X, Ex, o Equis


Náhuatl, the lingua franca (how ridiculous does that term sound in this context?) of the Aztec Empire, has left its mark on the world, even on us gringos. Avocado, tomato, coyote, chocolate, chili, all of those words are vestiges of Náhuatl. This is what it sounds like. Even more noticeable are the numerous place names that have remained from Pre-Columbian times. Take a look at the above map of the region, and you’ll find a lot of names ending with -atl, -ote, -tepec, etc. One thing stood out the most to me: the letter X.

Normally, the letter X doesn’t feature heavily in any romance language. But in Mexican Spanish, there seem to be a lot of consonants shooting off the tongue. Take the ch sound, for example. Chili. Chiapas. Chilango. Chingón (excuse my lingua franca). With ch, the syllable that contains it takes center stage and we know exactly how the word is pronounced.

Not so simple with X. For English speakers, X is always pronounced the same. But in this part of the world, X can take on a range of sounds depending on its placement and how much effort the speaker is willing to make (because, let’s face it, inserting a “ks” in the middle of a word is annoying). Here’s a sampling:

Mexico (“me-hi-ko“) – contemporary city, state, & country

Mexica (“me-ksi-ka“) – the old empire

Tlaxcala (“tla-ska-la“) – state to the east of CDMX

Xochimilco (“so-chi-mil-ko“) – district in the south of CDMX, with the famed canals

Oaxaca (“wa-ha-ka“) – state & city in the south

Texcoco (“tes-ko-ko“) – the enormous lake that used to exist where CDMX is today

Huexotla (“we-shot-la“) – neighborhood in Xochimilco, and the name of an Aztec ruin

Oxxo (“okso“) – the Duane Reade of CDMX

The poxxibilixies are endlex. Where will it xtop?



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