Today on Caló, writer Oscar Rodriguez highlights the word, cuitcha, also pronounced cuita. It means poop, excrement. By focusing on this word, Rodriguez shows Caló is more than a mixture of Spanish and English and other European languages — it’s also influenced by Native languages along the border.
By Oscar Rodriguez, “El Marfa”
Cuito puts it all on the line whenever he’s sure about something — holds nothing back.
Like when country western dress was coming on in the ‘70s, he quit his job as a floor guy and became a hat guy at the big western wear store on the nice side of town. He gave away his Stacey Adams calcos (dress up shoes), khaki tramaos (pants), and bright lisas (shirts) and donned Wranglers head to toe.
And he never looked back.
I’ve known Cuito to be this way all my life. I knew he held this creed very dearly, particularly because he espoused it often as I was growing up just down the block from him.
“Watcha, if you know the truth, pos, don’t look back,” he would tell me. “Nomás dale (just go with it).”
As far as he was concerned, the same principle covered things like science, religion, all the big questions of the world, and his improbable name.
“How’d you get it?” I asked him when I was in high school. Years earlier he had told me it was spelled Q-U-I-T-O.
“I’ve had it all my life,” he said, “they once told me what it meant but I forgot.”
“But your name’s Saul, que no?” I said.
“Hey, that’s my Spanish name, carnalito (little brother), but Cuito’s always been my real name.”
“I bet if you ask anybody in the barrio if they know Saul, nobody’s gonna know,” he added.
Time went on. I left West Texas to go to college. Travelled around the world, even worked for a while in Latin America, including Quito, Ecuador. When I came home to visit, I always went to see Cuito, and I was happy to see he kept to his law.
He grew poorer as he grew older. His only savings were his one-bedroom house, elaborate yard decorations, and his name. He also stopped dressing cowboy.
“Hey, Cuito, guess where I just spent a month?” I once asked him.
“New York,” he answered. “They say it’s really dangerous there.”
“No, Quito,” I said, making sure to pronounce it like a Quiteño.
“Where’s that?” he asked, not making even a vague connection to his name.
“In Ecuador. That’s the country between Peru and Colombia,” I explained.
“Órale, jungles and salsa music, que no?” he said.
“Sirol, ese, but mostly high mountains and Inca music, con reed flutes,” I said. “Quito (I paused a long time to let it sink in) is the capital city. They spell it Q-U-I-T-O, like your name.
He wasn’t interested. It was a pointless coincidence as far as he was concerned.
“I thought of you cuz they say it differently but they spell it the same,” I went on. “You sure your name isn’t spelled with a C instead of a Q with maybe an H in there somewhere?”
“Nel, chale (no, no),” he said, “I’m sure how my name’s spelled. I just don’t say it in Spanish like they do.”
So I desisted and turned my attention to the boat he had converted into a sunken fountain in his front yard. In the middle was a manakin made to look like a sunbathing teenager.
“It’s my good luck thing,” he explained, “some people put in santos and santas (saints) to bless their home, but I put her in to bring happiness to the fountain.”
Years later when I had to go back and spend a lot of time looking after my parents, I walked over to Cuito’s and saw his manakin was no longer there.
“Somebody stole it,” he said, “I knew she was in trouble because people would honk at her and one time a car full of kids stopped to take a picture.”
“Then one morning, salí pa’ fuera (I came outside), and she was gone,” he said. “But está de aquellas porque (it’s all good because) I can now take out the boat and put in a small fountain, maybe with big rocks and a waterfall, watchas.”
“Pero, qué pasó con tu roof, carnal?” I asked, pointing to the black sheets of plastic covering his roof.
My father had already told me Cuito stripped it in January. Then after months of no progress, he got a friend from an oilfield supplies store to set aside salvage pond liner plastic, which he and Cuito picked that spring.
“Pos, your dad gave me it cuz it was gonna rain,” Cuito said.
“But why didn’t you just put on new shingles?” I asked.
“Pos, I had saved for a new roof, even took off all the old shingles and tar paper, todo (everything), but then I put my savings in a super bowl pot to get more money to replace the decking cuz it was rotting,” he explained.
It went without saying that he lost the money.
“Gacho (bad luck),” I said.
Cuito wouldn’t take any of my pity.
“Watcha, I‘d been winning feria (money) in the scratch (daily lottery). Twenty dollars in Thanksgiving. Then $100 just before New Year. Then I went back just to be sure and bought a $2 quick-pick and won $20 more. That was the sign, I thought. So, you know me, le puse (went ahead). I bought most of the squares on the outside of the board and all but two in the middle,” he explained.
“It was going great, but the final score came out all sura (hatefully wrong),” he explained.
Enough said, I thought.
Months later I went for a moonwalk with an Osage friend and we got to talking about words, as we often do. He tells me words in Osage, Cherokee, and Numanuu (Comanche). I share Caló, Spanish, and the few Lipan words I know.
“A word I’ve been wondering about lately is cuitcha,” I told him.
“My aunts say it when I refuse to eat something they’ve offered me. They say ‘entonces come cuitcha,’ meaning then eat cuitcha.”
“Hmmm, mighty close to the Comanche word for shit,” he said. “But pronounced cuita.”
“What!” I exclaimed. “That’s what I understood it to mean, but I never asked to be sure.”
“Reminds me of the word for the corn fungus Mexicans make gravy out of: cuitlacoche,” I said. “A cousin who knows Nauhatl once told me it means flower that grows from poop because it grows from bird droppings.”
“Well, Comanche is Uto-Aztec,” he said. “I just Googled it.”
“Wow. I know a guy who’s always gone by that name,” I said, “I wonder if I should tell him.”
“Older or younger than you?” he asked.
“Older,” I said. “Known him since I was a kid.”
“Then don’t tell him,” he advised. “Just leave it alone for his sake.”
Sometime later I went back to the old hood and knocked on Cuito’s door.
“How you doing, carnal?” I asked.
“A toda madre (great), ese,” he said. “Watcha, the new fountain and waterfall.”
“De aquellas (alright),” I said, then looked up at his roof.
“Órale, I’m going to get it fixed for sure now,” he said.”
The conversation went many different directions from there.
After a while, I paused and asked him: “Ese, you still sure about the spelling of your name?”
“Shhhhh, simón, like I’ve always told you, Q-U-I-T-O,” he said. “Ever since a kid called me that in 4th grade.”
“Oh, sí? Where was that kid from?” I asked.
“Mexico, deep deep, like in the center, not from the border, watchas,” he said. I thought about asking him if he would even guess what cuitcha meant, but I let it go.
Pa’ qué embarrar su nombre (why smear his name), I told myself.