <gm at>wrote:

> The explanation advanced down here in Arizona, where the word *chicano*
> probably originated and is first attested, is that it's a slangy shortening
> of *mexicano*, "Mexican." In some areas the *x* is pronounced "sh," which
> usually becomes "ch" in word-initial position. The pronunciation varies
> from "chicano" to "shicano," though, and I've seen it spelled *xicano*,
> which better reveals its etymology.
> That's the way I've heard it, anyway. OED agrees, with first attestation
> in 1947

That's the impression that I have from decades of listening to Latin DJ
Chico Sesma, when I lived in Los Angeles. Google:

*"Born* in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, in 1924, Lionel "*Chico" Sesma* was
raised there by his Mexican-American father, _from Arizona_, and his
Mexican mother, from Sonora, Mexico."

He discussed the word _chicano_ on his show, which featured _la musica
afro-cubana_ as opposed to the music of Mexican America. He said that some
_angeleños_ objected to his constant use of the word where _anglos_ could
hear it, considering it demeaning, because of its supposedly having
originated in Mexico as a mildly-contemptuous term for "Anglo-Mexicans," to
coin a term, from the United States.

This was ca. 1957 and I have no opinion as to the truth of Chico's origins
story, which, IMO, doesn't  contradict what Gregory says, in any case.
Clearly, nobody in California is disturbed by the use of the word nowadays,
as the name of the Department of _Chicano_/_Chicana_ Studies at my alma
mater, UC Davis, attests.
All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list