¿Que es esto?

It was my dad who told me that lyrics in the Mexican folk song, “La cucaracha,” contained references to smoking marijuana. A few years later a friend and I were driving back from the Texas Pelican Club, across the Sabine River in Vinton, La., and were giving three sailors from the Mexican Navy a ride to the old Navy base in Orange, Texas. The sailors were quite full of spirits and were singing “La Cucaracha.” Since they only spoke Spanish I couldn’t quiz them on the meanings of the lyrics. Plus these sailors were s**tfaced,

For whatever reason some 30 years later I never really thought about the words to the song, at least so much as to look up what the words mean, until now. Thank God and Al Gore for the Internet.

As folk songs are traditionally passed from one folker to another folker, you might not be surprised to know that the words are not always uniform from one song to the next. Es verdad with “La Cucaracha.”

But both on Wikipedia and The Straight Dope I found similar verses:

“La cucaracha, la cucaracha
Ya no puede caminar
Porque no tiene, porque le falta
Marihuana que fumar.”

The above verse comes from the Wikipedia entry. The only difference being The Straight Dope lyrics spells the drug “marijuana.” The police also seem to favor it spelled with an “h,” while the monks who write the AP Stylebook say with much authority that marijuana it is spelled with a “j.” You say potato, I say tomato.

Lyrics in translation from these sources say:

“The cockroach, the cockroach
Now he can’t go traveling
Because he doesn’t have, because he lacks
Marijuana to smoke.”

That translation comes from The Straight Dope while Wikipedia says “lacking” rather than “lacks.” Again seis de uno, media docena del otro. I always thought the verse said: “Marijuana por favor.” I guess they were misheard lyrics such as “Scuse me while I kiss this guy” which wasn’t what Jimi Hendrix was singing in “Purple Haze.”

Both Wikipedia and Straight Dope articles offer interesting theories as to what the song is about, that is, other than a grounded cockroach who is like the heads use to say: “dry.” Some stories point to the song being directed to Mexican president Victoriano Huerta, who held office from 1913-1914, and reportedly liked that “wacky tobacky.”

I think Cecil Adams makes a good and funny point about the song being a nightmare for those promoting tourism of Mexico. After all, it is a well-known song even if gringos don’t know the words or what they mean. But then I imagine tourism can be a hard sale in Mexico these days what with the immigration hysteria and the narcoterrorism taking place in border cities such as Nuevo Laredo and Juarez.

Whatever. I just wonder how one might tell if a cockroach is stoned?

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