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I keep hearing this word "ese" (also spelled "esé" or "ése") on TV used when parodying Spanish speakers. It's often used in a very funny way to indicate friend or homie but I can't tell what it means. Googling produced mixed results where some said it was a fake word used only in Hollywood, others claimed it just meant friend, and some claimed its like using the n-word.

Can someone clarify the meaning of ese (as used in this context) and explain if it is derogatory or not? If obviously don't want to use it if it is!

Additional info from comment:

I've seen it in comedy sketches by Key and Peele. Key often talks in a mock Spanish speaking accent. I'm not sure what nationality or ethnicity it is supposed to represent, but the jokes are of a sort of parody-like nature in that he is skirting the line between funny and racist as comedians sometimes do. Example: East Side Locos Tagger

  • Is there any example of such an use you can point to? I agree with the answers given below but I can't think of how ese can be used in parody. – JMVanPelt May 2 '15 at 21:02
  • Key and Peele. Key often talks in a mock Spanish speaking accent. I'm not sure what nationality or ethnicity it is supposed to represent, but the jokes are of a sort of parody like nature in that he is skirting the line between funny and racist as comedians sometimes do. Maybe parody isn't the right word. If u have a better one, let me know and I'll change it. Here's the example: youtu.be/fwQXwlg5JU0 – Stan Shunpike May 2 '15 at 21:42
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Looking at the video you mentioned, and doing some googling, it turns out that ese (which has the gramatically correct meanings mentioned in the other answers) is a Spanglish slang to refer to someone, generally the person you are talking to. There are no academic sources for that, but here's a very plausible explanation:

In some places, "ese" (pronounced es-say) is just a slang way of refering to a guy. No different than dude, bro or man. [...] In short, ese can be a neutral term for any average guy or it can be a statement of one's gang affiliation.

3

Ese is a demonstrative adjective (quiero ese libro, I want that book) or a demonstrative pronoun (quiero ese, I want that one). As a pronoun, it's sometimes written with an accent on the stressed syllable: ése. (RAE, see the 1st meaning of ese, esa, eso)

Ese can be used to refer to people, and it sometimes has a pejorative connotation (RAE, see the 2nd meaning of ese, esa, eso):

No conozco al tipo ese. (I don't know that guy.)

Ese es un imbécil. (That [guy] is a moron.)

3

Actually, the word "ese" originated in Mexico City as a urban slang used among kids in the neighborhoods. Kids would use that as a term for "dude" or "hey, man", so it has not negative or offensive meaning. Gangs in East Los Angeles adapted the term since they are of Mexican descent and it is a very common word used among kids and teenagers who lived in urban areas in Mexico City.

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I am sort of weirded out by this thread!!! I am from California, but the strange nitpick on the use of ese in Mexican dialects sounds almost like it’s being answered by a bunch of folks who either did not grow up or have been exposed to common “California/Baja” Spanish usage, Idioms or slang, but are still of Mexican descent, or it is being answered by more people who never spoke Spanish in their lives, perhaps trying to find a translations to a meme or similar joke. You aren’t going to find a proper translation online for this use of the word..

It’s actually easier than all this. To answer the question alone, for this circumstance only, it can be replaced in English with any of these words:

Homie, Holmes, Bro, Dude, etc.

if an accent is heavy, it is because the person saying it has a heavy accent. A MEXICAN ACCENT, and anyone repeating it that doesen't belong to that sort of Barrio culture, is portraying what they hear from Mexicans saying it. Or, making fun of Mexicans. Not cool, homie. (Homie switched out for ese).

The use of this word, and whether it is maliciously intended or in good faith, depends on if it is being said one of those ways or not, exactly like how it is in English. if you were to use one of the equivalent words i mentioned above...

“What’s your problem, Bro?” sounds menacing, hostile in english
“Hey! Bro! How’s it going?” sounds friendly in English.
“Dude! You shoulda seen it!” sounds neutral in english too.

However, You still would not say that neutral use of ‘Dude’ while talking to your great aunt Beatrice, right?

And just like in English, these Bro, Dude etc names are slang, and you would never call grandpa “Bro” and demand a high five. It’s rude.

So, “que onda, ese?” (or the equivalent english “What’s up, yo?” ) Are phrases no one would ever use when speaking to grandma, relatives or respected community members, however this usage is OK among peers, it’s just common slang which anyone might find offensive, it just depends on who thinks that way.

I believe its like using the evil “N” word being white, no matter how good of a friend you are to an African American person, you don’t get to use it. ever.

This rule can be applied to anyone who isn’t Mexican trying to use "ese" as slang. *Not cool, Brah.* At best you'd make a fool of yourself, at worst, depending on where you are, you could get in trouble you didn't need to get in to in the first place. Always use common sense.

However you DO get a free pass using "ese" as slang if you are trying to sing along to any Cypress Hill lyrics and you HAVE to sing to "Insane in the Membrane"-

nobody cares if you can’t control yourself cuz nobody can,

also if you are paraphrasing your favorite lines from any movie portraying Barrio culture

In general, as with all slang, if you have to ask, you should probably not be using it, but if you want to know just to understand what’s going on if you hear it, there’s no reason to not be privy to the social usage of a slang word in a language that you SHOULD know if you are living in certain areas of the United States.

Summed up, any way you can think of to use “Dude” in English, aside from its proper, webster’s Dictionary use of the term in regard to horse ranches etc. is what “ese” means in the Mexican dialects of Spanish in this context only. Ignore all the other urban dictionary stuff and other proper uses.

  • 1
    This is a great answer, although perhaps a bit on the passionate side, i took the liberty of doing some edits to clarify and take some edge off that may come across as hostile. But the answer does make a very important point about the usage of slang in a multicultural context , Having lived in the LAX area, and lived this kind of experiences, I couldn't agree more on using common sense, specially in today's politically charged social climate, where misunderstandings may spark unneeded tensions between communities. Learning words in other languages in good faith always builds bridges, – hlecuanda Jul 9 '18 at 12:55
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In some contexts you also use "eseeeeeee", with a phonetically longer ending "e", just to express something similar to "that's it dude" or "you rock!". This is specially used in parodying comedian shows.

Hope it helps.

  • @Carlos Alejo de hecho, cosas como hope it helps sí suele recomendarse que se elimine. Interesante debate en What should I keep out of my posts and titles? - no es documentación oficial, pero fue escrita por un Community Manager de Stack Exchange. Enlaza con lo que comenté el otro día de Escribamos títulos de preguntas más concretos y textos con menos ruido. – fedorqui 'SO stop harming' Jun 16 '16 at 7:44
  • @fedorqui, entiendo la postura y la respetaré si es mayoritaria, pero no la comparto. Yo entiendo que ese tipo de mensajes no se pongan en páginas como la Wikipedia, que es un sitio enciclopédico, pero los sitios de Stack Exchange en el fondo no dejan de ser foros. Si a un usuario le sale del alma decir que espera que su mensaje sea de utilidad, no veo por qué no respetarlo, yo me sentiría un poco mal si escribo eso con toda mi buena intención y me lo eliminan. Otra cosa es eliminar frases como "perdón por la respuesta tardía" y cosas así, que eso sí lo entiendo. – Charlie Jun 16 '16 at 7:53
  • @fedorqui yo propondría dejar el texto de "hope it helps" en la respuesta para no hacer sentir mal al usuario, pero avisarle de que su respuesta siempre ayuda y que no es necesario que lo escriba en el futuro. – Charlie Jun 16 '16 at 7:54
  • @CarlosAlejo dejemos este "hope it helps", vale. Este sería un buen debate para Spanish Language Meta. En general, coincido en que no hay que ser excesivamente puristas: en sitios como Stack Overflow (donde empecé yo) sí lo son porque hay una gran cantidad de actividad, por lo que es importante dejar el mínimo imprescindible para minimizar ruido. Muchas respuestas que vemos aquí que son apenas una línea se tienden a convertir en comentarios, por ejemplo. Volviendo a este caso, los elementos tangenciales a las respuestas las puede añadir el propio autor pero en comentarios, como estamos haciendo aquí ahora. – fedorqui 'SO stop harming' Jun 16 '16 at 8:19
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Ese has multiple proper uses, such as Quiero ese coche, "I want that car!" Quiere ese coche, "Do you want that car?" It is also used predominantly in Mexican or Mexican American/Chicano slang as part of a greeting "Qvo (what's up) ese?" or depending on the intonation "Qvo ese!!!" (said with grit or malice) can be a challenge/confrontation of someone. I have also seen and heard it used with derogatory overtones (re: movie "Next Friday" and "Training Day"). That "Ese" or Eses" over there as the term for Mexican American/Chicano people.

  • This is an interesting contribution, Cesar. the part that I didn't understand is "Qvo." Is it sort of an abbreviation for "Quiubo" (derived from "Qué hubo"? – aparente001 Jun 2 '18 at 14:22
  • @aparente001 indeed it is: q'vo – ukemi Jul 7 '18 at 17:47
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Literally, "ese" is a demonstrative pronoun which can mean it, that thing over there, that person over there. However, the Latinamerican dictionary Así Hablamos gives this use of the demonstrative pronoun "ese" for Ecuador:

Sustitución despectiva de él ¡Míralo a ese! ==> Míralo a él | Pejorative substitution for "him"

This definition fits perfectly with what I learned in the 1980's living in a provincial university town in Mexico, far from Mexico City and even farther from the northern border areas where the drug business and gang activity were starting to build up. I'm quite certain the meaning and usage I was taught had nothing to do with gangs or anything related to gangs.

Now, with the help of Urban Dictionary, here's what I believe is going on in the Key & Peele sketch. Key is playing a California latino gang leader. His use of "Ese" is analogous to how you might hear young African American men greet each other with "Nigga." A term originally (and in some circles still) used by racist whites to refer pejoratively to African Americans has been appropriated, with a slight change in pronunciation and spelling, to mean

fellow tribesman and badass

where I'm using "tribe" to mean racial/ethnic peer group, and I'm using "badass" to mean a formidable and intimidating person.

In the case of ese, it's not a term originally used by people outside the group, but the backdrop of racism is still there, upping the ante, and we see a similar appropriation of a pejorative term as part of a reclaiming of cultural identity and building up of personal self-esteem and group-level ethnic pride.

Note, at least one of the Urban Dictionary entries uses the spelling "esé," but there is a helpful audio recording at https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=esé which shows that the accent is not used to indicate a stress on the last syllable, as in formal Spanish, but rather, to indicate that the whole word is stressed when used as a greeting.

Key uses the term to build the character he's playing, to make the comedy sketch work.

Key and Peele's comedic work with racial stereotypes has been described this way:

Key & Peele’s best sketches are subversive, but still sensitive to the fact that if you joke about a marginalized group, you don’t do so in a vacuum. They’re aware that comedy can either “punch up” against the established hierarchy or “punch down” against people who are already vulnerable.

In other words, it's complicated.

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It's Mexican Spanish slang to refer to a person, analogous to tío, hombre etc (or dude, bro, man in English). It's not inherently derogatory, but could be used disparagingly in a certain context.

It's very distinctive of Mexican Spanish, so is often used as an easy marker in television etc to imply someone is Mexican, or generally 'hispanic' (since Mexican Spanish varieties are the biggest influence on US perception of the language as a whole).

e.g. Jaime Reyes/Blue Beetle in Young Justice uses it frequently (a character of Mexican descent, growing up in El Paso, Texas).


ese, sa.

■ M. y F.
supran. Persona indeterminada; "Estaba un ese esperando en la puerta del edificio".

ese, -a.

I. 1. m. y f. EU. Hombre o mujer. pop.

ése

...
3. (Mexico, vocative) dude, guy, pal, man

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If you say: "Que onda, ese" it's like "what's up, dude". You wouldn't use this expression to address any person of respect such as your boss, your dad, your dad-in-law, etc. In fact, the use of this expression will give the worst impression unless it's said to a close friend. This expression is usually frowned upon and it's considered rude when it's said out of the slums.

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