If you have not heard of it, “Latinx” is a term that was coined several decades ago to denote people of Latin American cultural or ethnic identity who live in the United States. It was specifically intended to be a gender-neutral term, and to replace “Latina” and “Latino” as a descriptive identifier.
Traditionally, Latino/Latina have been used to describe individuals of Latin American origin, which includes individuals from Spanish-speaking countries located within the Americas region, and also technically could include non-Spanish-speaking Brazil (since Portuguese is also a romance language derived from Latin). Thus, the terms Latino, Latina, and Latin American have both a geographic connection (the Americas region) as well as a language connection (languages derived from Latin).
There is no certainty as to the exact date of the first use of the word Latinx, but it appears to have been introduced sometime around 2004. Its creator is unknown, although it is generally understood that the term originated from the Left side of the political spectrum and is intended to promote progressive policies.
A True Neologism or a Just a Passing Fad?
Curiously, despite being in existence for over two decades, the term has not experienced significant usage in the United States (nor anywhere else for that matter). Nevertheless, Latinx was officially added to the Merriam-Webster English dictionary in 2018, and to the Oxford-English dictionary in 2019. Wikipedia currently refers to it as a “neologism,” which indicates their Left-leaning (and wishful-thinking) position that Latinx is a “popular” term that is becoming “accepted” into “mainstream” language.
One of the first high-profile users of Latinx was Senator Elizabeth Warren, who in 2019 made use of it during the 2020 Democratic Party Presidential debates. While President Biden has also made reference to the term, it was only as recently as 2021. Despite the contrived efforts to legitimize Latinx, it has not been, and it has not become, popular among the group it is intended to describe. In fact, according to Pew, it is currently used by less than three percent of the population of Latin American ethnicity/origin who reside in the U.S.
First, it should be noted that a gender-neutral term to identify those of Spanish-speaking origin has been in existence since the 1970s; the well-known and widely used term “Hispanic.” The term differs from Latina/Latino in that it is focused exclusively on the Spanish language, which means that while it includes persons from Spain, it excludes individuals from Brazil. It also technically excludes indigenous persons from Spanish-speaking countries (who do not happen to also speak Spanish). Because of a belief that the word highlights a colonial legacy, specifically Spain’s colonization of the Latin American region, it has been rejected by some progressives. Nevertheless, if the intent was to invent a new gender-neutral term, it would have been prudent to first check whether a similar one already exists, and whether such term, even if it is not completely interchangeable, is generally “fit for purpose.” It would also have made sense to check whether a significant portion of the people to whom the word applies are passionate about any alleged imperfections inherent in that term (which, with hindsight, it appears they are not).
Second, Latinx disfigures the Spanish language. For those who might not be aware, Spanish makes use of masculine and feminine versions of most of its words, such as in the case of “Latina” and “Latino.” In the process of inventing a new word to be used by, and to identify, persons who speak a particular language, one would expect the particulars of a language’s grammar to be relevant. With that being said, it should at least be considered that if gender neutrality was your ultimate goal, why not just simply say “Latin”?
Third, and perhaps the most significant (but lesser-known) reason to explain the lack of use of Latinx, is the fact that the word carries with it negative connotations as a result of the letter selected for its ending. As background, the letter “x” in Spanish is spelled “equis,” and is pronounced EH-kees. To native Spanish speakers, the letter “x” is often used to represent something that is dull, uninteresting, and bland, that does not deserve your attention/time, or is of little value. Not very flattering. Thus, as a general rule, in seeking to invent a new word, it is probably a good idea to avoid letters and words that are perceived as negative by the people whom it is intended to describe.
While I doubt that the “inventor” of Latinx meant to denote that Hispanics are any of these not so pleasant things, it does help to explain why the term has not generated much interest among those to whom it is intended to apply. At a minimum, it begs the question(s): was the person or persons who created Latinx Hispanic or of Latin American ethnicity/origin? If not, were any such persons consulted in its creation? The answer to both questions appears to be no (and is the generally accepted position of Latin Americans and/or Hispanics that I know).
If this is in fact the case, I suggest that the individual(s) who created the term Latinx can, and should for their own sake, claim ignorance. At the very least, I expect that its negative connotation probably does help to explain why no individual or organization has stepped forward to take credit for it. On the other hand, it is valid to ask: what excuse do others have for continuing to use the term, or worse, continuing to promote it (such as the two dictionaries mentioned above, Wikipedia, Senator Warren, President Biden, and others). Unfortunately, it seems that the promotion of its use may have more to do with indoctrination and/or Leftist ideology than with any genuine attempt to develop an improved descriptive identifier for a particular group of people. However, when viewed from this perspective it does help to explain why the term may be popular within English-speaking academic circles in the U.S.
It’s Time to Put the Term to Rest
In light of the above, I suggest the following as a guideline for moving forward: in cases where native English speakers who are U.S. citizens (I am one of them) set out to create new words to describe persons from a particular ethnic, cultural, or geographic-origin group, perhaps we should do our homework. By that I mean we should at least engage with the people we are attempting to describe. Alternatively, perhaps it would be more appropriate to allow non-English speaking ethnic groups to come up with their own descriptions of themselves, particularly for a term that is intended to encompass an entire collection of individuals who have chosen to live within our great country. Just a thought.
Full disclosure; my spouse is Hispanic/Latina/of Latin American and Spanish origin and ethnicity (but is definitely not Latin “x”). What does my wife think of the term “Latinx”? Her answer: “¡Es estúpido!”
It’s time to retire this barely-used term. Therefore, based on the above I am compelled to declare: Rest in peace Latinx. You had two decades to “sink in” to our lives and become popular in our vocabulary. That (thankfully) did not happen. While you accomplished very little of what you intended in your relatively short life-span, your existence may have produced some positive, but I imagine, unintended benefits. Specifically, your time with us appears to have helped to move a significant portion of the U.S.-based Hispanic/Latin American origin population farther away from Leftist/liberal political ideology.
I certainly hope so.
Photo Credit- Pintrest. com and Everyman Staff