Pendejo is a Spanish word with a range of meanings, from “idiot” or “stupid” to a more affectionate term. It comes from Latin, and its literal translation is “pubic hair”.
While it can be used as an insult, it can also be said in a friendly way depending on the context. It is often encountered in movies and series, depicting scenes from Mexico or Central America.
Another widely known slur is Puta Madre which is perhaps even more often encountered than “Pendejo.”
The term “Pendejo” has Spanish roots. It’s derived from the Vulgar Latin word “pectiniculus”, meaning “pubic hair”, literally translating to “whooly”, alluding to the touch of pubic hair. The word was first used in the 16th century to describe preadolescent boys who believed they were already adults.
One of the earliest written examples of the word “Pendejo” can be found in a play by Sebastián de Horozco, published in the 1500s, used to refer to pubic hair. Over time, however, the expression started to shift towards manliness in general, which encompassed courage.
It wasn’t until the mid-17th century that the term came to mean “coward” and was used as an insult. This semantic shift continued in the 19th century, when “Pendejo” was often used with the meaning “lazy”. By the early 1900s, “Pendejo” had changed from “coward” to refer to someone who was dumb or stupid.
The whole etymology of the word is dissected in a Twitter thread by @DavidOBowles, shared on June 9th, 2019.
The word “Pendejo” is originated in Spain and then spread to Latin America through colonization.
Today, the word is commonly used as an insult in Spanish-speaking countries, with differing meanings, depending on the location it is used. In Argentina, for example, “Pendejo” is still used in the older sense of a young man trying to act as if he were older.
In recent years, “Pendejo” has become popular in English-speaking countries as well, thanks to the impact of Latino media in popular culture, partly thanks to Danny Trejo. The word has been featured in movies, TV shows, and video games. It also appears in reaction images and GIFs online, both on Spanish-speaking and English-speaking websites.
On September 17th, 2021, Enrique Iglesias released a single, titled “PENDEJO”.
The term also appears in the name of a popular Mexican podcast series, called “Pendejo Time”, which launched on December 11th, 2020.
Despite its negative connotations, “Pendejo” is often used as a term of endearment between friends. It can also be used to describe someone who is acting foolish or childish.
In 2021, a TikTok trend also emerged, where people dance and react to a parody edit of MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This”, replacing the chorus of the song with “Pendejo”.