Caló: Refinando

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 features the word ‘refín,’ which means prepared or cooked food. The word for eating is refinando. The closest word in modern Spanish is refinar, but it means refine or make finer and has little to do with food. What’s close in old Castilian is the word for sharpen or carve, afinar, the likely link to food in Caló.


The three pre-teens ran up to Boy’s kitchen door and called for him.

“Boy, are you there,” Chabelita asked for the group through the screen door. 

It was early evening in May, hours before sundown, but it was dark on the other side of the screen. They couldn’t see anything. So they waited, their faces glistening with sweat. They had come running as soon as they heard the news.

After a while, Boy’s big brother, Flaco, came to the door.

“He’s refinando,” Flaco said and walked back into the shadows of the kitchen.

The kids waited outside, panting. Just weeks before the end of school, parents in the barrio were starting to send their children back to the border villages where they grew up to stay with their grandparents until school started up again in the fall. One by one, playmates were disappearing, and the world was shrinking for the few kids who remained all summer.

Was Boy next?

Chabelita and El Low Rider’s two sons, Ricky and Stevie, who never went anywhere cause their dad was in prison, were counting heads. Last summer Boy had stayed until Fourth of July, and they had had a great time. Together they had explored the Anglo side of town. How much longer was he going to stay this time?

Finally, Boy came out.

“I was refinando. My jefita made a nice refín,” he said.

The kids stayed silent. Then Chabelita spoke up. “They said you were attacked by a chanate, a grackle.

“No, not attacked, just poked in the head,” said Boy.

“Eeee!” shrieked his three visitors. 

“Sirol, yes, a big one. Broke in and went over to my bed and was poking me until I woke up,” said Boy.

His companions remained silent, holding back their excitement.

“About the same time, I was dreaming that a bird was refinando my brains,” said Boy.

“I was trying to wake up so I could get away, but I couldn’t. Finally, I did and saw the bird. It looked back at me like birds do with its head cocked to the side. So I closed my eyes again,” said Boy.

“Then what,” Chabelita asked hysterically. 

“I kept my eyes closed for a long time. When I opened them again, the chanate was gone. All it left was bird poop on the windowsill,” he said. “What does it mean?” 

“Must mean he didn’t like the refín, your brains,” quipped Chabelita. 

They all laughed.

After a long silence, Boy spoke again.

“Well, I told my jefita, and she said it was a sign I had to go to my abuelos, my grandparents. If not, the chanate would come back to play tricks on me with all the ideas it picked from my brain.”

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