What is the Literal Translation of Pendejo? How to Use This Word Correctly?

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According to the Dictionary definition, the Spanish word pendejo translates in English to mean a mildly vulgar insult in terms of the words “asshole” or “idiot.” That said, the word does have a history and its initial orientation; the word pendejo literally meant “public hair” in Spanish. Like most words in Spanish, the word pendejo (which is a noun) is gendered as masculine and is typically used to describe or refer to a man. That said, there is also in existence a female equivalent: namely, the term pendeja. 

When we look more deeply at the term, it becomes clear immediately that “pendejo” has many points of comparison in the English language. Some of the terms that it is akin to are yahoo, a ratbag, meathead, dumbbell, dork, dimwit, donkey, knucklehead, schlub, doofus, nimrod, know-nothing, ignoramus, simpleton, lamebrain, jackass, bonehead, and imbecile. 

How “Pendejo” Began

The term “pendejo” – which is a mildly vulgar insult that translates in English to mean “asshole” or “idiot” in Spanish – first began in Spain as part of a staple of Spanish-language insults. While the word is a milder insult than the phrase “Hijo de puta” (which translates to mean “son of a bitch” in English), it did not always mean what it means today and was not always applied in the same sort of contexts. 

The term was first introduced in the Spanish lexicon in the 16th century. At this time, people in Spain used the term to refer – quite literally – to “pubic hair.” As a result, the term was frequently used to refer to pubescent teens who thought they were adults because they suddenly noticed that they had pubes. 

By the 17th century, however, the use of the term pendejo began to shift and then came to mean “coward.” Shortly thereafter, during conquest and colonization, the term changed yet again. This time, not only did the meaning change but so too did the geography where it was used. Whereas it was used primarily in Spain, once colonization came about, the word traveled to the Americas, where it evolved and shifted yet again – so much so that by the early 1900s, pendejo no longer meant “coward” but was instead hurled in order to insult people by calling them dumb or stupid.

Using Pendejo Properly

While “pendejo: is an inflammatory word, it is also the case that there is such a thing as using it properly. The first and major suggestion is to refrain from using this word in a professional or formal setting – and even in settings that are connected to those environments, as in the case of business emails and meetings. 

Instead, people can use the term in more casual settings and among friends or those you know very well, especially those who are clear that the term is being used in a playful way while joking around. Either way, the person using the term should ensure that the person who is the recipient of the insult understands that it is not meant in any way to offend. 

Throughout Spanish-speaking countries, especially in places such as Mexico and among those of Mexican heritage living in the United States, the word is especially popular. For example, in places like the American Southwest, where there is a large Mexican descended population, the term “pendejo” is used in both Spanish and English among those of Spanish heritage – but it is also used by a number of American English speakers regardless of whether they have Latino heritage or not.

Even though the term pendejo is an insult, many agree that it can also have a friendly tone depending on the context and who is engaged in the exchange. For example, in Argentina and a few other places in Latin America, pendejo isn’t just to insult, but it is actually used to refer informally to a young man or boy who tries to act older than he is. In many ways, in these instances, the use of the term has a lot of similarities to how it was initially used. 

Might Make Situations Worse

And yet, while the term “pendejo” can be used in a playful exchange or something other than an insult, the effect of its usage might, in fact, make things worse. This is in large part because the word is overwhelmingly used as profanity. That is, depending on the context and environment it is used, it may only be understood as profane language – this is especially true of using the word in a professional setting.

Workforce Problems

Another reason to be careful when using the slang word pendejo – especially when at the job – is because the word can lead to disunity and a lack of cooperation. Given that in many places in today’s workforce, employees’ environments are very diverse, it is important to note that frequently making use of taboo and offensive words can trouble others, create unnecessary tension, and prevent and jeopardize promotions. 

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