José Rabasa jrabasa at SOCRATES.BERKELEY.EDU
Sat Mar 6 01:44:05 UTC 2004

I would add to David's dictionary entries, one definition from the
DICCIONARIO DE AUTORIDADES (1737): Taco. entre los bebedores se llama
tragos de vino, que beben sobre lo que han comido: y asi dicen,
Echemos quatro tacos. This definition does not appear in the

>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
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