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The Art of the Mexican Albur

You might think you have mastered every nuance of Mexican Spanish until one day you find yourself the red-faced butt of a joke you didn’t understand. It’s okay – we’ve all been there!

The razor-sharp Mexican wit finds no greater expression than in the albur (plural: albures), which is essentially a play-on-words or double entendre, in a characteristically Mexican tone.

Albures are often too subtle for foreigners to pick up. They may involve generalisation of meaning or extrapolation from context, and they are usually sexual in nature. For example, no se apene (don’t be sad) can be heard as No sea pene (don’t be a penis!).

Alburear has traditionally been a popular sport among the working-class, especially the albañiles (bricklayers or builders). But don’t be fooled by the lowbrow nature of the humour: this is also a serious and sophisticated form of verbal duelling.

There is even an annual competition to find the best albureros. Contests generally follow a simple set of rules: participants are presented with an albur and have up to 5 seconds to respond – if they cannot think of an appropriate response fast enough, they are said to have been “albureado” and are eliminated.

And it’s not just men who participate: the competition (then known as the ‘Festival Trompos contra Pirinolas‘) was famously won in 1997 by Lourdes Ruiz from the Tepito neighbourhood, who became known as the Reina de los Albures (Queen of the Albures).

In an interview with the BBC, she explained that “Las mujeres somos más pícaras. La mujer es más ágil, eso es lo que he encontrado” (Women are more mischievous. Woman are more agile, that’s what I’ve found).

Ruiz sadly passed away several years ago, but her spirit lives on in Tepito where she continues to inspire later generations of albureros.

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