Caló: “Ponle Un Cinco”

On every episode of “Caló,” the show’s host Oscar “El Marfa” Rodriguez shares words and expressions from the Rio Grande dialect known as caló. You can hear a new episode on Tuesday during Dos Horas Con Primo.

By Oscar Rodriguez

Órale, today’s episode is about the expression ‘ponle un cinco.’ It’s modern Spanish and translates to ‘put a nickel in it.” The context is an old coin-slot piano that plays when you put a nickel in it. From this expression comes the term poner, which in Spanish means to put or to place. In Caló, the expression means to favor or be on the side of. With it you state your preference for something, as in yo le pongo a los Broncos — I’m for the Broncos.


Manny, Boy’s neighbor, was concerned. He’d come back after a long sojourn in California and found a very different neighbor. The boy had changed remarkably. Always smiling, outgoing, athletic, a leader of the pack, Boy was now a despondent homebody. Stayed home. And when he did come out, he didn’t even look up.

One day, when Manny saw him walking to the T&G Tortilla factory across the street, he called out.

“Qué pasa calabaza,” he asked.

“What?” said Boy.

“What’s going on, vato,” asked Manny.

“Nothing,” said Boy, who stopped but didn’t cross the street.

“Chale, no. That can’t be. El champion. El fastest. El thousand questions. Now el nothing,” said Manny.

Boy didn’t respond.

“Qué pasó with that little vato that used to bounce off the walls,” asked Manny. “Look at you. All agüitado, sad.”

“Everything’s different now,” said Boy.

“What’s different? Everybody’s stronger and smarter than you in junior high?” asked Manny.

“Nel, no,” said Boy.

“The language,” asked Manny.

Boy shook his head.

“Then what,” asked Manny.

“I just don’t know what to do,” said Boy. “I’m so different.”

“Pos, well, seems you’re not doing anything. You’re just waiting for something to happen,” said Manny.

Boy glanced at Manny, who noted the first eye contact. He had hit the spot.

“As you know, I’ve travelled a lot and seen a lot,” said Manny.

Boy looked up at him and nodded silently.

“And I learned about what some people call the Golden Rule,” said Manny.

“Yeah, do unto others what you want to be done unto you,” interrupted Boy.

“Chale. What they mean with that is don’t do anything. Wait for them. Follow them,” said Manny. “And just be nice and suck up to people. I see a lot of raza act like this today. Beat down. Now you too, even though you’re just a chavalito, a kid,” said Manny.

Boy looked down.

“So you should change it. You do unto them so they do unto you like you want. Don’t wait. A la fregada, to hell with them if they don’t like. Make your mark. And the people who are worth it will be your friends. The others will move on—get out of your way,” explained Manny.

“Really?” asked Boy.

“Simón,” said Manny. “If it doesn’t work, you come back home and laugh it off.”

“I’m gonna do that,” said Boy, now inspired. 

“Seguro, are you sure?” said Manny.

“Simón,” said Boy confidently.

“Then ponle un cinco,” said Manny.

“Qué,” asked Boy.

“Bet on it,” said Manny. “See what comes out. No matter what, it’s your law—not theirs.”

“I will. Le pongo, I’ll put it in,” said Boy.

“Ponle,” said Manny.

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