This is the third ‘history of the taco’ article I’ve blogged about in 3 or 4 months, and believe me, I’m not complaining. (If any magazine is interested, I’m willing to write the definitive history of the burrito, because there doesn’t seem to be much out there.) Jeffrey Pilcher goes long on tacos in Guernica Magazine.
The Spanish word â€œtaco,â€ like the English â€œtack,â€ is common to most Romantic and Germanic languages. The first known reference, from 1607, appeared in French and signified a cloth plug used to hold in place the ball of an arquebus, an early firearm. Eighteenth-century Spanish dictionaries also defined â€œtacoâ€ as a ramrod, a billiard cue, a carpenterâ€™s hammer, and a gulp of wineâ€”a combination recalling the English colloquialism, a â€œshotâ€ of liquor. Only in the mid-nineteenth century did the Spanish Royal Academy expand the meaning to encompass a snack of food. The specific Mexican version was not acknowledged until well into the twentieth century. Nor did tacos appear in early Mexican dictionaries, most notably Melchor Ocampoâ€™s vernacular work of 1844, wryly entitled, â€œIdiotismos Hispano-Mexicanosâ€ (Hispano-Mexican idiocies).