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The 14 Mexicanisms In ‘Roma’ You Need To Know

Is ‘Roma’ on your Netflix watch list before the Oscars? If so, here’s your cheat sheet for the Mexican Spanish phrases you should know to really understand this award-winning film.
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The 14 Mexicanisms In ‘Roma’ You Need To Know

Did you know that Netflix originally requested subtitles for Roma for Spanish viewers? Yes, even though Spaniards and Mexicans share a language, the streaming service had initially requested a subtitled version because they were concerned that Iberian viewers would be unable to understand the grammatical differences and regionalisms. In the end, the now award-winning director pushed back and Netflix removed the subtitles.

That said, there are a series of Mexican Spanish expressions in Roma that can be fascinating and entertaining if you’re not familiar with the local dialect. While they don’t require too much explanation, they’re definitely interesting to observe and recognize — and they might even help you understand the movie better. Here are the most relevant:

1. Manita

This is the term of endearment that Cleo and Adela call each other throughout the film. Manita is a shortened version of hermanita (little sister), which doesn’t imply that they are necessarily relatives, but that they have a very close relationship. The masculine version of manita is carnal, and it also refers to a chosen brotherhood.

2. Ándale

This emblematic expression of Speedy González (the most famous Mexican mouse who has a stereotyped Mexican accent) pops up several times in the film. Ándale means “go ahead” or “hurry up” and it serves as a wake-up call to react more quickly. For example: Ándale, que hay sopa de fideos (Hurry up, there’s noodle soup).

It can also be used to push someone to do something they’re reluctant about because it’s inconvenient, e.g. Ándale. Te va a hacer bien (Come on. It will do you good). Sometimes it’s also combined with pues to express the acceptance of something that might seem implausible: ¡Ándale pues! Ahí me cuentas (No way! Tell me more later).

3. Bueno

Mexico is the only Spanish-speaking country where people answer the phone with the word bueno (good). While in other countries they use a logical hola (hello) or aló (a greeting only used to answer the phone), a practical (yes) or a formal diga (literally, “say”), bueno is a custom that dates back to the first years of telephoning in Mexico.

Originally, telephone operators were responsible for making manual connections between callers (and there were constant technical issues), so bueno was used to confirm that communication had been successfully established.

4. Bajar el novio

In the first part of the film, Adela asks Cleo if she anda bajando el novio (literally, “has been lowering the boyfriend”). The expression refers to the series of intentional actions that someone might take to steal someone else’s partner. A more well-known Spanish expression for this is Quitarle el novio a alguien (to steal someone’s boyfriend).

5. Baboso / babosa / babosadas

In the film, these qualifiers (that literally mean “slimy” or “slimy things”) can be heard in conversations between the children. They’re a softer way to say someone is silly, stupid or simple-minded. Ay baboso, ¿cómo no sabes? (Oh silly you, how do you not know?)

Meanwhile, babosada means “nonsense.” This expression is used in the film by the mother when talking about her husband’s excuses: Les escribió cartas dizque desde Québec. ¡Nada! Sólo babosadas que les inventa (He wrote them letters he says are from Québec. That’s a lie! That’s just nonsense he makes up to them).

6. Comadre

Señora Sofia is always on the phone with her comadre. Comadre, or comadrita, is what you call the godmother of your son or daughter. In Mexico, it also implies a strong friendship among women. Comadres are the ones who share everything and do everything together — even raise their children.

7. Pus, nomás, pérame

Mexicans tend to make contractions of many words, especially conjunctions like pues (well), which becomes pus. The same thing happens, for example, with ora, from por ahora (for now). In the film, we hear pus instead of pues, nomás instead of nada más (nothing but) and pérame for espérame (wait for me).

8. Hazte

Hazte pa’cá or hazte pa’allá can be understood as “come over here” or “move over,” respectively. In another context, it can also mean “don’t play the fool,” as in don’t act stupid.

9. Órale

Órale is what Adela says to Cleo when she complains about being bumped into. It can be used as a form of encouragement to do something or an excited acceptance of a proposal. You can say Órale to push someone to hurry up, for example: Órale, ya vámonos (Come on, let’s go already), or to accept a suggestion: Órale, vamos (Alright, let’s go). It’s also used to indicate surprise regarding new or unknown information: ¡Órale, no sabía! (Really? I didn’t know!)

10. Dale y dale

Adela tells Cleo that she has a suitor who is dale y dale. This expression typically refers to someone continuing an ongoing action, even in a foolish way. Being dale y dale can likewise be interpreted as insisting persistently on something. In Mexico, you sing dale, dale, dale when you have a piñata to encourage the kids to keep hitting it until it bursts.

11. Estar de encargo

This is what Cleo says when they first arrive at the farm where they spend New Year’s Eve. It’s an old-fashioned, modest way to say someone is pregnant in Mexico, mainly used by elderly people. Referring to being pregnant as encargar un bebé (to order a baby) comes from the root word engargo (package) and originates the idea that babies came from Paris. This is the Spanish version of the myth that babies are delivered by white storks.

12. Mensa

When Cleo tells señora Sofia that she’s pregnant, she replies: Mensa, mensa, mensa! In this case, mensa is a milder way of saying “silly” or “stupid.”

13. ¡Aguas!

¡Aguas, Pepe, que tu mujer salió guerrillera! (Be careful, Pepe, your wife turned out to be a guerrilla fighter!), says one of the characters during the shooting practice scene. ¡Aguas! (literally, “waters”) is an expression that dates back to colonial times and was a warning shouted from the tops of houses before throwing black water through the window. Today it’s still used as a warning of imminent danger.

14. Dar razón

Cleo goes looking for Fermín and tells him that ever since she told him of her pregnancy he no ha dado razón (literally, “hasn’t given reason”). This refers to the fact that he had been hiding from her and didn’t assume his share of responsibility in the pregnancy. Dar razón can be understood in this context as “to give feedback or explanations.”

Even though everything can be understood in context, listening to something outside of the Spanish you learn in school can be fun. There’s no doubt that that including these expressions in the subtitles would’ve been a much more interesting cultural exercise for Spaniards and learners alike!

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Adriana Vera
Adriana Vera is a Mexican journalist and writer. She's a proud native of what was formerly called the Federal District. She's also passionate about languages and a cat lover. She was part of the editorial team at women's magazines like Harper's Bazaar and Marie Claire, and now writes as a freelance for different media outlets. You can visit her blog where she publishes fictional texts.
Adriana Vera is a Mexican journalist and writer. She's a proud native of what was formerly called the Federal District. She's also passionate about languages and a cat lover. She was part of the editorial team at women's magazines like Harper's Bazaar and Marie Claire, and now writes as a freelance for different media outlets. You can visit her blog where she publishes fictional texts.
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