The most beautiful word that Nahuatl gave to Spanish (and others that are used daily in Spain and Latin America)

Granddaughter cuddling her grandmother.

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For Mexicans, cuddling is a special way of showing affection and they define it as the act of “caressing with the soul.”

Some have called it “the most beautiful word in the Spanish language.”

It is “apapacho”, a voice of Nahuatl origin that the RAE defines as “affectionate pat or hug”.

Mexicans, however, have a much more poetic definition of the act of cuddling: “hug or caress with the soul”.

And the fact is that the term —especially common in Mexico and Central America, but also used in other Latin American countries— refers to something that goes beyond physical contact.

The apapacho It is affection, it is consolation, it is pampering, it is tenderness… In fact, even if the RAE says so, no one in the region would link the idea of ​​a slap to a simple pat (no matter how affectionate they are).

Couple cuddling.

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A couple cuddling. But cuddling doesn’t have to be romantic or sensual.

Etymologically, apapacho derives from the Nahuatl voice patzoa, which can be translated as squeeze and some authors also link with the word apachurrar (which the RAE includes in its dictionary as a synonym for dispatch).

And this last word can be useful if one wants to prepare guacamole, because to prepare this dish it is essential to gut some avocados And both the dish and the fruit also have a Nahuatl flavor.

Guacamole and avocado

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Fruits and dishes of Mesoamerican origin have enriched both our cuisine and our vocabulary.

Indeed, the word guacamole comes from a combination of the words ahuacatl and bubbles.

The second means “sauce”, which explains the amount of moles different that exist in the delicious Mexican cuisine.

While the word ahuacatl it was used both to refer to the tree fruit of the same name and to the testicles. Do you notice any resemblance?

With Nahuatl on my lips

For the rest, avocado is not the only natural fruit from Mesoamerica that enriched both our cuisine and our vocabulary.

The region —and Nahuatl— also gave us (among other delicacies) the chile, the tomato, the peanuts and the cacao.

And, with cocoa, the chocolate, from xoco (bitter) and atl (water), since originally the chocolate It was a bitter and spicy drink, quite different from the popular sweet we know today.

Chocolate and cocoa

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Chocolate also has Mesoamerican roots.

From the word chile, for its part, there is not much to explain, because chilli it was simply the name that the Aztecs gave to that spicy fruit.

While tomatl would come to mean “fat thing” and tlacacahuatl“ground cocoa”, from tlalli, land, and peanut, cacao.

(Which explains why, in Latin America, they say peanut and not peanut, as they call peanuts in Spain).

Tomatoes and chili peppers

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Chili peppers and tomatoes also have a Nahuatl flavor and name.

Of the jalapeños al mezcal, the list of fruits, foods and drinks with names of Nahuatl origin is extensive.

But another to highlight is the word Tamale (from tamale, wrapped), used in most of the continent to describe some variety of this “kind of pie made of corn flour dough, wrapped in leaves” (despite the existence of buns, humitas and Hallas).

And, far from food, Mesoamerican fauna has also helped popularize other Nahuatl words, such as coyote O quetzal.



The quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala.

This last word – also present in the name of the Aztec god Quetzalcoátl, “the feathered serpent” – can be translated as “beautiful plumage”.

And that description certainly does justice to Guatemala’s national bird.

Surprises box

Another Nahuatl heritage, less known, is the gum, then tzictli (“sticky thing”) was the name of the resin of the chicozapote tree that the ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica used as chewing gum.

And the word whiteboard It also comes from Nahuatl, where gypsum is said tizatl.

Child drawing with chalk.

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Chalk is also a word of Nahuatl origin.

In Spain it may also be surprising that chapapote —The word used to refer to the black and viscous substance that in 2002 contaminated the beaches of Galicia after the sinking of the Prestige oil tanker — has Mesoamerican origin.

Although maybe not as much as the use of the word cipote in certain areas of Central America, where it does not describe the virile member but rather means a small child, also due to Nahuatl heritage.

(And, as with peanuts, in the case of chapapote the Spaniards also changed a letter to the original word, as shown by the fact that in Mexico chapopote is said to refer to asphalt or tar).

Woman with chewing gum


Everything indicates that the first chewing gums were chewed in Guatemala and Mexico.

Other words of Nahuatl origin in common use in several Spanish-speaking countries are cave (from ulli, “rubber or elastic rubber”, in the first meaning of the RAE) and petaca (which describes both trunks and suitcases and pocket bottles used to carry alcoholic beverages).

But some of the most beautiful and sonorous – such as achichincle, kite or pepenar, to give a few examples – are more geographically confined to Mexico and some Central American countries.

Achichincle, (literally, “that sucks water”) can be translated as subordinate, although it has a somewhat more pejorative connotation, since it implies a certain servility,

While papalote (originally the Nahuatl voice for butterfly) today mostly describes the paper kites that children play with in the wind, and pepen describes the act of picking things up off the ground.

Children flying kites.


Kite, kite, kite, owl, kite, chiringa and piscucha are just some of the words used in Latin America for this toy.

And you, what other words from Nahuatl do you know and would you include in this list?

Help us to complete it through our Facebook page!

This article was written for the digital version of Centroamérica Cuenta, a literary festival to be held in Managua from May 21 to 25, but was postponed indefinitely due to the political and social crisis in Nicaragua. During this week, however, BBC Mundo will publish part of this material, which tries to give an idea of ​​the diversity and cultural richness of the Central American region.

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