Jaume Fabre of La Vanguardia has spent his summer discovering what everyone else who had encountered the Real Academia Española already knew: that the racist term, guiri, used in Spain and in particular in Catalunya to denominate members of the Anglosphere and other post-Saxons and northern Slavs, probably originates in a word used by the Carlists to describe their liberal opponents during the 1830s civil war.

Apart from the fact that I suspect that it didn’t occur to him to Google the word, I’m surprised that he doesn’t seem aware that guiri is not used to indicate the heavy-drinking, promiscuous lifestyle he describes in his distinctly Jurassic diatribe against the permissive sociey. You, my dear Mr/Ms Anglo, can wear your Boss rags, drink nothing but coffee, speak fluent Catalan, get married in a Catholic church, and you’ll still be a guiri for the rest of your life in Barcelona. On the other hand, crazy old Jaume can drink as much as he want and have wild sex on the beach every Saturday night and he’ll never become one. It’s a racial term, just like moro (Moor, ie African, black, Arab, etc), chino (Chinese, ie anyone from East and Southeast Asia), and paquistaní (Pakistani, ie anyone from the Indian sub-continent, including Mr Vajpayee if he ever takes a holiday here).

For a thorougly competent history and sociology of the word, check Nadja Monnet’s 2001 essay, Moros, sudacas y guiris, una forma de contemplar la diversidad humana en Barcelona. I admit that that I’m still tempted by the etymology that traces guiri back to the onomatopoeism for babble, guirigay (Catalan: guirigall). Here are a couple of intriguing examples of usage:

  1. No entiendo estos guirigayes (1734 Real Academia Dictionary)
  2. güiri-güiri: (m.) voz onomatopéyica que representa el sonido de charla animada. Por estar en el güiri-güiri, a Martina se le quemó la cena. (Mexican section of Jergas de habla hispana (Hispanic argots))
  3. Y mi casa no es casa. ?Es un guirigay! (Federico García Lorca, La zapatera prodigiosa. Farsa violenta en dos actos.)

If I could show that Lorca’s cobbler’s hovel had been invaded by Geordies, my reputation would be made.

And there ends my lunchtime rant.

If you’re interested in this kind of thing, then you definitely need to check the rest of the site of the University of Barcelona’s Geography Department.

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