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article imageAMLO reshapes Mexico's language along with its politics

By Sofia MISELEM (AFP)     Sep 4, 2019 in World

The jury is still out on whether President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will "transform" Mexico as he has promised. One thing is sure, though: he is reshaping its language.

Elected last year in a surge of anti-establishment disgust, the folksy populist has elicited laughter, groans and head-scratching with his unique take on Mexican Spanish, reviving words that were fading from memory and bringing colorful new ones into widespread use.

"AMLO," as he is known, is like no president Mexico has ever had. Since taking office in December, the leftist anti-corruption crusader has ditched the presidential mansion, guards and jet, and cut his own salary by 60 percent.

That radical break with the past also extends to his speaking style, which -- like almost everything about Lopez Obrador -- has divided Mexicans.

Many opponents can hardly stand to listen to the silver-haired 65-year-old. He has a way of dominating the entire news cycle, starting with his daily press conference, held every weekday at 7:00 am -- the "mananera," from a word meaning "morning sex."

But he is highly popular: his approval rating is around 65 percent.

His opponents have responded by adopting some choice words of their own.

In AMLO's Mexico, "fifis" wage political war with "chairos," "pirruris" get mocked for their "machuchon" style, and the "Peje" is out to stop the "moche."

Lost? Mexicans sometimes are, too.

Many of those words were little-known until Lopez Obrador came along. Now, nine months into his presidency, they are fixtures of the national conversation.

Experts say Lopez Obrador's speaking style is one of the secrets to his success.

"What distinguishes Lopez Obrador is his colloquial, popular vocabulary.... He has his own personal archive of traditional language, which he draws on constantly," said Luis Fernando Lara, a linguist and author of the Dictionary of Mexican Spanish.

"He's a poet of the people."

- From penises to politics -

Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador put the presidential plane up for sale  terming ...
Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador put the presidential plane up for sale, terming it "machuchon," a word for excessively luxurious things

The number one AMLOism is probably "fifi," roughly equivalent to "hoity-toity" in English.

Lopez Obrador regularly uses this retro word for business executives, media outlets and opposition politicians he deems conservative.

The Royal Spanish Academy, the sentinel of the Spanish language, defines "fifi" as "a conceited person concerned with following fashion trends."

The word "had been almost in disuse for more than a century. Originally, it was an adjective to describe elegant dress. If you looked very elegant, people told you, 'You look so fifi,'" Lara told AFP.

A similar word is "pirruri," coined from the name of a 1970s TV character, an elitist but idiotic rich kid.

The "fifis" and "pirruris" meanwhile have their own word for Lopez Obrador followers: "chairos."

That word is a "veritable phenomenon," said Lara.

It comes from "chaira," a long, thin knife-sharpener.

"'Chaira' has come to be used as a metaphor for the phallus, and a 'chairo' is someone who masturbates. So politically, a 'chairo' is a leftist who mentally masturbates," said Lara.

The insult "has been a huge success," he added.

Another anti-AMLOism: "pejezombies."

"Peje" is a nickname for Lopez Obrador, from a less-than-pretty fish widespread in his home state, Tabasco -- a southern region whose accent he bears.

So "pejezombies" are people who mindlessly follow the "Peje," like zombies.

- New dictionary -

Lopez Obrador has even inspired his own online reference work: the "Dictionary of Peje-isms."

It defines AMLO favorites such as "machuchon," a word for excessively luxurious things.

"That plane is so 'machuchon,' even Donald Trump doesn't have one like it," Lopez Obrador said of the presidential jet he put up for sale, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner valued at $120 million.

Lopez Obrador's linguistic innovations often carry a political message -- such as "moche," or "kick-back payment," the money that poor welfare recipients, for example, have to pay corrupt officials to receive their benefits.

Like "moche," many of the president's favorite words portray his opponents as evil enemies of the noble Mexican people.

That worldview is "polarizing," said political scientist Jose Antonio Crespo.

"I don't remember ever seeing such deep fanaticism in the country," he said.

Others are more upbeat about the linguistic phenomenon that is AMLO.

"Words like 'fifi' are sometimes reductionist, but they serve to start a debate about addressing inequality in Mexico," said analyst Hernan Gomez Bruera.

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