Álvaro Enrigue’s HYPOTHERMIA is reviewed at MAKE Literary Magazine

The origin of the word gringo is a nebulous one. There is the popular but spurious story that when U.S. American soldiers were in Mexico in the mid-nineteenth century (presumably during the Mexican American War), Mexicans would be subjected to the grating spectacle of unaccountably chipper soldiers singing and marching to the tune of “Green Grow the Lilacs,” of which the Mexicans, knowing only a modicum of English and regarding the grs-grs of the Americans as barbarous, misapprehended the lyrics as “gringo the lilacs.” But the likelier truth is that the etymology of gringo precedes North American militarism and dates back to an early modern corruption of the word griego (“Greek”) in Castilian, used then in the same idiomatic sense that it was once said in English, “It’s all greek to me,” i.e. unintelligible, unfamiliar, foreign. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar offers the more famous instance of an idiomatic sentiment that dates back to an old Latin saying: Graecum est; non legitur (“It’s Greek; it cannot be read”). In today’s parlance, and particularly in the mind of a Spanish-speaking immigrant beginning to live in the United States, what’s “greek” and cannot be read would translate to: “what’s gringo is what I don’t understand.”

 

Click here to read the review at MAKE Literary Magazine

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