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Reading an answer I saw a reference to the word "cuate", used in Mexico:

(...) es como amigos o compadres.

Wordreference translates it to "mate", "pal", "buddy" and RAE also has references to the word:

cuate, ta
Del náhuatl cóatl 'serpiente', 'mellizo'.
1. adj. Méx. mellizo (‖ nacido de un mismo parto). U. t. c. s.
2. adj. Méx. Igual o semejante.
3. m. y f. El Salv., Guat., Hond. y Méx. Camarada, amigo íntimo. U. t. c. adj.

But I still wonder: in what context is it used? Is it slang? What is its origin?

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    About the origin, if cuate originally meant mellizo, and you consider your close friends as being your brothers, the connection seems easy to make. But this is just my opinion. I am in fact quite more interested in your other questions about the contexts it is used in. – Charlie Jun 28 '16 at 12:31
  • Another use of this word is to tip one's hat to the Mexican people and culture. Quino did this in a dedication to a Mafalda collection. // It's more of a colloquialism than a slang term. – aparente001 Jun 1 '18 at 4:23
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I'm going to answer your questions one by one.

1) In what context is it used? It's used in two different ways: The first is used as the English word "twins", the second one is used in order to express a strong friendship with someone. The logic behind why the second meaning arose is simple: you are such good friends that you might as well be twins (because of the strength of a relationship with a twin).

2) Is it slang? No, since the word is defined by the RAE (Real Academia Española) it is an official word in the Spanish language.

3) Origin: Cuate comes from the language nahuatl and the word "cóatl", which means snake ("serpiente") or twin ("mellizo").

I'll attach you the link which contains the information: http://dle.rae.es/?id=BU52usF

I really hope it helps you.

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  • As properly explained by @Antonio Lopez Ruiz, "cuate" has been accepted as a spanish word. However, I hardly believe to see it as a translation for twin. I'ts my opinion that "cuate" belongs to the latin american vocabulary, meaning a very close friend ("bro" could be a translation to english), but I don't recommend anyone to translate twin as "cuate" in any written document. Keep in mind that the RAE dictionary remarks that it's a foreign word (extranjerismo), originated/used in Mexico. – Delonix R. Jul 1 '16 at 4:22
  • @DelonixR. I agree however we should add that it is not an hispanoamerican word but it is only restricted to some part of central america. As far as I know it is not used south of Honduras so it is not used in Panama and Costa Rica and in any part of south-america. – DGaleano Apr 11 '17 at 19:23
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    @DGaleano - Let's not forget that Mexico isn't a Central American country, but rather North American. – aparente001 Jun 1 '18 at 4:20
  • @DelonixR. - I don't think the question was restrict to formal writing. Informally in Mexico you can certainly use cuate in the twin sense. – aparente001 Jun 1 '18 at 4:21
  • Geography corrections? Ok, I think @aparente001 you understood that I meant the word is used in only some part of hispanoamerica. North America? Yes, that is what they like to believe. By the way.... The United Nations Statistics Division consider Mexico part of the central america region. read here quora.com/… and here unstats.un.org/unsd/methodology/m49 – DGaleano Jun 1 '18 at 14:47
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Cuate indeed comes from Nahuatl and was used in that language to mean "twin" or "snake." However, since a word already existed for "twin" in Spanish the word "cuate" is now used to refer to a close friend and is similar to the use of the word "bro" or "brother" in English for describing a close friend rather than a person related to one by blood as a brother.

I am a Spanish Instructor as well as having a minor in linguistics. Cuate and many other words - guajolote, chocolate, tomate, were incorporated into the Spanish language from Nahuatl, which is no surprise considering the contact between the Spanish and the Aztecs in the area which today comprises the modern country of Mexico.

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    Welcome to Spanish Language Great first post! I hope you'll stay with us. I can't wait to see more contributions form you! – Diego Apr 11 '17 at 18:39
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Being born and raised in extreme South Texas and the Lower Valley, I always heard the term cuates used for twins, I never once heard the term Gemelos used. If referring to a friend, I called him mi amigo, close friend was amigo especial or special friend. I never heard any other term used and I grew up speaking fluent border Spanish. Gemelos could be a form of Spanish used deeper into Mexico or possibly central or south America.

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Living in the mountain villages in Guatemala, this word cuate means the closest of friends. Hold up two crossed fingers, or snap the fingers (no-thumbstyle), and it's like you're twins.

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From my understanding, having lived 10 years in Mexico and most of my life in San Antonio among native speakers of Spanish, “cuates” can refer to twins who are not identical. Identical twins, that is, twins born in the same sack with identical DNA markers are referred to as “gemelos”, whereas paternal twins, especially those born in separate sacks, are referred to as cuates. I interpret this as making a harder distinction in Spanish for babies born at the same time than English speakers make.

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My understanding is that cuate is a regional word in Mexico and other bordering central America countries, and is used to mean "twin" and a close friend. However in all other Spanish speaking countries, gemelos and mellizos (is similar in appearance) are the words most commonly used. Myself being married to a native Spanish speaker from Mexico, I have come to find out that Mexico has many words that are of indigenous decent. Also I've found that some words have different meaning in Mexico than other countries (i.e platano vs banana). I learned Spanish in South America so that is the basis of my experience

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