Güey: The shapeshifting curse word

David Castañeda

More stories from David Castañeda

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David Castañeda

Güey, a common curse word in the Mexican community, has been used for years to express frustration. Illustration by David Castañeda.

For over a century members of the Mexican community have been shapeshifting the meaning of their most beloved word. What once stood for an animal has turned into an insult and is now its own expression entirely.    

“Güey” was originally popularized in the early 1900’s was birthed from its predecessor, “Buey” the Spanish word for oxen. The use of this slang word first began to be used as an insult for men who were deemed incompetent by their community, comparing them to the oxen who was believed to be useless and dumb-minded in nature.  

While bulls were often praised and viewed by the culture as the embodiment for the masculine ideals for their rage and strength; the same couldn’t be said about its sibling. Due to being castrated and used heavily for cattle the ox was viewed as the lesser of the two for its submissiveness. Turning the less masculine men of this region into the oxen of their region. 

Ironically however, those that used the word buey as an insult towards others fell more in line with the cuss’ definition than those being insulted, as they were unable to properly pronounce it. This was because of those many who had an inability to enunciate the “b” sound in buey–it quickly morphed into güey, its most common and popular spelling. The word eventually was reduced and simplified once more, into “wey” as individuals once again struggled with the beginning pronunciation of the word.  

The spelling of the word wasn’t the only aspect of it to evolve though, as its very definition went on to take many faces over the span of time. Despite originally being used in a slur like nature it quickly lost all of its aggression and took on a completely different form. It became the Spanish equivalent to terms like “bro” and “homie”, güey became one of the most common words used to refer to one’s close friends.  

It’s still unclear why this change became, however it can be theorized that people began to look at an ox’s more appealing attributes of reliability and loyalty which led to “güey” to be used towards one’s friends. This is similar  to how we in the English language use the word “bitch” in the phrase, “That’s my bitch”, güey became part of the now beloved phrase “Este es mi güey.”  

The word’s journey didn’t end there.  It has continuously refused to settle down for just one meaning. Becoming more than an insult, and more than a nickname for your friends, güey became its own expression entirely as members of all Mexican households began using the word in a plethora of ways. Startled? “Ay güey!” (Oh shit!/Oh fuck). Shocked and confused? “Güey, ¿en serio?” (Bitch, really?).  The word embodies many of the curse words in the English language, güey could now be used in countless ways and situations.  

Güey has had many faces, the macho mentality, a friend, and an expression all together. Constantly shapeshifting and adapting güey continues to be one of the most beloved cusses in all of Mexico’s history.  

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