Deconstructing El Paso’s vernacular one syllable at a time.

Whether you are a native El Pasoan or not, you’ve probably heard the phrase Ay Ay before – but what does it mean?

My family and I moved to El Paso when I was about 13-14 years old and up until then, this all-encompassing phrase was not part of my vocabulary. After years of living in and out of the city – the phrase Ay Ay has stuck with me as if it was encoded in my Latino heritage roots.

Ay Ay is described by Urban Dictionary As:

"Used heavily in El Paso, Texas, USA and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, "ay ay" is the repetition of the Spanish word "ay" which is equivalent to the interjection "oh" of the English language. When "ay" is said twice, i.e. "ay ay", it functions as an expression or acknowledgment of frustration, absurdity, disdain, and other "negative" feelings.

Some Mexican dude: I'm going to run for president.

Some Mexican chick: Ay Ay."

I don’t know if the phrase can be defined as such – to me it seems more of a reactionary response where inflection, tone, and emotional emphasis all play a role in how to determine its meaning. But it’s also one of those phrases that we don’t put much thought into it – sometimes we don’t realize that we’re saying it. It seems more of a filler phrase or reactionary phrase in response to someone saying something completely absurd or funny and ironic and the initial response will always be, ay ay.

To be honest no one is even sure how the phrase got started but I’m positive it has everything to do with the fact that we’re a border town and how much the borderland influences our everyday Spanglish verbiage.

For now, this addicting phrase continues to embed our everyday speech and until someone deprograms our slang idiom, Ay Ay is here to stay, spilling over into future generations.


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