Does chancles = slippers?

Ricardo J. Salvador salvador at
Fri Jan 17 14:21:04 UTC 2003

On Thursday, January 16, 2003, at 11:29  PM, <nahuatl at>

> Does chancles = slippers?

To a Spanish speaker, chanclas refers to the general class of
"non-formal" footwear. It could apply to comfy houseshoes I suppose,
but it usually refers to sandals.

> The word that I learned as a child that translates as "slippers" was
> spoken
> in our home as "chancles."

In Mexico it is "chanclas." BTW, in central Mexico you can also tell
someone you're coming as soon as you get your "cacles" on, and be
understood. Though "cacles" in Nahuatl refers to footwear in general,
when used by Spanish speakers it usually means a proper shoe.

> Is it possible that this word originates from Nahuatl chantli (home) +
> cactli (shoe)

I'd say it isn't likely for a number of reasons:

(1) It is no problem to say "house shoe" literally in Nahuatl, if that
is what you want to say: calcactli (calcacmeh).

(2) Compounds are usually formed with the roots of nouns, so a putative
[chan + tli] + [ cac + tli] = chan-(c)-(l)-a just wouldn't work
grammatically (the parentheses denote the putative remnants of a root.)

To put it another way, a monolingual speaker of Nahuatl wouldn't know
what to make of the last half of your word (or they might judge that
you're either a learner, a poor speaker or from a different village,
and that you really mean a housing subdivision (chantla), but then
they'd wonder what that has to do with your feet ;-)).

(3) A native speaker of Nahuatl would be very clear about the
distinction between her home (chantli) and her house (calli). Your
putative compound would map to "home shoes," which is actually not that
awkward (chancacmeh), but it is unlikely.

(4) The Royal Academy of the Spanish Language zealously tracks
"Americanisms," and their etymology for "chanclas" goes in a different
direction. They trace it through "chanca" to late Latin "zanca," and
that in turn to ancient Persian "zanga" (see Just as a
matter of interest, the meaning of this word is "leg," and it is still
used in that way in modern Spanish.The connection to sandals may have
been the Persian style of lacing sandals all the way up your lower leg.

One last quick comment about this. "CL" to "TL" would be a major switch
for a native Nahuatl speaker. You must remember that "TL" is a key
sound, a frequent letter if you will, in Nahuatl.
"CL" to a "classic" speaker would have been very strange. To a native
speaker it would stand out as much as a german pronouncing an umlaut
would stand out to you. This isn't to say that this switch isn't
possible in a contemporary dialect. There is a good discussion here
about the changes in modern dialects and the myriad forces and
influences that can shape them, but that is not what you asked about
and there are plenty of people who know way more about that.

Ricardo J. Salvador          Voice: 515.294.9595
1126 Agronomy Hall         Telefax: 515.294.8146
Iowa State University        e-mail: salvador at
Ames, IA 50011-1010       WWW:
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