Mexico is taking away our cars! No, really. Some of you may know the word jalopy, which means a broken-down or generally dilapidated automobile. Officially, the origin is obscure, but the best theory so far takes us to the Mexican town of Jalapa, the capital of the state of Veracruz and where old American automobiles were sent to scrap in the early 1900s. Alternatively spelled Xalapa, this proper noun comes to us from Nahuatl Xalapan, which meant "sand by the water", a portmanteau of xalli, meaning "sand", all, meaning "water", and pan, meaning "place". All words have Uto-Aztecan roots. That's cool and all, but let's go back to the city of Jalapa. Its residents are called Jalapeños... as are special peppers that were traditionally cultivated in the region, and subsequently became popular among American exotic food-lovers. Yes, the word for an old car is connected to a word for a kind of spicy pepper. I love etymology.
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard College in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd