Word of the Week: ¡Ay, Caramba!

Definition: ¡Ay, caramba!

Slang: An exclamation of surprise, shock or disappointment.  Can be positive or negative.

Alternative Spellings: Aye Caramba, Ay Carumba

Example: Jenny drove onto the highway, saw the huge traffic jam and said, "Ay caramba! I'm going to be late for work!"

Viva España! In celebration of Spain's record-breaking Euro 2012 win against Italy on Sunday night, our Word of the Week is one that's been borrowed from Spanish.

"Ay caramba!" is an expression that gets used a lot in the USA, especially those parts with a large Latin American population.  It's also very common in Mexico.

Like a lot of slang, it has no direct translation.  It depends entirely on the situation in which it is used.  It can mean "Oh no!" or "Oh my gosh!", or "Wow!", but it's usually used to express surprise, either good or bad.

Origin and Popular Use

The original phrase "¡Ay, caramba!" was first used by a Flamenco dancer called La Caramba in the 1770s.  It was her catch-phrase, and she said it whenever she finished a dance routine. She actually borrowed it from a much less polite expression.

That means it is what we call a minced oath - or a swear word that has been changed to a much more polite word.

Since then it has been used by a number of books and TV shows, most notably:

  • By a sailor in Herman Melville's Moby Dick
  • By a Mexican bull in a Daffy Duck cartoon
  • The character General Alcazar in the Tintin cartoons
  • a 1998-2006 Spanish Candid Camera TV show called Ay Caramba
  • And most famously, by Bart Simpson, on just about every early episode of The Simpsons

Bart Simpson and The Simpsons © 20th Century Fox

Ay caramba is a "borrowed" expression.  It's not an English word but we use it a lot in English. Other examples are "bon voyage" (have a good journey) borrowed from French, and "amigo", which is Spanish for friend.

What words from your language have been borrowed by English?

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