By RICARDO CASTILLO
There’s always been political slang wherever there are politics, which is in every territory that has an organized government administration. In this sense, Mexico is no different. But for this writer, there are two words currently in Mexican political vogue that were not always there before. In fact, these words that came into fashion in the few years of the third millennium, but seemingly, they are here to stay.
Hence, we’d like to share with Pulse News Mexico’s English-speaking readers the meaning of the words “fifi” and “chairo,” used to describe two very different voting groups belonging to conservative and left-leaning ideologies, respectively. The one consistent element between fifis and chairos is their disdainful dislike for each other. These are words just now making it into Mexican dictionaries, but which anyone who is interested in Mexico must inevitably add to their vocabulary.
Also, it must be underscored, that neither of these groups are violent – though their language against each other may be quite aggressive. They are representative of the political and ideological divide splitting the nation at the moment, but all of it within democratic standards and thus far, respectful of the results of the election programs officially established by Congress and operated by the National Electoral Institute (INE.)
Though this writing is not intended to be a highbrow language essay, most definitely the Spanish language etymology of the two words and how they came to be ideological differentiators even in folk slang is relevant.
Both words appeared in Mexican slang in different eras, and for different reasons, so as in a play, let’s take them in order of appearance:
The word fifi first appeared in Mexico City social cant circa 1895, during the peak of then-President Porfirio Díaz’s 32-year-old dictatorship, to describe elegant French mannerisms, very much in fashion in those days.
Society at the time was polarized, and the upper crust of society began using the term “muy fifí” to mean very posh, elegant-looking. Probably the word was overused by the high society of the day because soon the not-so-wealthy adopted it as a mocking term to describe, what else, the fifis.
By natural cultural evolution, the word took a giant roll forwards with the advent of the modern, two wheels of a chain bicycle around the turn of the century. With bicycles, which were around 1889, horses tended to disappear and that was something to celebrate- since the new vehicle was the height of fashion.
In 1896, musician Salvador Morlet composed a polka devoted to bicycles called indeed “Las Bicicletas” and which immediately hit at the time number one at the top-ten of the time (recording had been hear of by then) but was numero uno at dance halls. Fun to hear and fun to dance.
The lyrics celebrated the bicycle as the disappearance of the horse from city streets but also described in one verse who were the fashionable bicycle riders:
“They are the fifis of the neighborhood, fifis of the ballrooms, who dress, in tune with fashion, in their short-tailed coats.” (“Son los fifis del barrio, fifis de los alones, que usan según la moda, sus sacos rabones.”)
After that and with the explosive years of the Mexican Revolution, the term went out of fashion, but only after having gained not only popularity as a social descriptive word but also a place in Mexican dictionaries as such. The term was first used politically during the years previous to the 1910 Mexican Revolution to describe the wealthy ruling class.
For literature buffs, the first mention of the word can be found in a short story by French author Guy de Maupassant, called “Mademoiselle Fifi,” describing the tale of a Prussian officer who used the term “fi, fi donc” (hence nicknamed thus by other officers, killed by a French prostitute. It has nothing to do, however, with the Mexican etymology.)
After a century of being out of use, the word fifi was revived by now-Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who says that the fifís are “two-faced, conservative, know-it-all, hypocritical puppets” and who denies inventing the political term.
“I did not make up the term fifí.,” he has said. “It was used to describe those who were opposed to President Francisco I. Madero,” who democratically ousted Porfirio Díaz, only to be toppled in 1912 by a military coup.
AMLO has been using the term fifí since 2005, when he made his first presidential bid, but since then he has hammered it so much in the ears of voters that the term is back, only this time,it has nothing to do either with bicycles or fashion.
The origins of the term “chairo” is a whole different story. It is indeed new and the only thing that makes sense in tracking its etymology is the wit and salaciousness of Mexicans to distort the meaning of a term that once meant something else.
If you want to be straight, “chayro” or “chayru” is a soup popular in South America (Bolivia and Ecuador, plus parts of Chile), which is a balderdash of leftovers that includes dried beef and lamb as protein. It’s considered a poor man’s meal.
The term was used in Chile to describe leftwing politicians who backed former President Salvador Allende. After the 1973 coup d’état, many of the leftists fled to Mexico, where they received political asylum. A few described themselves as “chairos,” but since most Mexicans do not know chairo soup, the term never made sense to them. The few who fled the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship soon left the term behind. Hence the term “chairo” to describe a leftwing politician literally never existed in Mexico before now.
What did exist was the word “chaira,” an instrument popularly known among shoe repairmen and butchers to describe the sharpening steel rod they use in their trades.
Then, in modern slang the word “chaira” began being used, mostly by Mexico City youths, to describe masturbation, an act previously known as “chaqueta” or jacket. Hence the original modern meaning related to the XXI century would be masturbators, specifically defining men (chaira is a femenine term), turning the word into “chairos.”
In traditional Mexico folklore, it has always been believed that masturbation causes mental retardation. So chairo really means masturbator.
Mexico was ruled between 2000 and 2012 by National Action Party (PAN) ultra conservative presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón. In his 2006 presidential campaign, Calderón, who won by less than 1 percent of the vote, ran on the slogan “López Obrador is a danger to Mexico.”
But off publicity and airwaves, the word of mouth propaganda phrase that only a chairo (mentally retarded masturbator) would vote for AMLO was also used to counter the then-Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) candidate.
Then again, during the 2012 presidential campaign, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) repeated and popularized the term chairo to the point that nowadays the more than 30 million Mexicans who cast their vote for AMLO are often referred to as “chairos.” Not nice, but these elections were hardball dirty politics.
In any case, now a great majority of Mexicans are chairos, given their vote for AMLO and the remaining splintered minorities — the PAN, PRI and PRD — are the fifi parties and are in a shambles.
The word chairo is now gaining popularity, but even if I voted for AMLO in the last election, the idea of being called a chairo really doesn’t bring the image of a Chilean leftwing chairo soup eater, but the other reference I just told you about.