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I found this in Barron's Spanish-English dictionary and it piqued my interest:


It seems like a sure way to get into trouble in the wrong crowd. Do Spanish speakers use the "¡(No) Hay moros en la costa!" expression?

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The moors were people of dark skin that comes from Africa since the days of the Roman Empire. I the Middle Age those moors became muslims. Son as many people explained before, during the 7 centuries of the Islamic presence in Spain in many battles you can see moors in the coast. It means the enemy or someone unwelcome or undesirable people is close to you. Answering your second question, yes, we use it a lot. I use to say: Hay moros en mi costa when I call by phone and I can't speak freely. –  Aradnix Sep 22 at 17:25

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The dictionary definition is wrong.

"Muslim" is translated as "Musulmán", which means somebody belonging to a specific religion. "Moro" means somebody belonging to a specific race: those who invaded Iberian Peninsule and its descendants, part of the current non-bereber population of Morocco.

The expression "(No) haber moros en la costa" is in no way pejorative, and can be safely used both in positive and negative forms.

The use of the word "moro" by itself is not pejorative if used in an Historic way (e.g. if you are talking about the Almohade empire, the so-called Spanish Reconquest period or the Taifas), but it most probably is if you are using it today in a non-ethnic way (e.g. "I was in a shop and it was filled with moros"). Only safe usage about today people is the ethnic way: "La población marroquí actual se compone de dos ramas principales: moros y bereberes". Even this one could be received as pejorative by some, even while it is not.

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I agree except that moro can be used to someone who belong to Islam. RAE 3rd definition 3.adj. Que profesa la religión islámica –  AlexBcn Apr 22 '14 at 17:50
Moro is a reference to the Moors, which were the Muslims from Morocco. So technically, Moor is a reference to the place, which happened to be overwhelmingly Muslim. As a result, the meanings were collapsed. –  Chuck Krutsinger Apr 22 '14 at 22:07
@AlexBcn I know the RAE definition, but it is from just a linguistic point of view (e.g. how the language is used). I would never consider an Indonesian muslim a "moro". Historical POV is more correct than liguistic one, almost always. –  Envite Apr 23 '14 at 9:05
@ChuckKrutsinger Not all muslims from Morocco are moors. As I said above, some of them are bereber, quite a different race, with different customs. –  Envite Apr 23 '14 at 9:06
@Envite I'm not sure everyone agrees with you about the meaning of Moors. begins with "The Moors were the medieval Muslim inhabitants of Morocco, western Algeria, Western Sahara, Mauritania, the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily, and Malta. Their descendants are presently known as the Maghrebis." –  Chuck Krutsinger Apr 23 '14 at 14:18

After over 700 years of war between the Muslims and the Catholics, it is not hard to understand the origin of this phrase. I repeat, 700 years of war! This is not including the Conquest wars after 1492 (The year in which the 700 year war ended and the Conquest began)

The phrase is no more pejorative than calling a Muslim a Muslim.

You could easily relate this phrase to The red coats are coming!. Although, most have never said nor heard The red coats aren't coming, the phrase The coast is clear suffices to say the least.

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This statement is not intended to be offensive, it is sort of a slang for "is the coast clear?" Its background portrays to the history of Spain regaining their territories from the Moors.

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This is actually used but It is not used to offend anybody. Actually I didn't know the origin of this but it seems to have one related with invasions as this blog says and also this one.

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I understand that I'm commenting on an answer posted more than a year ago, but as it is, it says nothing if those links break or the pages they link go dead. For the next time, better to add here as quotes the most relevan part of those links you are referencing. –  Diego Sep 24 at 15:24

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