I recently went on an extensive study abroad in Spain, and I had a wonderful host family who really went out of their way to help me learn the language. However, one thing I never understood, and this might be cultural, is why my Spanish host mother called me "hijo".

In context, this is just how she would usually address me. If I thanked her for something, she would reply "nada hijo". Now directly, I would think this translates to "it's nothing, son", which always seemed odd to me. My family recently hosted a girl from Germany and I can't imagine a situation where my mother (or most English speakers I know) would have addressed her as "daughter".

Maybe I'm misinterpreting the word or the culture, and I figure this would be the best place to find out which. Does the word translate literally, or is this just a common way to address someone who is staying with you as part of a host family situation?

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    I think this is due to the interpersonal warmth common to Spanish-speaking countries (Germans are especially reserved), and a reflection of the close relationship you formed with your host family. It may also be an indication that your host mother fell naturally into the vernacular she's used to using most often in her life (to wit, conversations with her children). Finally, there often is a certain awkwardness with the opposite gender in Latin cultures, and by explicitly making you a pseudo-son, things automatically can be put on a clear footing that reduces that awkwardness. Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 3:53
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    To explain that last part more -- sexism, machismo and objectification of women is so common.... Hand in hand with that goes the class of exceptions to the sex object women, which are mothers and mother figures. // If I were translating a movie script with the conversation you reported, I'd probably translate "hijo" as "sweetie." Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 3:56
  • Thanks for your comment, that really makes sense. Also, for some reason, many of the Spanish people I knew had a difficult time pronouncing my first name, so this could also be a reason to use a familial name. Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 18:30
  • I thought of another analogy. In the US, in the African American community, it's been common for a while for men to address each other as "Brother." Nowadays I hear "Son." Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 14:32
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    Ay mi hijo, ¡qué pregunta! — Oh boy, what a question! Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 10:45

2 Answers 2


It's not unusual in certain dialects of English for people to use son or child affectionately to people under their care/whom they have some degree of authority over who aren't their actual child.

See definition 6 here (Witionary):

  1. A familiar address to a male person from an older or otherwise more authoritative person.
    • 1984, Bruce Springsteen (music), “Working on the Highway”, in Born in the U.S.A.:

      Son, can't you see that she's just a little girl?

Hijo is used analogously in some Spanish dialects to refer affectionately to a younger male by (usually) an older person; see definition 4 here (Oxford):

  1. informal Apelativo que se utiliza para dirigirse a una persona, normalmente más joven, con la que se mantiene una relación de confianza o de superioridad de conocimientos y experiencia.

    mira hijo, ya estoy harta de tus bromas

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    +1 It can be used both as an endearing or patronizing term. There are also "m'ijo/a", contraptions of "mi hijo/a", in use in some places as common appellatives.
    – fede s.
    Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 7:08
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    Better Call Saul season 1 episode 2 is titled Mijo, using precisely this form of address. The person addressed as mijo is a grown man, and is spoken to in this way by his grandmother.
    – pablodf76
    Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 14:44
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    Thank you for your answer, this definitely helped me understand the word better. Also, that's an interesting note about the title of that episode, I never put that one together! Commented Dec 10, 2017 at 18:28

Very simple answer... in many Spanish-speaking cultures (including most South American and mine, Puerto Rican) hijo is most often used when unfamiliar, as a casual yet kind greeting to someone younger than you but often a young boy. This is mostly an old school or Old World ish greeting, but still warm.

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