Mexican Expressions – Ser Codo (to be elbow)

Ser codo (“to be elbow”): an expression meaning to be stingy or cheap.
The first time I heard someone call another person an, «elbow», I couldn’t make heads or tails of it (pun intended).

There are several explanations of where this expression came from and why the elbow is associated with being cheap.

A short explanation is that selfless people extend their arm out and offer their hand to others. Typically the hand will have something of value in it that will transfer to others. The selfish person will protect their possessions close to them in their hand, in doing so extending an elbow towards others in defense of their personal property. People only see the codo.

A longer explination comes from the northern border state of Nuevo León. Those from Nuevo León are called, neoleónes. The late neoleón historian, Santiago Reol García, told a story from the early 19th century and how the shepards (los pastores) of Nuevo León would travel up to the United States to sell their animals, for which they would receive gold coins. (oro, is gold in Spanish, but two ways Mexicans refer to money is, plata, silver or lana, wool). They usually carried the lana o plata, which was in fact GOLD coins, in leather money bags in plain sight. Obviously, this attracted thieves like flies to … fruit and made those pastores highly visible targets. A visionary decided to make a sling-style money bag that could be carried over the shoulder and underneath one’s clothes. The pastores appeared to not be carrying any lana and for a while it worked, but bandits (bandidos) are smart. Sooner than later, los bandidos caught on after realizing that the pastores were tucking in their elbows in order to keep the coins from clinking together while riding. Los bandidos started calling them, «Codos«. When depriving the pastores of their plata, the bandidos would say, «Codos, levántenlos, o las cosas van a terminar mal» (Stingies, raise ‘em up, or things are gonna end badly.). With the passing of time, the word, codo, became popular usage for people that wouldn’t make purchases despite having the money. In general the expression became associated with the people of Nuevo León and poco a poco, los neoleónes were stereotyped as the most codosin all of Mexico.

Perhaps this gave way to the superstition of it being good luck to hit one’s elbow, as literally being stripped of one’s gold was a blow to the codo. — There was a need for positive thinking.

Darse un golpe en el codo: a superstición (“to give oneself a bump on the elbow”, or “to hit one’s elbow”)
Bumping your elbow on something hurts and usually rubbing it afterwards helps by adding some sensory input around the single point of impact and drowning out the pain signals directed at it.

From now on, DO NOT rub your elbow upon impact.

It is said in Mexico that if you bump your codo, on accident of course, you shouldn’t rub it in the agony of pain. The bumping of one’s elbow is related to good luck in the form of a future gift, money or good news from someone you know. The harder you bump it, the bigger the shortfall. If you rub yourcodo or shake it in any way, you will be diluting the good luck.

Next time something seems too expensive and you don’t want to buy it, you can just say, «Uf, me duele el codo» (Ouch, my elbow hurts.)

Or, the next time someone accuses you of being codo, you can say, «Si la vida me da limones, yo vendo limonada. Los codos guardan los limones hasta que se les pudren.» (If life gives me lemons, I make lemonade. The stingy hold on to their lemons until they rot.)

Or you could say this classic, but slightly more offensive one to thwart someone’s efforts to accuse you of being codo, «Coda tu abuelita que guardaba el dinero debajo del colchón. Yo busco inversiones.» (Cheap your grandma who saved money under the mattress, I seek out investments).

If you like this post, please forward it or share it on social media, muchas gracias.

I also invite you now to try writing your own examples. You can send them to me and I’ll check them over for accuracy and send you back comments and corrections.

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