Monday, May 3, 2010

Tengo el pelo chino

Ah yes, this phrase reminds of the deer in headlights look that I love so much. 

Tengo el pelo chino
I have Chinese hair

Say what?

Chino means Chinese, and what it is has to do with hair is beyond me.  Despite my ignorance of the relationship between hair and Chinese in Spanish, "El pelo chino" is a colloquial way of saying you have curly hair.

By the way, pelo chino is a very Mexican way of saying someone has curly hair.

A more standard way of saying this would be:

Tengo el pelo rizado
I have curly hair

Since we're on the subject of hair, here are a couple of other interesting things about hair.

Pelo is the word you will almost exclusively use for hair, although there are a few other words (and distinctions) we need to know.

Cabello is actually the hair on your head, and the only place cabello exists.  Vello referes to hair anywhere else on your body, such as vello facial - facial har and vello púbico - pubic hair. 

Getting back to cabello, or pelo, you can wear your hair down, suelta (loose) or in cola de caballo (pony tail), cola for short.

One last thing...

After a long day of practicing your Spanish, you may need to "suéltate el pelo" (let your hair down), which has the same meaning in Spanish as it does in English, which in this context has nothing at all to do with hair, but instead relaxing and having a good time.

Well, that's it. 

¡Ojala que te sirva!
I hope this helps!


  1. Rodney,
    ¿Me estás tomando el pelo? Are you pulling my hair? this is the Spanish equivalent of the English phrase "Are you pulling my leg?". I am sure that you already know this but maybe there are others who don't.

  2. Pelo chino is not a Spanish way to said curly hair for all Spanish speakers, thas only for mexico and central america, but more Mexicans. At the Caribbean we just called curly hair( pelo rizo) or kinky hair(pelo malo). When you see a Chinese whit natural curly hair. Please give me a break.

    1. Thanks for your comments Carribbean Guy.

      I should've made the distinction that Pelo Chino is Mexican Spanish when I first wrote this post, but it now reflects that distinction. Thanks for reading and pointing out that out. :-)

    2. I live in Mexico and can confirm "chino" means curly hair here. The Mexicans I've asked about this literally think of the word as synonymous with having curly hair AND therefore somehow Chinese looking even though curly hair in Chinese people is not actually very common. Mexican's often give each other nicknames based on what they see flat out. Some VERY common nicknames are "Gordo" (fat guy), "Blanco" (very white guy), "Negro" (black guy)"Golpo" (Stick looking guy), "Polo" (pole), etc. It can refer to an obvious personality trait or something obvious in physical appearance. "Chino" is a common nickname for a male with very curly hair who is Chinese looking because of their hair.

  3. what about other words like pelo/cabello "churco" "escarola" "grifo" "ondulado" "crespo". It would be good to know the fine differences between the two and other word usage throughout Latin America.

  4. During Spanish colonization period, the children of black slaves and indigenous Americans were called "Chino" in Central America and parts of South America. The term was actually meant to stratify and degrade that population. To this day, there are still references of Afro-Peruvians and Mexicans with Black features, as Chinos. It then kind of make sense that curly became known as chino.