What Does the Word Pendejo Mean?  

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Are you currently learning Spanish as a second language? Do you live in a vibrant area that benefits from the beauty of Latin culture? Do you hang out with friends that are of South American heritage? If any of these questions happen to have “yes” for an answer, chances are you might have overheard the word “pendejo” and weren’t quite sure what it meant.

Maybe pendejo was said from one person to another, and they both erupted in laughter, and you wanted to be in on the joke. It also could have been used when someone was in a fit of rage towards the behavior of another person. Either way, you were unaware of what all the fuss was about. Now you can find out the pendejo meaning and what to keep in mind when using this word. 

Definition of Pendejo

Both Dictionary and Urban Dictionary define the word pendejo as Spanish slang for an idiot. The term pendejo literally translates to public hair, and This masculine noun gets used to refer to a man, and the feminine form of the word pendeja is used to refer to women. 

Some other synonyms for pendejo include loon, birdbrain, dullard, bubblehead, ninnyhammer, dunce, lunkhead, pinhead, mutt, and even the profanity word “asshole.” Clearly, this word is far from a compliment.

Even though pendejo may be considered a subtle insult to some people and more intense than hijo de puta (son of a bitch), generally in Spanish-speaking circles, it is still a put-down. But what is the origin of the word pendejo, and how did it emerge into this common Spanish slang term that has gone from meaning pubic hair to being used to call someone a jerk? 

History of Pendejo 

But in Spain, during 16th-century Spain, pendejo was starting off as a term that was used to describe pubescent teens that were acting older than their age and were viewing themselves as adults, oddly enough because they had grown pubic hair. Then moving forward; eventually, pendejo meant coward in the 17th century and was considered a way to make a mockery out of people. 

As history continued onward through the violent experience of colonization, Spanish would grow and expand into the common language that was spoken in a great deal of the Americas as it evolved beyond its European roots. Then by the time pendejo moved into the early part of the 1900s, the definition had expanded past the meaning “coward,” and it had transformed into calling someone stupid or dumb in the Americas instead of originally meaning that they were a scared individual.  

When Not to Use Pendejo

The bottom line is that pendejo is an offensive word, especially when it is being used with no comedic context. It is also insulting to people that don’t know you well enough to grant you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you aren’t trying to hurt their feelings. There is absolutely no reason to throw the word pendejo around in professional settings unless you would like to get fired or receive negative feedback from your employer. Also, it is not advised to use pendejo in formal settings such as meetings or business emails because it is very inappropriate. 

When You Can Use Pendejo

It is surely a common occurrence in Mexico and among people of Mexican heritage that live in the United States for there to be social sayings that incorporate the phrase pendejos in order to express that someone happens to be an idiot or absent-minded in their behavior. In the United States, the Southwest states like Texas may have an overlap of English and Spanish getting used, and it may be more frequent for pendejo to seep into everyday conversations. 

For example, there is the proverb, “Amor de lejos, Amor de pendejos” which translates in English as, “love from afar, love for pendejos.” But in order to use pendejo in a manner that conveys a friendly tone, you have to make sure that it is used in the right context. 

Do you have a young friend or family member that projects the swagger of someone much older than they actually are? Well, in the Spanish-speaking country of Argentina and several other locations in Latin America, pendejo is still getting used to referring informally to a young boy acting beyond their years, much in the way that pendejo was originally getting used in the beginning. 

In these locations, the cultural reference among friends is much easier to understand. But now that the word pendejo is getting adopted by a wide number of people in America that speak English as their first language, it can become very easy to find yourself in a situation with friends where the word comes up. If your relationship is open and casual enough where you are able to freely make fun of each other and not take it personally, pendejo should be able to be used when it is just among friends.