29 January 2009

Águila o Sol

In Mexico the phrase “águila o sol” meaning “eagle or sun” is the equivalent of the English phrase “heads or tails”. There has traditionally been an eagle on one side of the Mexican coins for many, many years. At various times the opposite side of the coin has carried the ancient symbol of a phrygian cap which is a soft, red, conical cap with the top pulled forward that represents represents freedom and the pursuit of liberty in old sculptures, caricatures, and paintings. The phrygian cap has been imprinted on certain Mexican coins through the late 19th century into the mid 20th century and it is usually depicted with a bunch of rays emanating from behind it. Thus it can easily be mistaken for a caricature of the sun. One of the most popular coins depicting “aguila o sol” was the bronze 20 centavo coin that was minted from 1943 to 1955 and remained in circulation long after. You can see a picture of this coin below. On the “tails” side you can see the phrygian cap or “sol” with the rays behind it above the sun pyramid of Teotihuacan. This is also the coin that was used for many years to place a local call in a Mexican public telephone. The operator would wait to hear the coin fall in the slot before making the connection. Sometimes the coin didn't fall right into the slot and when it finally did the operator would say :

“Ya me cayó el veinte”.
Okay, now I heard the twenty drop.

This phrase eventually became part of the Mexican vernacular and came to mean “Oh, now I get it!”.

The phrase for “flip a coin” is “echar un volado”. My wife Gina and I use this phrase all the time. On the days when the garbage men come I will say:

“Uno de nosotros necesita sacar la basura. Vamos echar un volado”.
One of us needs to take out the trash. Let's flip a coin.

We flip the coin and I almost always lose. I think that is because she always does the flipping. I don't know if she uses a trick coin, or if she is really good at flipping coins, or if she is just plain lucky. Lately when I suggest that we flip a coin she says:

"Ya eché un volado y tu perdiste. ¡Saca la basura!"
I already flipped a coin and you lost. Take out the trash!

The other day I overheard a dialog with the phrase “echar un volado” and it went like this:

Alejandro: Tengo mucha sed.
I am very thirsty.

José: Yo también. Quiero un refresco.
Me too. I want a soda.

Paco: ¿Ustedes tienen dinero?
Do you guys have money?

José: No, pero allí viene Raul. Él siempre trae dinero.
No, but here comes Raul. He always has money.

Alejandro: Oye Raul, José y Paco echaron un volado y tu perdiste. Te toca a ti para comprar los refrescos.
Hey Raul, José and Paco flipped a coin and you lost. It is your turn to buy sodas.

Raul: !Óyeme no¡ ¡Olvidate guey!
No way. Forget about it man!


Steve Cotton said...

Great cultural post. It is strange how these terms enter common usage -- and we forget their origin. Such as "two bits" from the Spanish milled dollar's pieces of eight, or "greenback" from the back of one dollar bills. Money may not enrich us, but it certainly enriches languages.

Anonymous said...

Interesting as always!

Tancho said...

I wonder if it will get me more or less garbage duty?
It's worth a try! I appreciate the ongoing lessons.Keep em' coming Bob!

Unknown said...

Bob, y mi se me acabó el veinte y gracias por educarme.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.