Five (Largely Inaccurate) Oxford English Dictionary Entries for Mexican Foods

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Last week, I reported on how the Oxford English Dictionary had just included "banh mi" into its august publication, a wonderful, surprising development. Also in the mix was "taquito," and that entry just pissed me off.

Oh, I was happy that rolled, fried tacos finally received their due--but what took the OED so long to include them? Nothing against the bánh mì, but taquitos have part of American English (and the world, for that matter) far longer than the Vietnamese sandwich, and the Mexican snack is still far more popular--just check your local supermarkets for frozen taquitos versus bánh mì. Curious, I looked up the official definition for "taquito" in the OED (available only to subscribers or quasi-academics like myself), and found a bit of the answer to the problem--they couldn't even accurately point out the first time it came out in the English language. And not just for "taquitos," mind you--they also lag on most of the most popular Mexican foods in the United States.

For the millionth time (and I won't stop saying this until the trillionth), I'm working on a book about the history of Mexican food in the United States, so I'm chockablock on data regarding when particular foodstuffs entered the United States and subsequently garnered mention in American letters. After the jump, then, is a list of Mexican foods in the OED, the earliest reference they could find for it, and the earliest I could find. The discrepancy, as they say, may surprise you, and I do this as a service to the OED in its endless, always fruitful efforts to track the English language

Now, the list--and gracias to Weekly intern Jason Davis for the research assistance!

1. Taquito
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The legendary double order at Chico's Tacos in El Paso

Where the OED got it wrong: They claim the word is from American Spanish (as opposed to Mexican Spanish) and its first use in English was 1929.

The truth: I have found references to "taquitos" in Mexican cookbooks dating back to the 1890s; the earliest reference I've found for the word in English comes from a 1924 Los Angeles Times article that describes them as "chopped meat and pepper wrapped in a tortilla and fried."

2. Taco
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Chinito tacos from Dos Chinos

Where the OED got it wrong: They say the earliest English reference is 1949

The truth: This one is surprising, as its own entry on "taquito" dating that word to 1929 also inadvertently dates "taco" to that year. But even that's wrong: the earliest English reference to "taco" I could find is a 1914 cookbook.

3. Enchilada
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There's some enchiladas in there somewhere...

Where the OED got it wrong: Claims the etymology is American Spanish, and dates it to 1887.

The truth: It's Mexican Spanish, old chaps--and enchiladas were one of the first Mexican foods American chroniclers raved about upon visiting the American Southwest: the Times was raving about them as early as 1886. But the earliest mention I've found so far was in Mexico: Landscapes and Popular Sketches, a travel guide published in 1859, which described the dish as "maize-bread with Spanish-pepper, meat and cheese."

4. Tamale

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Where the OED got it wrong: Saying it's made of "crushed Indian corn"? Calling it a "Mexican delicacy" even though tamales exist from the United States to Tierra de Fuego? Oy vey...they also date it to 1856.

The truth: They actually got one crucial point right: as many Chicano yaktivists will remind you, the proper word is "tamal," not tamale. But numerous descriptions of tamales by American chroniclers exist before 1856--the earliest I could find was in 1844's Narrative of the Texan-Santa Fé Expedition, and I'm sure the diaries of the earliest Texians can push that date even further back.

5. Burrito

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A smothered burrito in New Mexico

Where the OED got it wrong: They say it's American Spanish, and that it dates back to 1934.

The truth:
Burritos might be more popular in the United States than the whole of Mexico, and I couldn't find an earlier English reference to burritos as a foodstuff than their entry--but I have found references to "burritos" in Mexican dictionaries dating to the 1890s. I'll leave it to someone else to find an English reference before 1934...


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38 comments
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Jorge
Jorge

That food in the photos does not look mexican at all, specially the enchilada, no wonder the brits of the BBC believe all mexican food is vomit with cheese

Davelis
Davelis

Man, Gustavo you really need to get a life, you always seem to find some racists twist to everything even food. Your Mexican culture is just that a culture, not a race. You are just as Caucasian as the next person who is not of black or asian decent. Even in Mexico they ask the question on race blanca or negra. you do the math. And I am not a garabacho as you say, my culture and ethnic origin have been around for several thousand years......Hellenic and proud of it.

MexicanNDN
MexicanNDN

"Caucasian as the next person who is not of black or Asian decent"

Davelis, you forgot that most of us Mexicans are more Native American "Indio" than Caucasian. Why do you keep trying to negate the Indian of his existence?

Roy
Roy

I may only be a gabacho, but even I know better than to write "Tierra de Fuego"!

Bill T.
Bill T.

Happy to know that I'm not the only one that it hurts my ears when I hear "tamale". Or San yahsinto. Or cochela. Or any of a hundred others that the news "personalities" on channel 7 from back east were too lazy to look up the pronunciation for. The news pukes that grew up in the area don't even have that much excuse.

Jesse Sheidlower
Jesse Sheidlower

Gustavo,

Thank you for your comments. The OED appreciates such feedback from readers.

A few points: First, thanks for the 1924 antedating of _taquito_. I'm not sure why we missed that the first time around; perhaps that it doesn't show up on a search of the LA Times database for "taquito"--you have to give the plural to find it.

Not all of the entries in OED Online are revised. The original work on _taco, burrito,_ etc. was done several decades ago, and the entries have not been touched since. (Unrevised entries will say "Second Edition 1989" on the online site.) When we publish new versions of these, the definitions and the quotations will reflect the newest research available. In many cases we've already done preliminary work: for example, the earliest example of _taco_ you could find was in a 1914 cookbook, but we have examples from 1899 and 1901 in our files, and the actual research hasn't even been done yet.

Finally, regarding the Mexican Spanish vs. American Spanish issue: we tend to be conservative about the distinction, and would use "American Spanish" unless we have a really clear indication that the word or meaning is restricted to Mexico.

With best wishes,

Jesse SheidlowerEditor at LargeOxford English Dictionary

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Jesse: Gracias for your comment and for teaching me a new word: "antedating"—COOL! As for your point of American Spanish versus Mexican Spanish—well-taken, but I'd remind you that the 40-year influx of Mexicans to the United States has made American Spanish almost archaic at this point...

Jesse Sheidlower
Jesse Sheidlower

I'm not sure if there's any confusion about this point, but I do just want to clarify that _American Spanish_ refers to 'Spanish used in the Americas', not 'Spanish used in the United States of America'.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Really? Oh boy: that's another conversation to be had...let's not even start on "torta"...

909Jeff
909Jeff

Jesse,

Im just surprised that Gustavo didnt try to tie some kind of Racist twist to this story as is his M.O.

It probably went a little like this;

Oxford...

England...

White People...

Mexican Food...

Mis-dated...

RACISTS!!!!!!

Gustavo's thinking can be compared to that of an excited puppy. Minus the nervous wetting. Moxley does that!

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Gentle readers: Please ignore Jeff, as he's a Know Nothing from our news blog who's just jealous I'm not acknowledging his babosadas...

Dweezle.Di
Dweezle.Di

Hmm, Kaspersky shows the Whhackett3 link as containing a virus!

Whhackett3
Whhackett3

It's not possible for any taquitos to be as tasty and wonderful as those served at Cielito Lindo http://www.cielitolindo.org/ I've tried to duplicate the sauce many times and, while I've gotten close, I've never quite done it. Nowhere else can you find cholos, gabachos, coconuts and the occasional *AHEM* half-breed chowing down on these wonderful cholestorol laden treats.

Buggle B
Buggle B

I am in agreement to Dan's possible description of "American Spanish." I don't think the intention was "USA American," which was the initial gut reaction I had when I saw that. I'm thinking they intended to describe it more regional - as in "(Latin) America Spanish," or "(North) America Spanish" to distinguish from "European Spanish."

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

You know what they say about trusting your gut--trust it! Like I told Dan above, the OED differentiates between American and Mexican Spanish.

Alba Sanchez
Alba Sanchez

Absolutely fascinating, the history of Mexican Food assimilated into American Culture, now the Oxford Dictionary? What a way to validate our existence.

Chris
Chris

Why don't you just submit your earlier usage quotations to the OED? It's an ever-changing work of impossible scope and they have always relied on and encouraged contributions from scholars and regular people alike. The form is currently down, but you can always e-mail them (via the "Contact Us" page).

Why scold when you can contribute?

http://www.oed.com/public/faqs...

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

And what did you think I just did? They're more than welcome to take this story and run...

JB
JB

This is just a wild hunch, but are you writing a book about the history of Mexican food in the United States? C'mon, fess up

DanGarion
DanGarion

According to Wikipedia (yes I know it's just Wikipedia) American Spanish can mean "Spanish language in the Americas" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S... which would cover Mexico, since Mexico is in the Americas. Right? You are just trying to drill it down as specific to Mexican Spanish?

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Dan: The OED differentiates between American Spanish and Mexican Spanish.

Linda Roach
Linda Roach

One of my biggest pet peeves with dictionaries comes when I'm playing Scrabble, and the weirdest, archaic Anglo-Saxon words are accepted words to play, but some basic Spanish words, well used by Chicanos and gabachos alike, are not accepted. C'mon, dictionary writers, catch up already!

Can't wait to read your book. Have you tackled "buñelos" yet? In Tex-Mex we eat them at Christmas time but a few years back I heard a Spanish Hanukkah song that talked about "burñelos" (sp?), cookies I think, that are traditional during Hanukkah there. Which would take buñelos all the way back to Spain in the 15th century, the exodus to the New World because of the Inquisition, Spanish land grants in Texas and the Southwest, and the "marranos" in the Southwest. Or so it seemed to me.

Jambalaya
Jambalaya

says the guy reading about oxford mexican food entries ;)

E
E

...someone has too much time on their hands....

Bill T.
Bill T.

Another thought, over 20 comments in first 24 hours, I'd say there was ome interest i nthe story ...

Bill T.
Bill T.

So, sr. Gnomo, you don't believe that a publication that has aspirations of being THE authority has any responsibility to be, say, accurate?

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Better that than someone having no life such as yourself.

Dee Kennedy
Dee Kennedy

You're wasting your bare-ass time working on a queasy-academic book when you can snap back with that kind of he-he-larious observation. Clearly, you're another H. L. Mencken, Mark Twain, Nancy Luna, ... get to where you oughta be.

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