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Caló: A Borderland Dialect

Caló is the latest addition to Marfa Public Radio's programming. Created by Oscar Rodriguez, who sometimes goes by the name "El Marfa," the series honors the Texas borderlands patois commonly called Caló.

Oscar Rodriguez

Oscar grew up speaking this language in Ojinaga and Odessa. He remembers the unique dialect filling the barrios and countryside of his childhood in West Texas. Each week on Caló, Oscar will feature words and phrases from Caló then explore their meaning with a personal anecdote.

Oscar was born and raised in Ojinaga, West Texas and Southeastern New Mexico. He has lived in and out of Texas since he graduated from Ector High School in Odessa in the late-1970s, including a couple of years in the 1990s when he lived in Marfa and taught at Sul Ross State University. Oscar is also an enrolled member of the Lipan Apache Tribe and an avid researcher of Native history in Texas and New Mexico — specifically in the La Junta region. 

He hopes by sharing his knowledge of this colorful language, he can help keep it alive.

Latest Episodes
  • Órale, the feature of this episode is the word fileriar. There’s no comparable word in modern Spanish, only the close Latin root of filo, which means true or straight. In Spanish, the filo of anything is the sharp edge of it, and to afilar is to sharpen. In Caló, the conjugation of this term goes further and names the sharpened object itself, filero, which means a sharpened shank or knife. Caló also turns this noun into a verb, fileriar. Some English speakers may note the close resemblance to the term fillet, as in to slice and splay a fish.
  • Órale, the feature of this episode of Caló is the term empicar. In modern Spanish, it means to dive into something headfirst, as in a pique. In Caló, however, it means to become used to or addicted to something, as if stunned by the power of a snake bite. Of course, the first step to becoming empicado, is to be picado, which never comes from an actual snake, but from a very pleasurable or alluring experience, such that the person who’s been picado wants more of it and less of everything else.
  • Órale, the feature this week is the word machín. It comes from the English word, machine. It means to act or do something very well, impressively. Somebody who’s machín is relentless, strong, self-assured, invulnerable to impediments and distractions. A machin is well, machine-like...superhuman.
  • Órale, the feature this week is the word curar. In modern Spanish it means to cure, as in from an injury or illness. In Caló, curar means to gawk, as in to take inappropriate pleasure in looking at somebody. It is said that somebody is curandose if they’re looking at somebody who’s unknowingly exposed or in distress. Curar can also be used in situations where the cura is somebody getting their comeuppance or eating crow.
  • The feature this week is the term te sales. In modern Spanish, it means you’re getting out. In Caló, it means you are out of line, literally, and you're out of your mind or your normal self, figuratively.
  • The featured Caló word of the week is capear. In modern Spanish, it’s a verb that means to distract or draw attention, which is what a bull fighter does with his capote, his cape. In Caló, capear means to acquiesce, cooperate, or return a favor or gesture.
  • The featured word of this episode is relaje. In modern Spanish it means to relax. In Caló, a relaje is someone who fits in the category of those who behave laxly, who don’t try, and who are the likely weakest link in the chain. In this way, a relaje is also a snitch or tattletale, someone who’ll quickly and thoughtlessly betray the side.
  • Órale, the featured word of this episode is bailar. In proper Spanish it means to dance. In Caló, however, it speaks to the drama generated by and that characterizes close human interaction, not always related to actual dancing.
  • Órale, this is the first episode of a series focused on dance words and phrases. Out featured word today: chanclear. It comes from the Spanish word chancla, which means slip-on or slide-in sandal. There are no synonyms for chanclear.
  • Órale, this is the last episode of the series focused on the Iberian Romaní Caló words that also circulate in Rio Grande Caló. And today we've got a surprise: lollipop. Candy on a stick. Everybody who knows Caló knows that’s what it means. But it originally comes from the Romaní specialty of candied apples, ayí poba. Of course, it’s a powerful image that allows for a wide spectrum of metaphors. In Rio Grande Caló it's used to reference everything from a hot love to a false promise—but not likely a candied or sugared apple on a stick.