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What are the differences between "jefe", "patrón", "capo", when used to mean "boss"? If I wanted to jokingly call my girlfriend "The Boss" should I go with "La Jefa" ?

I'm interested mainly in Mexican and Spanish dialects, if that makes a difference, although I'm also interested to know more generally about geographical differences, e.g. in "Narcos" I notice that Escobar's men refer to him as "Patrón" - is that mainly a Colombian usage ?

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    Dile "mi dueña" y te la vas a ganar. – chapelo Dec 21 '16 at 2:04
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    I understand that Mexicans call their mother "la jefa" or "la jefecita"... so please check this out before you get into trouble with your girlfriend. Here a link for that tubabel.com/definicion/1106 "La patrona" could work better for Mexico. For Colombia you could go either way but not "capo" since it doesn't sound romantic at all. – DGaleano Dec 21 '16 at 14:48
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The Diccionario de americanismos is a great tool for these kind of questions.

There you can for example see:

patrón, -na
I. 1. m. y f. Ec. Señor, amo.
II. 1. adj. Ni. Referido a persona, de pies grandes.

a. ǁ ~. fórm. Mx, Ho, CR, Ve, Ch, Py; Ur, obsol. Se usa como tratamiento de respeto a alguien.

a. ǁ ~ de fundo. loc. sust. Ch. Persona que ejerce un poder despótico y arbitrario. pop + cult → espon.
b. ǁ ~ de prueba. loc. sust. Cu. Gráfico fijo con líneas y colores que permiten ajustar la imagen de un televisor.
c. ǁ ~ grande. loc. sust. Ec. Latifundista o hacendado. rur.

That is, a great set of meanings for patrón depending on the country. Basically (I don't know if you understand Spanish) meaning boss, but also other things.

From what I see in the definition, patrón does not have any special meaning in Colombia, so you can go directly to the Dictionary of the RAE and check the word:

patrón, na
Del lat. patrōnus; la forma f., del lat. patrōna. 1. m. y f. Defensor, protector.
2. m. y f. Santo titular de una iglesia.
3. m. y f. Santo elegido como protector de un pueblo o congregación religiosa, profesional o civil.
4. m. y f. Dueño de la casa donde alguien se aloja u hospeda.
5. m. y f. señor (‖ persona a la que sirve un criado).
6. m. y f. patrono (‖ persona que emplea trabajadores).

All of them can apply here, since Pablo Escobar was seen as something in between a boss, a saint and a protector among his workers.

This being said,

  • jefe: this is, to me, the most straight-forward way to translate boss. In Spain is the one we use all the time.
  • patrón: as indicated above, this word refers to a boss in a work place. In Spain, I hardly ever hear it in colloquial conversations, but (as noted by Nox in comments) it is used to mention the captain of a ship.
  • capo: is normally used to refer to mafia bosses and it comes directly from the Italian (capo means head in Italian, and in Romanic languages head also means leader).

So if you want to jokingly call Boss to your girlfriend, I would go for Jefa. Unless you are in some smelly business together and you want to call her capo :)

Bear in mind, though, what DGaleano comments below:

I understand that Mexicans call their mother "la jefa" or "la jefecita"... so please check this out before you get into trouble with your girlfriend. Here a link for that http://www.tubabel.com/definicion/1106 "La patrona" could work better for Mexico

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    Just to point out (I suspect that fedorqui forgot about it) that patrón in Spain is widely used in civilian navy, both for the ship owner and/or for the ship "captain". Also, the aception of patrono is relatively common mostly in agriculture and construction sector I think? – Nox Dec 21 '16 at 10:31
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    I understand that Mexicans call their mother "la jefa" or "la jefecita"... so please check this out before you get into trouble with your girlfriend. Here a link for that tubabel.com/definicion/1106 "La patrona" could work better for Mexico. – DGaleano Dec 21 '16 at 14:43
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    @DGaleano does patrón have any special meaning in Colombia? I see a book about Pablo Escobar was called Pablo Escobar: el patrón del mal – fedorqui 'SO stop harming' Dec 22 '16 at 12:39
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I know that in Venezuela "Patrón" means "Boss", in Cuba usually "Jefe" means "Boss", but I always use "Capo" related with the "Mafia (Narco) Boss". For your girlfriend you can use "The Boss" if you want to say "La Jefa".

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I think that jefe and patrón have different connotations according to the structure of the organization or relationship with that figure who holds the power.

If you work in an office, or in a team where there is clearly an structure, the person who holds the authority is a jefe.

Patrón is less formal about hierarchy. Realize that a (repeating) customer in a restaurant can be called patrón. So, this person is not "the boss" but is the "person with the authority". We could understand a patrón as a de facto boss.

I haven't seen "Narcos". My guess is that no matter how well structured that drug cartel is, they use "patrón" meaning "The person with the power and authority we must respect and obey". They could very well use "jefe", but in that particular context the power and authority of Escobar goes beyond what a regular white collar boss would be. So in that context, they use the word not just because they are a gang or crew of workers (instead of an office team) but as a way implying their superior's status and power.

It probably has something to do with a regional preference. I haven't seen other Spain-based drug-cartel related shows (like "Sin tetas no hay paraíso") but I guess that in this show they would address the drug lord as jefe instead. Not due to a lack of power, but to give the connotations of "well structured, organized and solid" of their drug cartel.

Finally, you should address your girlfriend as jefa, since patrona is more understood as a "Patron Saint".

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    I agree except for the last paragraph. As I said on fedorqui's answer, "Jefa" does not apply for a Mexican girlfriend since Mexicans use "jefa" for their mother. – DGaleano Dec 21 '16 at 18:24
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I just realize this post is so old. You guys make so serious analysis about mexican and Latin American spanish, hahahaha. Patron and jefe are synonyms. Patron means boss. And yes, the real meaning of patron is the real boss of a place, business or organization. So, for example, the owner of a restaurant can be called either jefe or patron by the employees. The only difference is that patron is usually used more often either by people with lower status jobs or by people that work, live or are from the country side and jefe is used like in a more "city" way. For example, a field worker, a brick layer, a farmer, a cowboy, are more likely to refer to their bosses as patron or patrona and a secretary or a lawyer would refer to them as jefe. Also what happens, at least I Mexico where I'm from, is that sometimes people to whom you may give some money or tip will call you "boss" either to make you like them or to convince you to give them a little job. For example, if you just parked your car on the street a random guy may come and say: "¿le lavo el coche, patron?" Which means "do I wash your car, boss?" But they can also call you jefe/a or jefecito/a.

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"Patrón" is also used in Mexico. In case of your girlfriend you would say: "la patrona" or "mi patrona".
In Mexico, sometimes we call our parents our "bosses", that is why to say "my father" sometimes we say "mi jefe" or to say "my mother" we say "mi jefa". But we also call actual work bosses that way.

My husband is gringo and I'm Mexican; if he referred to me joking as "mi/la patrona" I would laugh so much...!!!!

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I think Jefe is more a connotation of command like a political figure or ranking military person. Patron is more a connotation of an important owner of a business or property like a ranch or winery with a lot of underlings. Either way The Boss!

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