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Put in your peseta


Órale, the word of this episode is peseta. It means a quarter-dollar coin in US currency. It comes from the old Spanish monetary standard, the peseta, which once circulated along the Rio Grande. It’s the root word and concept for the peso, the standard in most Latin American countries today. It exists in Caló as a vestige of the Spanish governance era, which ended in 1825. Pesetas began to disappear soon after then, but the US began circulating a similar coin a few decades later. The people of the Rio Grande remembered the look and feel of the peseta and brought back the word and attached it the American quarter. Peseta soon outcompeted the English alternative and attained a high profile in pop culture in the early-1900s. What were the jukeboxes geared for? Pesetas. Quarters. The Rock-olas took no other types of coins. What got the thing, including the juke box, going? A peseta. This led to the saying “ponle una (put in a) pesata” to get whatever it is you’re talking about going, like a romance, a dance, a drama, a party, or even a fight.

The northern raquetero finished his story, and his countrymen laughed.

“Funny story. Not only fooled’em. Also cursed’em in their face without them knowing it,” the raquetero from the south said.

“Would’ve been more graceful had you said they understood they were being cursed to their faces,” he went on.

No response.

“Here goes a story where the bad guys helplessly know they’re being cursed,” said the southerner.

“It occurred several days into a wedding in the south. The leader of a northern police squad assigned to keep order, Chito, got drunk and began to insult the crowd.

“So these are the famous southerners everybody’s afraid of. Well, I’m not afraid of them, he said.

“A group of offended locals approached Chito and said in their southern style, ‘we know somebody you won’t say that to.’

“The leader said, ‘I’ll say it to anybody here.’

“The locals nodded and walked away. They then approached a fierce local vato and told him about the insult.

“’Take me to him,’ the vato said.

“So they led him to Chito. Once there, the vato asked Chito to back up his words.

“‘Now!,’ Chito said.

“‘No, put in your peseta tomorrow, when you’re sober and can defend yourself,’ said the vato.

“The next day, much to Chito’s surprise, the vato showed up.

“Chito drew his weapon, but the vato beat him to the draw, put him down, and dashed down a nearby arroyo.

“The soldiers quickly went after him, but just as they closed in, they saw another southerner running alongside them, a weapon in both hands.

“The soldiers quickly desisted, complaining out loud that their quarry had escaped.

“They returned later with more northerners and eventually cornered the fugitive in a thicket. After a long standoff, they sent one of their own to talk him into coming out.

“The messenger approached the thicket and warned the vato to come out. The response was that of weapons cocking and the warning, ‘you’ll be my peseta.’

“‘I don’t hear anything!,’ the messenger called back to his people.

“From then on, southerners call northerners The Deaf Ones.

“Harr harr harr, the southerner laughed alone.

“Didn’t get the punch line?

“It’s where the southerner tells the northerners they’re deaf. Harr harr harr.”

Oscar Rodriguez is the creator and host of Caló.