- Many theories have been expounded on the origin of gringo. The word has been a contemptuous label for any foreigner by Spaniards who vociferously complained that all foreign accents and dialects sounded like griego, or Greek. It was the Mexican way of saying that foreign languages sounded like gibberish, as in "It's Greek to me." Griego, slightly altered, became gringo, and it was applied not only to the language but also to the speaker, who became the gringo.A more romantic story, but one not fully attested, is that during the Mexican War the troops of General Winfield and General Zachary sang as they marched, as soldiers are apt to do, and their favorite song was repeated so often that the Mexican natives thought that from its first two words they had picked up an expression in English: gringo. The opening lines of the song by Robert Burns wereGreen grow the Rashes OThe happiest hours that ere I spentWere spent among the lasses O.One authority claimed that green coat was the basis for the term. But some say that it referred to Major Samuel Ringgold, a brilliant strategist who was mortally wounded in the battle of Palo Alto in 1846. It was said that Ringgold's name was so mispronounced that it sounded like gringo. None of these theories have a foundation in fact, because the word had long antedated the Mexican War. According to the Diccionario Castellano of P. Esteban de Terreros Pando, published in 1787, gringo was an established word. The dictionary, in Spanish, contained the following: "In Malaga, they call Gringoes those foreigners who have a certain type of accent which keeps them from speaking Spanish easily and naturally; and in Madrid they give the same name, and for the ,same reason, particularly to the Irish."
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.