Word origins: Chiste (joke) Posted by on May 28, 2009 in Spanish Culture, Spanish Vocabulary

In the early days jokes were not told openly and, if there were people of the opposite sex present, they were told in whispers.

To designate these stories, at first obscene ones, the word chiste was used, derived from the verb chistar. Chistar meant “to whisper, to speak in a low voice” or also “to utter a sound with the intention of speaking”. Chistar is an onomatopoeic form that comes from the sound sst or chst, used to ask people to be quiet. The first appearance of chiste was in the 13th century used by Gonzalo de Berceo, in the form chista. From the context, we can tell that it referred to obscene stories:

Mostrad el Pater Noster a vuestras creaturas.  (Teach Our Lord’s Prayer to your children)
Castigad que lo digan yendo por las pasturas, (Punish them to say it over the fields)
Mas vale digan esso, que chistas e locuras, (It’s better for them to say it instead of jokes or nonsense)
Ca suelen tales mozos fablar muchas orruras (Because the words of such young lads are often vulgar)

Nos vemos prontito.

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About the Author: Adir

English / Spanish teacher and translator for over 20 years. I have been blogging since 2007 and I am also a professional singer in my spare time.


  1. Allison Overall:

    I am a beginer in the stuy of spanish. I have byki delux and have been learning tems , words and phrases. I have a question about gender , and how it is arrived at. I.E. , fly=la mosca, insect=el insecto, rat =;a rata, mouse= el raton. There seems to be know set way to determine, el and la in many words. la cabeza, el braso,and on and on. Is there any way to determine gender other than memory? I hope my question is not to ignirnat, but if you could help me or show refer me to other resources, I woud be vey gratful.

    Kindest Regards,

    Allison Overall

  2. david carmona:

    I’m afraid there is no way to predict gender. Try looking at the word ending for clues (-a/-o), and read or listen to as much content as you possibly can. Avoid forcing yourself to memorise this information, and let it be absorbed gradually. Remembering a word is much more important than remembering its gender, since you will be understood even if you get it wrong. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes at the beginning. In time, you will learn it without even trying.

  3. Allison Overall:

    Thanks so much for the timely information. I took French in high school and college. Unfortunately I’ve never really used it, perhaps this is the reason on the confusion with gender of objects, and animal names. I look forward to being proficient enough to make intelligent comments on the blog.

    Kindest Regards,

    Allison Overall

  4. Allison Overall:

    Although this is more advanced,than at the point I am now, I found this very interesting. I will view this blog on a daily basis, also along with my “Spanish word of the day”. Thanks for your erudition.