This recent question about irregular plurals led me to a couple of odd and interesting words that apparently mean "dictionary" in at least one sense each:

The connection between dictionaries and donkeys and their knocking over or killing seems tenuous at best. Does anybody know if there's a story behind them?

As a bonus question, my dictionary says mataburros is rioplatense and Wiktionary says it also means grille guard or bumper guard. Whereas for tumbaburros my dictionary says it's Mexican and also means bull bar. Do these regional tags and other senses match what you know?

  • 1
    My 81 year old father who is from southern New Mexico tells me that there was a form of liquor (possibly homemade) that my mother's father drank circa 1950 called mataburro.
    – Patricia
    Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 0:18

4 Answers 4


A una persona con pocos conocimientos se le dice coloquialmente "burro". Un "mataburros" es literalmente algo que elimina a los burros y de ahí que (en Argentina, por ejemplo) al diccionario se le diga "mataburros" pues ayuda a suprimir burros, es decir, personas sin conocimientos. Un caso similar sucede con "tumbaburros" que es otra de las maneras coloquiales (en México al menos) de referirse a un diccionario.

En cuanto al bono, mataburros con el significado de diccionario solo lo he escuchado en Argentina y tumbaburros, también con el significado de diccionario, solo se lo he escuchado a amigos mexicanos.

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    +1 en mi tierra se le llama amansa-burros
    – jachguate
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 7:19
  • In Brazil, "pai dos burros" (father of the dumb) used to refer to the dictionary. But I haven't heard that for a long time now.
    – Jay
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 17:01

According to the RAE's dictionary, "mataburros" means dictionary only in Argentina, Costa Rica, Cuba, Honduras, Uruguay and Venezuela; "tumbaburros", as you said, only in Mexico.

Since "burro" is also used to refer to ignorant/rude/uncivil people, the "mataburro" becomes an object that "kills" those kind of people.


See hippietrail, the thing is that "burro" is used as a synonym to a person without education. That's why mataburro means mata ignorantes wich means (kill ignorance).

"Mataburro" actually is also used as bumper guard (Colombia AFAIK).

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    burro isn't a synonym, as much as a colloquialism.
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 15:29
  • 2
    I would say "is a word used in one sense to mean a person without education". Or something along those lines. Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 15:48

The explanation I received in Cuba is that when a turista is not fluent in Spanish and constantly uses their English/Spanish dictionary, it so boring to them that it would be enough to kill a donkey. Just my two cents.

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