13 January 2011

The etymology of "nachos"

While browsing the OED website last night (see post below), I found this interesting article about how a library researcher tracked down the initial usage and etymology of the word "nachos."
In September 1988 a slip of paper (the usual 4 x 6) for this word came from one of the editors, stating that the earliest quotation in the OED files was from a 1978 issue of the Tucson (Arizona) Magazine...  Could I antedate? Added was a postscript asking if I could find its etymology. WNCD had suggested it might be 'fr. Sp. "nacho" flat-nosed'. Could I confirm this?...

I called several Texan friends in Washington that evening and each of them wanted to tell me all about nachos but none knew how the name had been derived. After three phone calls (and three different recipes for perfect nachos) I gave up on nachos that evening.

As I walked down the long corridor leading back to the library's central core, I heard a voice softly calling my name. There was a young woman I recognized as a staff member of the Hispanic Division. She had overheard our discussion of nacho in the reading room but had been reluctant to interrupt us. She told me she had been born and raised in Mexico and there nacho has only one common usage: it is the word used as a diminutive for a little boy who had been baptized Ignacio. His family and friends call him Nacho. She thought I should know this. What a wonderful bit of information!.. Now I was convinced there was a real Nacho somewhere who had dreamed up a combination of tortilla pieces with melted cheese and jalapeño peppers...

Several 1965+ quotations surfaced, and eventually I found A Taste of Texas, edited by Jane Trahey in 1949 with a perfect nachos quote on page 27:
Pedro left. Sometime later he returned carrying a large dish of Nachos Especiales. 'These Nachos,' said Pedro, 'will help El Capitan—he will soon forget his troubles for nachos make one romantic.'
And to add to the satisfaction, we have recently, with the help of the Rector and one of the parishioners of the Church of the Redeemer, Eagle Pass, Texas, been able to verify a quotation from that elusive 1954 St Anne's Cookbook which confirms the existence of Ignacio 'Nacho' Anaya, gives the Victory Club as the place in which he invented his 'nacho specials', and provides his own original recipe...
Armed with that information, you should be able to corral a free Dos Equis next time you go out for a Mexican dinner with friends.


  1. Having gone to college in Austin, Texas in the late '60s, I can vouch for "nacho" usage there and then.

  2. Yes, I was in Dallas from '68 - '78, and it was one of the essential food groups at the time.

  3. Just recently, I stumbled across the same article. I had sent an email to the people who do my kids' school district's school lunch menus because month after month after month, they were writing "Nacho's" and it was making me insane(-r).

    Someone on facebook argued that since it came from a name, it might be possessive. Since I had no idea it came from a name, I looked it up.

    And yet, even from a name, the plural has no apostrophe.

    And the district corrected it. Hooray!

  4. The plural has no apostrohe, but the psssessive does, in English at least. In Spanish, Nachos would be plural if you had a bunch of little guys named Ignacio, and the plural would be "de Nacho".

  5. So the etymologists were doing research on the a word of "Hispanic" origin and no one bothered to ask someone that spoke Spanish?


    Btw Nacho is not really a diminutive, but rather just a nick name. For example Eduardos are called Lalos, Francisco -Pancho etc etc.

    But the origin of these nicknames is based on diminutives and/or saying the names as a way of baby talk.

    Ignacio would become Ignachio, then shortened to Nacho.


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