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Hisplaining Mexican Mother’s Day: Why ‘Madres’ Is Such a Great Word

Hisplaining Mexican Mother’s Day: Why ‘Madres’ Is Such a Great Word

A pocket guide to the colorful—and complex—uses of the word madre in Mexican Spanish. ¡Ándale!

Illustration by Arturo Magallanes
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The Mother of All Mexican Holidays

Mexican Mother’s Day (aka El Día de las Madres) is not only the mother of all Mexican holidays, but an entire phenomenon that needs some explaining. Or, as we like to say here, it needs some hisplaining, especially for those who didn’t grow up in Mexico like yours truly.

For starters, unlike other countries, Mexican Mother’s Day doesn’t fall on a different day each year, as is the case in the US (the second Sunday of May) or Spain (the first Sunday of May). No, señor. In Mexico—and a few other Latin American countries—the annual homage to La Reina de la Casa (the Queen of the House) is religiously celebrated every year on May 10. Rain or shine.

The Origins of Día de las Madres

Interestingly, the idea to celebrate Mexican mothers on May 10 came from Mexican journalist and El Excelsior newspaper founder Rafael Alducin. In 1922, he launched a nationwide invitation to choose a special date to pay homage to our mamacitas. As it turned out, the response was overwhelming. As a result, May 10, 1922, became the first official Mother’s Day in the country.

Millions of Mexicans on both sides of the US-Mexico border have been trained from a very young age to pay proper homage to our moms. Similar to most cultures, we start with the handmade, messy paper-mache crafts we all made in kindergarten. Then, we graduate to silly choreographies and embarrassing public readings of our very own poetry in elementary school. As we transitioned to adulthood, Mother’s Day becomes synonymous to impossible traffic jams, expensive marketing campaigns , and endless lines at restaurants waiting for a table to honor la mera-mera (the head honcho or the queen bee).

But for all the headaches associated with our decades-long devotion to our child bearer, I wanted to zero in on my favorite part of the celebration: the colorful—and complex—uses of the word “madre” and its many variations.

WARNING: Before you keep reading or ask this writer to stop babbling, get to the point, and finish this madre (i.e. this article) before she is subjected to a madriza (a beating), please remember this column was written to be handled with a serious dose of humor.

The Many Meanings of Madre

Without getting too technical, all you need to know is that madre simply means mother. The word comes from the Latin mātre. However, the word “mother” is one that has so many meanings in Mexican slang. Depending on how you use it, it can mean something wonderful or something truly awful.

So, be well advised to tread carefully and know how to properly use the word when you utter it in front of a Mexican. In fact, the many meanings of madre is not something you’ll learn in school or in any of the language learning apps.

A Pocket Madre Dictionary

To save you any kind of embarrassment, I’ve prepared a sort of pocket-sized dictionary to carry around or memorize. That way, you’ll know how to handle your madres. Beware: these are only a few of the probable hundreds of meanings of the word madre. However, I can assure you they’re among the most widely used.

  • Madre: Mother
  • Madre: Thingy
  • ¡En la madre! (literally “in the mother”) = Yikes!
  • Pásame esa madre = Pass me that thingy
  • ¡Valió madre! = It’s useless now
  • Dar en la madre (literally “to give in the mother”) = To break something
  • Partir la madre (literally “to cut the mother”) = To give a beating to someone
  • Ir hecho la madre (literally “to go made of mother”) = To go very fast
  • Ser a toda madre (literally “to be at all mother”) = He or she is very cool
  • Sabe a madres (literally “it tastes of mothers”) = It tastes horrible
  • Sabe a toda madre (literally “it tastes of all mother” = It tastes delicious
  • Hijo de tu madre (literally “son of your mother”) = Son of a b*tch
  • De poca madre (literally “of few mother”) = To be really cool or something awesome
  • Madrear (verb) = To give a beating to someone
  • Madriza (noun) = A nasty beating or a fight
  • Desmadre = Chaos, disorder, having fun, or partying hard

Avoiding the Ultimate Insult


I don’t blame you. Mastering the Spanish language, specifically Mexican slang, is not an easy feat. But, if you want to avoid being the subject of a madriza or have someone call you a “son of your mother,” please stay away from the mother of all Mexican insults. It’s one that is not fit to print but involves sending someone very far away, as far as la chingada (commonly used in colloquial, even crass, Mexican Spanish that refers to various conditions or situations of, generally, negative connotations).

Stay tuned for Laura Martinez’s next Hisplaining column, which will tackle other key biz terms and jargon and help leaders everywhere smoothly navigate the multicultural business world. In the meantime, send us tips and ideas for other terms and jargon that you’d like to see us feature. And remember: Don’t panic . . . it’s just his-PANIC!

Hispanic Executive

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