Piropo [Amorous Flattery] as a Cultural Term for Talk in the Spanish-Speaking World

Authored by: Benjamin Bailey

The Handbook of Communication in Cross-Cultural Perspective

Print publication date:  September  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138892095
eBook ISBN: 9781315709321
Adobe ISBN: 9781317485605


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This chapter examines meanings of a Spanish term for communicative action—piropo—and a range of practices in the Spanish-speaking world that are subsumed under the term. The term and a range of associated practices are immediately recognizable to those socialized in Spanish- speaking worlds, but the term has no equivalent in English. It has traditionally been translated as ‘compliment’, or ‘amorous or flirtatious flattery’ but the term encompasses a wider range of activities than suggested by such English terms and often invokes a highly specific interactional context. The archetypal communicative activity to which it refers—a male making unsolicited flirtatious or sexually oriented comments to a passing female of reproductive age whom he does not know—has obvious correlates in the English-speaking world, e.g., in various kinds of catcalls. However, the term also embraces a range of practices and meanings that do not fit into a single conceptual or communicative category in Anglo-American culture. While the term ‘catcall’ refers to a narrow range of male remarks to women, the term piropo can refer to various types of flattery unrelated to expressions of sexual interest. The term piropo can imply a degree of exaltation, for example, and it is a term used for expressions of enthusiastic praise for the Virgin Mary. These connotations of exaltation and flattery make the term piropo much more ambiguous than the term ‘catcall’, and this ambiguity can extend to interpretations of piropos directed at passing women. Some feminists in the Spanish-speaking world see any piropo as an exercise of male power over women, while others, typically men, consistently see them as gifts bestowed on women. Many women evaluate them on a case-by-case basis, depending on content, tone, and context, interpreting some piropos as offensive and demeaning and others as esteem-enhancing and desirable flattery.

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