MEXICO CITY — There are a lot of ways to talk about corruption in Mexico. In fact, there are more than 300 terms for it in Mexican vernacular, according to a new “corruption dictionary,” or Corrupcionario, published this week.
The satirical dictionary, which reads a bit like the famous online Urban Dictionary, was created by several NGOs and published by Penguin Random House. It contains gems like these:
Justice: A social construction that doesn’t exist in Mexico. Period.
Greasing the palm: A phrase commonly used by authorities to “help” citizens evade their responsibilities. “There’s always a way to help us, young man. Grease my palm and I’ll pretend not to look.”
Political Parties: The most profitable business in Mexico, since 1996, with bigger returns than Apple — and without risk nor a need to put up an initial investment. It’s not a joke. It’s outraging since they should be the main instrument so that citizens can participate in politics and public life.
Senator: Like a Congressman, but more unbearable.
“It’s one of many initiatives that aim to raise awareness,” said Alejandro Legorreta, president of Opciona, an NGO that coordinated the creation of the Corrupcionario.
Legorreta says the idea for the corruption dictionary came after conducting several polls, interviews and studies in which Mexicans talked about corruption in various terms and slang words.
“In our research we started to note some of the language people were using to describe corrupt actions and actors,” he told Fusion. “So instead of publishing an academic study or a condescending report on corruption, we decided to go with a dictionary.”
Legorreta added, “Humor allows us to talk about something as uncomfortable as corruption without preaching.”
The dictionary of corruption also has a website where anyone can submit new terms and definitions. It’s a crowdsourcing of Mexicanisms about impunity and everything society hates about its government.
The NGOs have also launched the hashtag #EmpiezaPorTi (it all starts with you) to promote the dictionary and encourage people to reflect on the problem of societal corruption and stop blaming the politicians for everything.
It’s a needed wake-up call at a time when corruption is increasingly perceived as Mexico’s No. 1 problem. Corruption is not only having the president’s wife purchase a $7-million mansion from a government contractor, but also having a driver hand a few bucks to a cop to avoid a traffic ticket. It’s something that permeates Mexican society and not only the country’s political class.
“I think social media is playing a huge role in making corruption more visible. Perhaps corruption was the same decades ago, but now we can all know instantly about a scandal and public scrutiny is much bigger,” Legorreta said. “The citizenry is more informed and is more demanding, and during this presidential term we have witnessed scandal after scandal so there is a generalized sense that we have a big corruption problem.”
The dictionary, which includes funny cartoons, also immortalizes popular Mexicanisms like abogánster, a word coined by joining “lawyer” and “gangster.” There’s also bisnes (from the English word business), a term coined to describe a transaction where a third party gets screwed.
While the dictionary is a funny read, it’s not just about getting a few laughs.
The first step to battling corruption in Mexico might just be to simply define it.