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When I first heard the phrase en pelotas I had to ask what it meant. My informant was then unable to explain to me what it had to do with the object with which games are played nor with the sport often associated with the Basque region. Recently on seeing a headline where a performer complained that people kept asking her to pose en pelotas I started to search for more enlightenment.

In the DLE I discover that this is a separate derivation of pelota

pelota2
De pelo.

dejar a alguien en pelota, o en pelotas

  1. locs. verbs. coloqs. Quitarle o robarle todo lo que tiene.

en pelota, o en pelotas

  1. locs. advs. coloqs. Desnudo, en cueros. U. t. c. locs. adjs.

That obiously makes more sense since I know that pelo is skin. But where does the suffix fit in? Further search reveals

-ote, ta
1. suf. U. para formar aumentativos y despectivos a partir de adjetivos y nombres. Bobote, grandote, angelote, marquesota.

Is this usage really despectivo and since it is a masculine noun why is it not pelote rather than pelota?

Incidentally I do not recommend an internet search for the phrase en pelotas if you are working in a public place.

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    I always thought that "en pelotas" meant naked because obviously if you are naked people will see your balls. It has never occured to me that it has something to do with "pelo" plus a suffix, and I still don't think that is the case. – DGaleano Apr 27 '20 at 15:29
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    @DGaleano: The expression "en pelota" appears in chapter XXII of the first part of El Quijote: "A Sancho le quitaron el gabán y, dejándole en pelota, repartiendo entre sí los demás despojos de la batalla, se fueron cada uno por su parte, con más cuidado de escaparse de la Hermandad que temían que de cargarse de la cadena e ir a presentarse ante la señora Dulcinea del Toboso." It's "en pelota", with "pelota" in singular, so it probably doesn't refer to Sancho's testicles. – Charo Apr 27 '20 at 16:42
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    @Charo excelente cita del Quijote. En Colombia (y al parecer Argentina) deterioramos la frase. Mucha gente dice "en pelota" pero muchos dicen "en pelotas". La respuesta parece tenerla Wikipedia en la sección "Origen del vulgarismo" es.wikipedia.org/wiki/En_pelota – DGaleano Apr 27 '20 at 16:47
  • @Charo ....se me pasó... Aunque tu acertadamente citas que lo correcto es el singular la pregunta es por el plural. Por eso mi primer comentario. – DGaleano Apr 27 '20 at 16:50
  • @DGaleano: También en España decimos "en pelotas" o "en pelota picada". Según Wikipedia deriva de "piel", pero no tengo nada clara la fuente. – Charo Apr 27 '20 at 16:55
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According to Corominas, the expression en pelota took the meaning of "to be naked" due to the influence of the words pelo or piel. That would mean that pelota is not pelo plus a suffix, but pelota with a different meaning influenced by other words.

The expression is quite old, you can find it in texts from the 16th century:

Desde que el señor don Juan murió, que le hacía mucha merced, nunca tuvo suceso que fuese de hombre bien afortunado, y tanto, que era ya como proverbio su mala dicha. Estando, pues, un día con dolor en un pie, diciéndole un doctor que era gota, respondió:

"Aunque pobre y en pelota,
mal de ricos me importuna,
porque al mar de mi fortuna
no le faltase una gota."

Juan Rufo, "Las seiscientas apotegmas", 1596 (Spain).

By that time, you could use en pelota with the meaning of "having nothing". You could also use dejar a alguien en pelota with the meaning of "stealing or robbing everything from a man and leave him with nothing". And of course you could be en pelota, completely naked. These expressions are already found in the Autoridades dictionary from 1737. The expression en pelota is found before that in a couple of dictionaries from 1705 and 1706.

The expression does not appear quite often in the CORDE, maybe around 20 cases per century. And it is not until the 20th century that the first cases of en pelotas appear. That could well be due to the fact that the expression starts to be linked to pelota as "ball", referring to one's balls, obviously the testicles. I bet that if you ask anyone what are the "pelotas" in the expression en pelotas, everyone will tell you they refer to the testicles.

The expression en pelotas is not despective, but just colloquial.

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    +1 ¡Qué gozo el tuyo de estar bañado en Corominas! Y por acá, abajo con las suposiciones vulgares que yo albergaba. Ahora podemos utilizar la expresión entre compañía culta, siempre en singular: "pobre y en pelota". – Conrado Apr 28 '20 at 15:30
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At least in Argentina 'en pelotas' means literally 'naked' with 'pelotas' being testicles. It can be understood in several ways:

  • Someone is 'en pelotas' implying that he has no idea what he is talking about.
  • You could also use as it is, to express that someone is naked.
  • Or finally to say that someone is defenseless, figuratively he does not have anything to defend himself.

Hope I've helped you!

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    I agree. Same here in Colombia. As I said before in my comment to the question is just as simple as this. BTW Welcome Mati. +1 – DGaleano Apr 27 '20 at 16:16
  • Same here in Chile, I've always heard the plural: "en pelotas" – Conrado Apr 27 '20 at 17:32
  • Thank you for that but my original question was (1) is it despectivo, (2) why is it not pelote. Your answer does not sem to cover those. – mdewey Apr 28 '20 at 9:34
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"En pelotas" means "nude". Pelotas refers to man's balls. However it is also used to emphasize a situation in which you are caught by surprise or a situation in which there is nothing you can do to avoid it.

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    Thank you for that but my original question was (1) is it despectivo, (2) why is it not pelote. Your answer does not seem to cover those. – mdewey Apr 30 '20 at 13:12
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I think I can tell about the use of "en pelotas" in Argentina.

Firstly, pelo does not mean "skin", pelo means "hair". Pelo and pelota are not related. The word is not formed by adding the "ta" suffix to the word pelo. pelota is a synonym for bola, which is: "ball".

Literally, "en pelotas" means: "in balls", i.e. "with balls (testicles) exposed".

The term "en pelotas" can be used in several ways, but I think that the most general word to describe its meaning is "devoid". The literal use means: "devoid of clothes (so that my balls are exposed)".

A very important fact about the use of this expression is that what you are devoid of is often implicit. Thus, it can it can be used in an infinite number of situations to indicate the lack of something, for example: "Se me rompió el auto, quedé en pelotas" would mean something like: "My car broke, I'm devoid of transport". Thus, it is never mentioned what you are devoid of; it is assumed that it is transport.

Its use is vulgar, not despectivo. However, it can be offensive. For example, if you say to an employee: "siempre estas en pelotas", it is a bit offensive, because you are telling him he never knows anythying, or he is never aware of anything. However, if for example, you say "No cobré, quedé en pelotas"; it means that your were not paid and now you do not have any money (devoid of money). It is not offensive, but it is vulgar.

I think it is a very tricky expression, because it has an infinite number of uses. For example, if you say that a soccer player is "en pelotas" you mean that he is not paying attention to the game.

Lastly, the term "en pelote" is not correct. The word pelote does not exist. Also, we always use the plural "en pelotas" because commonly males have two balls (testicles).

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