Cultural Challenge—How to tell if you’ve been just been called an idiot


It’s not as easy as you might think to determine if you have just been insulted by a Mexican Spanish speaker. Sure words like idiota or estúpido can be easily understood by an English speaker, but there are expressions that on the surface might mean something completely different. Just so you know, all of the following expressions are meant to cause offense, so best not use them unless you want your butt kicked.

aloe vera

¡Ponte sabila! This isn’t a reference to the sábila (aloe vera) plant (See Natural Healing with sábila) but to the word saber (knowledge). It loosely translates as Wise Up! After all, a wise person would use sábila in healing. You’ve just been told you are acting like an idiot.


¡Ponte trucho(a)! The word trucho literally refers to a male trout. However it’s actual use is more in line with fraud or fake. Although, in this expression it means rascally or shrewd. So here the expression is for you to Sharpen up like a male trout! You’ve just been told you are acting like an idiot.

¡Ponte chingón(a)! The word chingón comes from the verb chingar which has a whole slew of meanings in México. It could mean to f*** with, to f****, to take advantage of or to work diligently, among others. This expression advises you to take control of the situation or manipulate it for your benefit. You’ve just been told you are acting like an idiot.

empty head

¡No seas cabeza hueca! The word hueca means hollow or empty. So here the idea implied is that there is nothing inside the hollow of your head. You’ve just been told you are acting like an idiot.

¡No seas pendejo(a)! The word pendejo refers literally to pubis hair. No joke! Therefore, the use of this word is a bit stronger and more offensive than some. It means you are acting in an adolescent, unwise manner. A related expression is¡No digas pendejadas! This expression advises you forcefully to leave off saying whatever it is you are saying because you are speaking like an idiot.

¡No seas mamón! This expression uses the verb mamar which means to suckle and is extremely offensive. They literally refer to the idea that you are not capable of an intelligent action or thought because you are still being breastfed. You’ve just been told you are acting like an idiot.

¡No mames! This also uses the verb mamar but has a slightly different meaning. It is typically used when you just can’t believe something. In English, you might say You’ve got to be kidding! Obviously, you have just done or said something stupid.


¡No manches! This expression is sort of the juvenile version of ¡No mames! Sort of like Jeez in place of Jesus Christ as an expletive. The verb manchar means to stain or leave a mark. The expression is typically used when one is frustrated with the actions or comments of another person. When my students use this expression in class, me being the wise-ass that I am, calmly inform them that No estamos manchando! (we aren’t staining anything at the moment) and they laugh and try for a more polite response.


¡No seas menso(a)! The word mensa once upon a time was a reference to a table. So calling someone a table would indicate that they are of inferior intelligence. In México, this expression means you are of inferior intelligence or in other words you’ve just been told you are acting like an idiot.


¡Burro(a) or Asno(a)! Both words refer to the donkey and imply that you have so little intelligence that you are fit for nothing but working in the fields. (See On Being a Burro). You’ve just been told you are acting like an idiot.

Cada quien su guey

¡Güey! This word is an altered version of the word buey which is an ox. Again we have reference to the limited mental prowess of an animal. You’ve just been told you are acting like an idiot.


¡Tonto(a)! or ¡Deja de decir tonterías! Yes, the Long Ranger’s sidekick’s name was Stupid. The second expression indicates that you are saying foolish things and should leave off saying them immediately because you are an idiot.

¡Tarado(a)! This expression isn’t as common where I live, but I heard it on a Spanish language dubbed movie. My husband wouldn’t tell me what it meant so I had to look it up. It implies that you are deficient in the intelligence department and you’ve just been told you are acting like an idiot.


¡Tarugo(a)! Literally the word means a thick piece of wood. Wood, like tables and suckling babes, are low on the intelligence totem pole, and you have just been told you are an idiot, blockhead.

¡Idiota! This word actually comes from the Greek word for a layman, someone untrained or not involved in public affairs. It is easily understood by English speakers as an insult to your higher reasoning powers.

¡Estúpido(a)! Again, this word is easily recognized by English speakers. However, I will warn you that it seems a stronger insult in Mexican Spanish and is seldom used. One day, I was reading The Emperor’s New Clothes to first graders and the version I was reading used the word stupid. Oh my goodness! You would have thought I had insulted their mothers the way the kids carried on. I certainly didn’t want them running home and saying the English teacher used the word estúpido in class, so I tried to explain that it didn’t mean the same in English and that regardless, we weren’t going to use it in class.

computer guy

Contra Indios. This racial expression can be translated literally against Indians. It is used when something you are trying to use isn’t working correctly. For instance, if you can’t open the trunk of your car it’s because the lock is contra Indios. This implies that the object is too technically advanced for a backwoods Indian and you are a backwoods Indian. You have just been told you are an idiot.

This list is not conclusive. I am sure that there are many other ways you might be told you are sub-intelligent that I have yet to hear. But I hope it helps with any inter-cultural communication situations you might find yourself in.


If you want to respond to any of the previously mentioned, you might try ¡Te pasaste! or ¡No te pasas de lanza! Pasar means to go over or past and lanza is a weapon (lance). These phrases let the insulting speaker know that he or she has gone over the limit with the idiot comment and you don’t appreciate it. After all, them’s fighting words!







Filed under Cultural Challenges

2 responses to “Cultural Challenge—How to tell if you’ve been just been called an idiot

  1. Pingback: Parenting Challenge–Creating an Atmosphere for Education | Surviving Mexico

  2. Pingback: Battling Nature—Ants | Surviving Mexico

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