Frye, David dfrye at UMICH.EDU
Sat Mar 6 01:12:08 UTC 2004

Taco has a lot of meanings in Spanish, and apparently only means "something to eat" in Mexico, if you can go by the dictionaries. Corominas, working from the basic Castilian definition as "peg, plug," notes a first use from 1607 , and says:
"Esta palabra, con sus deriv., es comun a las principales lenguas romances y germanicas del Occidente. [Note: my first question here was: if it is common to all the Western European languages, what is it in English? And then I realized: "tack," which like a peg/plug is used to stick in something. Corominas continues:] De origen incierto. No hay razones firmes para asegurar si pas'o del germ'anico al romance o viceversa, o si se cre'o paralelamente en ambos grupos linguisticos. Quiza imitacion del ruido del tarugo al ser clavado en la pared." Like other etymologists, he notes that tac'on is a variant of taco.
Corominas is notoriously resistant to accepting Nahuatl etymologies, but in this case he may be onto something. If the word, in its Mexican sense, were derived from Nahuatl, I would expect to see earlier occurrences. In Lizardi's Periquillo Sarniento (which I just finished translating into English, to be published this month by Hackett--this is another kind of plug!), it is only used once, in the outmoded phrase "aire de taco," which has nothing to do with Taco Bell. Prepared food that sounds, from the description, like a modern-day taco is called instead an envuelto.
I notice that the RAE Diccionario Manual gives among its definitions: "cilindro de trapo, papel, estopa o cosa parecida, que se coloca entre la polvora y el proyectil en las armas de fuego, para que el tiro salga con fuerza" (yet another kind of plug), and also "canuto de madera con que juegan los muchachos lanzando, por medio del aire comprimido, tacos de papel o de otra materia." Based on such images, the snack formed by rolling a tortilla into a cilinder around a plug of food could metaphorically be called a taco.
(Note, finally, that nowadays i hear the word taco used in Mexico, at least in SLP, to refer to any amount of food that one brings home from a party -- not necessarily rolled in a tortilla; but I assume this is an extension of the original meaning.)


From: Nahua language and culture discussion on behalf of John F. Schwaller
Sent: Fri 3/5/2004 2:33 PM
Subject: Taco

A friend of mine, who is not a subscriber and who does not study Nahuatl
sent me the following query:

>But the real reason I'm writing is to ask you a question about Nahuatl.  Is
>there a word for taco?  When I looked in Santamaria, the first gastronomic
>references are from Manuel Payno and Luis Inclan, and of course the etymology
>is a Spanish (or French) word for a cloth plug for a musket shot.

Is there a root in Nahuatl?  The closest thing I could come up with on the
spot was "tlaco" meaning half, perhaps referring to the folded-over nature
of the tortilla in a taco.

John F. Schwaller
Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean
315 Behmler Hall
University of Minnesota, Morris
600 E 4th Street
Morris, MN  56267
FAX 320-589-6399
schwallr at mrs.umn.edu

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/nahuat-l/attachments/20040305/47615567/attachment.html>

More information about the Nahuat-l mailing list