When you look up the word pendejo on Dictionary.com, the definition comes up as “idiot,” or someone who is considered foolish or moronic. But pendejo is not just a Spanish slang term for “dummy,” it also has a long history attached to it that goes beyond being a masculine noun to refer to a man or its feminine usage as the word pendeja.
The term pendejo is considered very offensive. As a general rule, you should steer clear of it in professional situations, business meetings, or emails where the word can be misinterpreted because it would easily come across as highly inappropriate.
When you are in the company of close friends in a casual setting, you may have more leverage to say pendejo with people who you know won’t take it too seriously and get upset. If you use pendejo in a playful manner, be absolutely sure that everyone around you understands that you are just joking.
Pendejo in the 16th Century
The word pendejo may currently be a way of calling someone an idiot in Spanish, but that doesn’t mean that this is the way that the word started off. Pendejo originally stems from a Latin root meaning “pubic hair” way back in the 16th century; pendejo was apparently first used in Spain to talk about teens that were going through puberty and thought of themselves as adults now that they had grown a little pubic hair.
Pendejo in the 17th Century
Oddly enough, in the 17th century, the pendejo meaning drifted away from its public hair roots and began to be a way of calling someone a coward to a mockery out of them, which is commonly how pendejo is understood in some Caribbean islands.
Pendejo in the 1900s
After the brutal consequence of colonization, Spanish evolved from Europe and became the common language all over the Americas. By the early 1900s, pendejo had begun moving away from a way of calling someone a coward into a word that means stupid or dumb in the Americas.
Pendejo is still used all over Spanish-speaking countries and is particularly popular in Mexico. In fact, it is popular. For instance, there is the proverb “amor de lejos, amor de pendejos,” which translates into English as meaning, “love from afar, love for pendejos.”
Interestingly enough, it has been said that when we swear, it can activate a surge of adrenaline, making people who say profanity feel more powerful when these strong words are uttered. But there is a catch to this theory; it is typically only applied to people who occasionally swear, not those who curse seemingly every other word.
It is presumed that people who constantly swear become desensitized to these words and the impression that they are making and are simply swearing because it has become second nature for them. Therefore, when it comes to using a word like pendejo to get some painful feeling off of your chest because you are upset with someone at the moment, it may feel good for you as an individual. Still, you could simply be transferring your pain to someone else by calling them an idiot at their expense.
Just because a person swears doesn’t mean it is always at the person standing right in front of them. There are situations where a person expresses their opinion to people they trust and feel comfortable talking openly with. They might use pendejo to talk about a famous athlete that lost the game for their favorite team.
In a situation like this, the upset sports fan is getting their stress out, but pendejo is being used as an exclamation point and not to embarrass an individual to their face. Let anger build up and stay cooped up inside you is not healthy. If you are able to express yourself in a safe environment where you won’t be starting a fight with someone afterward, it can have a healthy feeling associated with it.
Sense of Humor
Lastly, swearing with a word like pendejo among friends can actually be humorous when it is done in fun and in a good-natured way. Being able to make light of a situation can be funny; just be careful that you aren’t having fun at someone else’s expense which has thin skin and may be hurt by the word.
Even though saying pendejo is generally viewed as an insult, there are still ways in which it can come across in a friendly manner. For instance, you might use pendejo with a close friend joking, such as in countries like Argentina in Latin America, where pendejo is still used closer to its original definition centuries ago in Spain, to refer informally to a young boy who tries to act older than he actually is.