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Caló: A Borderland Dialect

Caló is the latest addition to Marfa Public Radio's programming. Created by Oscar Rodriguez, who sometimes goes by the name "El Marfa," the series honors the Texas borderlands patois commonly called Caló.

Oscar Rodriguez

Oscar grew up speaking this language in Ojinaga and Odessa. He remembers the unique dialect filling the barrios and countryside of his childhood in West Texas. Each week on Caló, Oscar will feature words and phrases from Caló then explore their meaning with a personal anecdote.

Oscar was born and raised in Ojinaga, West Texas and Southeastern New Mexico. He has lived in and out of Texas since he graduated from Ector High School in Odessa in the late-1970s, including a couple of years in the 1990s when he lived in Marfa and taught at Sul Ross State University. Oscar is also an enrolled member of the Lipan Apache Tribe and an avid researcher of Native history in Texas and New Mexico — specifically in the La Junta region. 

He hopes by sharing his knowledge of this colorful language, he can help keep it alive.

Latest Episodes
  • Today’s featured word, catear, comes directly and unchanged from the Kaló spoken by the Iberian Romani. In Rio Grande Caló, catear means to hit or beat up. It comes from the Kalé word for the same, cate. In modern Spanish, catear means to search. Did this word, like many Iberian Kaló words, come into Rio Grande Caló directly from the Romaní who migrated to the Americas, or did it first come into Spanish and brought to the Americas by the Spanish colonists? Either way, it’s in Caló now.
  • The word for this episode of Caló is achinar. It means to have your hair stand up, as in get mad.
  • The Caló word for this episode is remangar, which means to steal. It comes from the Kalé, or Iberian Romaní, word for the same, mangar. A close-sounding word in Spanish is manga, which means sleeve. Since Spanish and the Iberian Romaní language are both of Indo-European origin, it is possible that sleeve and steal, as in put something under your sleeve, are of the same origin. To be sure, remangar in Rio Grande Caló is used in reference to light theft: only objects you can hide in your hand, sleeve, pocket, pant leg, or memory allow for a remango.
  • Órale, we’re continuing with words in Caló that come from the language spoken by the Kalé or Romaní from Spain, Portugal and France, who also call their language Kaló. The word for this episode is chompa. It means the top of your head in Caló. It comes from the word the Kalé use for the same, chola. There is another similarly-pronounced word in Caló, cholo, which means a gang member (chola for woman). This particular word isn’t related to chompa, however. It comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) and means dog. We’ll cover that word in a future episode. In the Caló spoken on the Rio Grande, like all languages, references to the head can convey many entendre, depending on the context. A chompón, for example, is a lump on the heat and a head-plant in the proverbial immovable wall. And a chompazo is a hit to the head.
  • The word for this episode is gabacho. In Caló, it means a white person. It’s not a pejorative or value-laden term in any way, only a descriptor. It comes from the word the Iberian Romani use for a non-Romani person, gacho. The word is also used as an adjective to identify somebody who’s become anglicized, or agabachado.
  • Órale, rechola is the featured word of this episode. It’s an old Castilian name for a disease that causes reddening of the skin. In Caló to means a social infection, a pack or band of bad company.
  • The word for this episode is trujir. It’s old Castilian, and in Caló it means to bring. The modern Spanish word for the same is traer.
  • Órale, today’s episode is about the word alzar. In modern Spanish, it means to raise, put up, elevate. In Caló, it means to put things in order, clean up, reform. Given the context, alzar can be used innocuously to say you’re going to clean your house or feverishly to exhort people to rebel against the established order.
  • This episode is about the word mercar, a verb that means to buy. The modern Spanish word for that is comprar. Mercar is simply the noun — mercado or market — turned into a verb, in the same manner that terms like bond, mortgage, and bankrupt are turned in to verbs in English.
  • Today’s episode is about the term mamón. Sharing the same root word as mammal and mom, it means sucker in Spanish. In Caló, the term describes somebody,…