Is Pendejo Derogatory?  

Rohan Mathew

The word pendejo has a very long history – one where its meaning has altered over time. In the present day, many understand it to be a somewhat vulgar insult given its current-day translation into English as the words “asshole” or “idiot” – according to the definition in the English language Dictionary. 

While the term itself is a milder insult than Hijo de puta (which translates to the phrase “son of a bitch”), it is also considered an insult and a derogatory one at that, given its intention to label someone words such as loon, dullard, ninnyhammer, birdbrain, bubblehead, dunce, and lunkhead.

According to the historical record, the pendejo meaning in Spanish initially translated to mean “pubic hair,” though, over the course of time, the term has evolved in its meaning and usage – and even its geography. 

The word itself is considered a masculine noun and is typically used to refer to a male subject. That said, a variation of the term can also be used to address a female subject. In these instances, the feminine form of the word would be pendeja. 

Regardless of who the word is used against, most would agree that this word is, in fact, very offensive regardless of the person, the circumstance, the context, and even the environment. With that being said, it should especially not be used in professional or formal settings – even in instances such as business emails and meetings. 

Some people make the case that the word, under some circumstances, can be used with those who are friends and who understand that the word is being used casually and in gest. That said, if you do not have a good relationship with the person that the word is being exchanged with, and they do not understand that it is being used in a playful way, then the person using the term should refrain from doing so. 

The History of the Word

As mentioned, the term “pendejo” has a long history. Its Latin origins date back to 16th-century Spain when the word – very literally – meant “pubic hair.” In those times, the word was often used to describe pubescent teens who thought they were adults because of the appearance of public hair. However, this meaning would change ever so slightly in the 17th century, when “pendejo” came to mean the word “coward” instead. 

In these instances, the word was hurled around to engage in a mocking or taboo reference. Later, in the aftermath of conquest and colonization, the term extended beyond Spain and was transplanted to the Americas. There, the term evolved even more so. So much so that by the early 1900s, the term pendejo had drifted from its secondary meaning of “coward” to one where the intention was too insulting and called the object of one’s insult either dumb or stupid.

Who uses Pendejo?

The term pendejo was initially used in Spain; however, over the course of history, it expanded in its usage to be commonly articulated throughout Spanish-speaking countries – especially those in the Americas. Many agree that the term is perhaps most especially popular in Mexico and among those of Mexican heritage who are today living in the United States. 

In areas in the United States that have large numbers of Spanish speakers – the American Southwest is one of those areas – it is not uncommon to hear this word used quite frequently, even among people who are engaged in an English-language conversation or who are not even of Spanish heritage.

When this term is used in the contemporary context, it is often used to suggest that a person is an “idiot.” For example, among some Mexican Americans, there is a common pessimistic proverb where the speaker states, “amor de lejos, amor de pendejos,” which translates to mean “love from afar, love for pendejos.” 

Whether used in a single term or in the case of a pessimistic proverb, the word “pendejo” is typically used to insult another – and it is for this reason that it is generally a derogatory insult. 

Could Put Organization in a Negative Light

Given that the term is considered derogatory, many make the case that it should not be used in professional settings because, as a form of profanity, it could put the individual or organization they are associated with in a negative light. 

As such, it is important to avoid using such a term in an effort to protect one’s reputation and avoid any negative light that would suggest the individual or the organization is disrespectful in any way.

Disrupts Unification

Being that pendejo is considered profanity, using this term at your place of employment could lead to a lack of unity among you and your co-workers. More importantly, any kind of overindulgence in the use of profanity may impact cooperation – and so, whether it is this word or another, it is important to recognize that the use of any profanity can lead to a rupture in workplace relations and create unnecessary tension between employees.

Puts Opportunities in Jeopardy

Another reason to avoid using a term like “pendejo” in a professional setting – and really to avoid using any kind of slang at your job – is because it can seriously put any opportunities that are coming your way in jeopardy. These opportunities might include further career growth, a promotion, building relations with important figures in your environment, or even quite simply, your ability to communicate effectively with those around you.