Aztec Vocabulary for Your Trip to Mexico

Looking for something to add to my much loved travel blog, I came across an article I wrote for Youth Time Magazine a while back, so I decided to share it with my readers once more. 

Travelers with an affinity for languages may often come to the conclusion that the language they learned in the classroom is not quite the same as the one spoken in the country of their destination. One of those languages is Spanish, and the way it is spoken varies according to the region.

Most of the time, the regular Spanish taught in school provides a basis for communicating during travel, while the rest of the language, depending on the place, consist of specific idioms or single words that originate from a different time and culture. Therefore, while you may be able to get around well with your Spanish in Spain, the experience might be different in Cuba, Argentina, etc.

In central and western Mexico, Nahhuatl has had a great influence on the way Spanish is spoken today. About 600 words of the Spanish now spoken in Mexico derive from this Aztec language and are part of the vocabulary of everyday life. Among the Mexican people, these words are known as Nahuatlismos.

The following words and their Nahuatl origins might be good to know for your next trip to Mexico, be it for excursions to local markets, shops and restaurants or just for getting to know the language. Keep in mind that even though some words in Mexican Spanish seem very specific and unique, the Spanish alternative words are also very likely to be understood by the locals.

Aguacate (ahuacatl): meaning avocado.

Atole (atolli): a corn-based drink that is very popular in Mexico, especially during the Christmas season.

Cacahuate (Tlacucahuatl): meaning peanut, though also known in Spanish as cacahuete, in Mexico it is an alternative to the more common Spanish word mani. So keep that in mind if you are thinking about feeding the squirrels in Chapultepec Park and are looking for a vending cart.

Elote (elo-tl): A word widely used in Mexico for corn, as opposed to the Spanish word maiz.

Esquite (izquitl): A popular Mexican snack made of grains of corn, from the Nahuatl word izquitl meaning “toasted corn”.

Guajolote (wueh-xōlō-tl): meaning turkey, as opposed to the Spanish word pavo.

Mayote (mayatl): meaning mosquito

Mexico (Mexchico): Although the original meaning is still being debated, one of the theories suggests that the name of the country translates to “the center of the universe”.

Mole (molli): A chocolate sauce made with chili that is usually served with meat.

Nopal (nopalli): meaning cactus. A useful word to know since cactus leaves are a specialty in Mexico and can be found as edible plants or sauce in any market.

Petaca (petlacalli): meaning suitcase, as opposed to the Spanish maleta.

Popote (popotl): meaning drinking straw, rather than the Spanish equivalent pajilla or pajita.

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