Who Is Matthew Alice, Gringo?

Heymatt: We all know the story of how many Lassies there were covering the collie’s illustrious career in show biz. How many Matthew Alices have there been? I have noticed a dramatic change in the style of writing from the first Matthew Alice columns to the most recent musings. Not a more mature or subdued style but a totally different pattern of writing. Fess up, Alice, if that’s your real name. What have you done with the original Alice? — Bob, via email

I guess it’s about time for this question to circle around again. “Who are you, Matthew?” “What are you, Matthew?” “How can you be who you say you are, Matthew?” “Why don’t I ever see you downtown?” “Where do the elves go at night?” Decades of the same questions that I re-answer from time to time, just to cut down on the volume temporarily. But this one has a twist. Sounds as if Bob maybe did a lit-crit paper on “The Evolution of Alice Grammar and Syntax” or something. Exactly how far back did you go, Bob? Did you get permission to search through the crumbling clip files in the Reader offices, back to the simple days when we were an eight-page beach broadsheet published out of a garage? Well, I claim the right to change. A totally different pattern of writing? Like, what? I didn’t use verbs and now I do? Poppycock. Granted, there was a time when I tried out each of the elves to see if any of them knew a topic sentence from a gerund. That failed pretty miserably, and since then I’ve cobbled everything together myself. So, until I get more details about how I’m completely different from the Reader’s salad days, I claim no harm, no foul. I’m me, and proud of it. But I’m open to examples of how radically different I used to be (full examples, with pub dates, please). Humph. What did I do with the original Alice? Well, the original Alice is now better dressed, with a cooler, classier air than the board-short hippie I used to be. Okay, does that answer everybody’s “who are you” questions for the next few years, at least? I hope so. We’ll throw out all the ones that are lurking in the files and start over clean. Yippee!

Hey, Matt: While passing the time with my fellow brothers here at the San Diego Rescue Mission, the subject came up regarding the term GRINGO. I think this means white American in Spanish, I said. But when corrected by a fellow brother, he said GRINGO means GREEN GOLD. He went on to explain that way back when people used gold as a way of buying and selling stuff. And when the U.S. came up with paper money that was green and did the same thing as gold did in commerce, the people, South (Mexico) of the border referred to the green paper money as GREENGOLD, and also that the people from North (USA) of the border were referred to as GRINGOS because they possessed the GREENGOLD! HUH!!! I have lived in San Diego for 38 years and hope you and the elves, if they are available (I know it’s Spring Break and they’re probably in TJ), can finally put some closure on this subject once and for all. — Stephen, San Diego

Green gold, eh? That’s probably the most convoluted, confounded, con-fusing explanation we’ve ever heard here. And we’ve heard a few. It’s bogus, of course. Sorry to say that ’bout a brutha, but he’s got it all wrong. But you already suspected that, didn’t you? You just wanted me to tell him so he wouldn’t get all grumpy with you. Glad to be of help.

Add “green gold” to the list of wrongheaded explanations: it comes from a song sung by Americans during the Mexican war, “Green Grow the Lilacs” (“green grow,” “gringo,” got it?) or from Americans’ green uniforms (the Mexicans yelled “Green go!” which is nutty since they’d be speaking Spanish, not English). So, what’s true?

First recorded use of “gringo”? In a Mexican publication of 1787; it meant “foreigner” or someone who speaks funny. Bird boy John J. Audubon in 1849 wrote that he and his party were hooted at and called “gringoes” by local Mexicans. An American book published in 1850 was titled Los Gringos: or, an Inside View of Mexico and California. So much for the “green gold” idea.

The word nerds have rooted around for a source for “gringo,” and they think they’ve hit on the answer. Consider the Spanish word griego, Greek. There’s an expression translated into virtually all European languages, which began in ancient Rome: “It’s all Greek to me,” meaning, “What the hey…?” Something Greek has always been something incomprehensible, especially speech. Likely that Americans were first griegos, then compressed to “gringos.” A much more boring explanation than “green gold,” but that’s the world of word nerds. You start out excited and end up with a big snooze.

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Actually, what with being a gringo myself, I sleuthed the etymology out years ago. The word "gringo" appears in Spanish literature dating back to the sixteenth century, and you are correct, it comes from the word "Griego", meaning Greek, and this goes back to Roman times. When the Romans conquered the Greeks, they didn't exactly enslave the entire population; much of Roman history is bound to Greek thought and philosophy because the intelligent Greeks became a part of Roman society. It wasn't so much that the Greek was incomprehensible, more that the Greek accent speaking Latin was difficult to understand.

Likewise, in Spain back in the late 1500's, there were many Northern Europeans who migrated into Spain (that was where the gold was, after all), and while they learned to speak Spanish, it wasn't easy to understand them. Gringo was a wonderful bastardization of Griego in order to affect a similar meaning.

I should have known that you'd add some polish to my answer, Refried, gringo that you are. (And that's pa-lish, not poh-lish, though Polish is Greek to me.) Thanks for helping to make Straight from the Hip the wiseguy's answer to Wikipedia.

Anytime, Matt. Another interesting aside concerning the perceived origin of the word "gringo": Here in Mexico, there are many natives that believe the word came from "Green, Go!", from when the U.S. invaded and marched into central Mexico (according to Mexican history books; according to U.S. history books, it was an "excursion" - somewhere in the middle lies the truth, I reckon). Supposedly, the green was in reference to the uniforms the Americans wore, as you mention. This is a highly romantic notion of a word invention, and it is almost impossible to convince any Mexican that truly believes this tale otherwise (believe me, I have tried on many an occasion). Even mentioning the fact that the U.S. Army uniforms were brown during that era draws complete skepticism.

It's time for the longtime MA puzzle to finally be solved once and for all. As a contributing Reader writer/cartoonist for over 15 years and counting, I've been sitting on the secret far too long. The mysterious columnist known as Matthew Alice is in reality, and has always been

aaaak --- thpppt

(Funeral donations to the family of the late Jayallen can be forwarded thru the Reader)

Big big check is in the mail as we speak.

It's apparent by now that CuddleFish is actually spelled C-u-t-t-h-r-o-a-t T-r-o-u-t. The sole check to be considered should be a self-imposed dreckcheck. Yecch. Nasty, nasty vibes. Stand proud, Sarah, uh, I mean CF.

Hee-hee-hee-hee-hee! (Grandma Alice and elves joining in the chorus)

And RG, I did mention "Green go!" in my answer, I believe. It's truly a harebrained explanation, no?

You certainly did, Matt, and I pointed that out while offering that the U.S. Army uniforms were brown at the time. Major buzz-kill for those who insist on believing. A future Mathew Alice article might wish to go into the origin of the name of my city, Tijuana. Yes, there really was an "aunt Jane", but did she really start this place? It's an interesting beginning.

re #4: Having known two Reader writers, of course I am also sitting on the secret, but shall never never tell. Shame and a pox upon those who uncloak others' identities.

That, and-- goodness. Someone's at the door at this hour? Gotta go. ;)

I'll never reveal that Matthew Alice is actually the same writer that goes by the name of... oh, hell another aftershock? Back to Twitter, I have a bunch of media hounds hungry for information.

There are so many of this sort of explanation that make wonderful stories. Too bad that most of them are not true! One piece of speculation is circulated and takes on a life of its own. Next thing you know it is accepted as fact.

"That, and-- goodness. Someone's at the door at this hour? Gotta go. ;)"

Do share, SD - friend or faux?

My own interpretation as to the etymology of the word "gringo" has to do with the spending proclivities of turistas yanquis - as in watching the "green go".

re: post 13:

Duhbya, "faux," rather... two CIA agents at the door. Agent #1 with a pencil thin tie (guess the Fed has a Prada budget these days for some 'outfits'), and a tone of voice just as menacingly thin and tightly knotted, wanted to know where I learned certain "informations" about one Matthew Alice.

Agent #2 just stood there, pointing his ears at me in a most intimidating fashion--which put me in such a fluster that I actually forgot to wonder how it was possible to point one's ears at a person.

I protested innocence, and averred that my part in this discussion was only a brief continuance of the silliness of a farce perpetrated by jayallen in post 4.

The two agents stared me down in the annoyingly (to them) soft, pink-tinted light of my foyer, but coupled with that glare, it was as effective as if they had directed a brutal 1000-watt bulb at my peepers. I was ready to drop the machinations, and sobbingly confess all I had--but just then, there was a wooden thump, without much resonation on the hallway's cheap linoleum tile. Then another--thwump! and two more in succession...thwump--thwa--thwump!

As Agent #2 had leaned forward, intent on ear-pointing, one of his lobes caught on Agent #1's razerous tie, and the two of them lost their land legs in a sudden complex tangle so hilarious that I wish I'd installed video cameras, so I could have it forever to replay in slow mo.

--Literally lost their legs--for there lay on my foyer floor for anyone to see: four little roughly carved pine stilts. Two elves in coats now daddy-length swathes of material, leapt nimbly to their feet, but the look on their faces, colored hotly in the aforementioned pink glow of the hallway ambiance bulb,-- oh god, that flush of embarrassment alone could have launched a reality show or two!

So...I finished..."It's a rather late hour, don'tcha think? But I've got some cocoa and Keebler cookies! In fact, I've also got some sewing to do...and vaccuming, and all sorts of things you guys are supposed to do in the middle of the night, right? Hey! Love those slippers--I'm looking for some like those--with the bell!"

They scrambled up, grabbing their stilts, and swished away with all of the dignity they could muster, hampered by long bridal trains of coat and pant leg.

"Grandma'll kill us" I thought I heard one of them mutter, then the hall door slammed shut.

Re #14: Wow, who knew? Undercover CIA brownies among us? I'm just relieved that you survived intact. And I'm left with one nagging question from post #4 - who is "aaaak --- thpppt"? Al diel shala.

aaaak thpppt is what it says on my passport, which also bears someone else's photo. a surprisingly useful document. much can be accomplished while officials are thrown into confusion. And I can only offer a tip of the Matthew Alice hat to SD for enduring federal agents and papparazzi on my behalf. actually, I am who I say I am. Matthew Alice. Simple as that.

oh, and I might add that John Brizzolara once nearly came to blows with a bar tender over the Matthew Alice identity, a moment I've always enjoyed imagining. Brizz cowering, beer flying, yelling heard out on the streets.... Much ado about something or other, but not much.

"Much ado about something or other, but not much."

Finally! I been racking my brain trying to figure out why anybody would care about this. Suggestion: GAL.

ok well i haven't read all of the above comments, but it is my understanding (at least from my 3rd grade world geography...or was it history..hey it was a long time ago) "GRINGO" did have something to do with the green uniforms, although it was "GREEN COATS" that they were saying, which came out sounding like "GRINGO". this is just what i remember. if someone has already pointed this out, sorry :) xx

I guess when you're seven or eight, magics, a teacher must seem like the ultimate source of all knowledge and enlightenment. Too bad this one was just passing along misinformation. The American uniforms weren't green, they were brown, to begin with. So if for some reason the Mexicans were yelling in English, the word would now be BROWNGO. I'm beginning to think that our atmosphere filled with little floating bits of nonsense is perhaps another cause of global warming. It could be....

lol...ok, well i stand corrected then :) BTW I know your secret too :D my lips are sealed ;) xx

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