Hi, papi! So glad you aren't really my dad
I never really thought much about the multi uses we give to the words “mami” and “papi” until one of my boys brought it to my attention.
“Mom, why do you always call me papi?,” Peter said.
At first I didn’t get the question, but he then reminded me that, at seven, he isn’t a daddy yet.
But my friend Mercy’s daughter, Elise, 4, takes the cake. She was gardening with her mom in the front yard when a group of teenagers walked by.
“Vaya mama…. Psssst…. Psssst… Hey, mami…,” they said commanding my friend’s attention.
“Did you hear that mami?,” Elise said. “Those boys are confused. They think you are their mother.”
Funny as it is, we do use the words mami and papi, in all of their variations, quite freely. It doesn’t make any sense. They are terms of endearment for loved ones, store clerks, service people, neighbors and pets. We use it with perfect strangers we find attractive (“ay, papi, you look so good…”) Heck, We even use it with people we dislike or with whom we aren’t happy. (“Espérate un momento mamita, don’t you dare talk to me that way again!”)
Imagine the horror on anyone’s face if we were to say any of those things in English: “Oh, daddy, you’re so hot…” Say what!?! I’ll save you from the disgust of any other translation.
So, my friends, how do you suppose this happened? How did the Spanish word for mother and father became a multipurpose term of endearment, a condescending expression and a term to express desire, all in one?