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Sometimes words that are ostensibly given as translations of another aren't one-to-one correct. For example, de and por are often given to mean lots of different English words, none of which captures the full meaning of the Spanish equivalent.

I hear amigo used more often among Spanish-speaking folk (I live in California, if that's relevant) than in English. For example, when visiting a taqueria, the cook will often greet me with, "Welcome, mi amigo", even if I've never met him before.

While it's not unheard of for English-speakers to greet strangers with, "Welcome, friend" — particularly in some regions in America — it seems significantly less common; for some (like me) it comes off with a touch of presumptuousness — that to use that word there should be previous acquaintanceship. (For whatever reason, I adopt an entirely different — and welcoming — attitude when the phrase is spoken in Spanish)

Perhaps it's regional and cultural, but I was wondering if there is an actual difference definitionally between friend and amigo in a way similar to de and por — any nuance at all.

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  • Notice that language mix: "Welcome (English) mi amigo (Spanish)". The cook is just using a Spanish expression that he thinks will be easily understood by an English speaker, while giving a Mexican feel for his taqueria. I wouldn't read much into that.
    – Gorpik
    Sep 8, 2022 at 12:13

3 Answers 3

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I'm going to be Captain Obvious here: Amigo is Spanish for Friend and Friend is English for amigo (or amiga). It's just that.

In both languanges these terms could have a deeper meaning, like when you use "friend" to refer to someone who is "more than just a friend". There would be a lot of connotation on your choice not only to use friend but also to avoid boyfriend or girlfriend.

Due to the context you are providing on you question is impossible to give a generic or "one size fits all" type of answer. It may have more to do with an amalgam of cultures than a nunace in the exact meaning of the word.

A guy at a taquería uses a word in Spanish here or there? Who knows? Maybe has more to do with giving a certain atmosphere to the business than to stress cultural differences. Maybe he thinks the patrons find it funny and colorful. Not necessarily needs to be a vailed statement for anything. It doesn't mean that the cook pretends to know you better or more than if using the English version of the word.

You are definitely right that some words can mean different things due to cultural differences. For exmplae, in English you say "My dad is a doctor". In Spain we would favor "Mi padre es un doctor". Only a child would use "Mi papá es un doctor". But that actually may not be the case across other Spanish speaking countries.

On the other hand, I think that you are completely overthinking this usage of "amigo" vs "friend".

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  • I don't think I was overthinking it. :) I thought I detected some differences in usage so was seeking clarification on my understanding to make sure I wasn't missing anything. Also, it wasn't just "a guy at a taqueria" — I notice this speech pattern routinely from Spanish speakers, both in a business context and not. And when you say, "doesn't mean that the cook pretends to know you better or more than if using the English version of the word" — I meant precisely the opposite. I was asking if the word means that the cook isn't trying to imply any familiarity (moreso than English).
    – Kirk Woll
    Mar 31, 2017 at 1:14
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Sometimes words mean the same thing, but the usage is a bit different.

The friendly, welcoming use of my friend in English by people whose first language is Spanish or Portuguese is a charming custom, and there is no reason for you not to adopt it if you feel so inclined. The "my" at the beginning is pretty important to make this work. Here are some examples:

You can soften some sort of gentle scolding or advice:

My friend, I would not take what Lucy said so personally. She was just trying to be funny.

Amigo mío, no te ofendas. Lucy se cree una chistosita. No le hagas caso.

You can make a warm greeting:

Zack, my friend, what's new with you?

¡Zack, amigo! ¿Qué me cuentas? ¿Qué hay de nuevo?

You can bond with your friend (or relative!):

Yes, my friend, you did the right thing by bla bla.

Sí, cómo no, amigo mío, hiciste bien. Fue muy correcto etc. etc.

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  • Agreed, I too find it charming and like it. And appreciate your examples.
    – Kirk Woll
    Mar 31, 2017 at 1:17
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Kirk I fully agree you are on to something here.

There are subtle differences between the concepts “amigo” and “friend”… had to chime in after reading Capn Obvious’s dismissive response. He needs to reconsider his position before Major Ambiguity pulls rank.

[in the case of a stranger or business owner/customer service rep calling you “amigo”, I have started to think of it more like the North American English concept “buddy”… sort of like a friend with less familiarity?]

Cheers

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