outlaw. Current literature indicates that desperado is derived from the spanish term desesperado which means a person with no hope. The term comes from esperanza which means hope. Adding “des” to the front makes it an antonym. Changing the ending “anza” to “ado” makes it an adjective and desesperado means a person with no hope. While this may be logical, it intuitively does not seem to fit well. I sounds like an Ivy league researcher explanation. I spoke with Native American oral historian and their oral history says that the term evolved in this fashion:
Spain created the Camino Real from Mexico to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1598. Camino Real literally means “Royal Road”. As such the road is protected by garrisons at intervals along the road. Spanish law levied a toll to travelers on the Camino Real in order to pay for these soldiers. The soldiers would stop the travelers and demand the toll be paid for them to continue on. In spanish “to stop” is “parar”. And as above “desparado” is a person that was not stopped. According to their oral history, the term desparado, described travelers that did not want to pay a toll and circled, off the road, around the military posts. The term became associated with “scofflaws”, people that openly disrespect the law. When the Americans immigrated into the area they modified the language of the region to suite. Words like “la reata” in Spanish became “lariat” and desparado became desperado. To me this explanation makes a better fit, desparado meaning law breaker is a better fit than desesperado a “a person with no hope”.
Desperados have been depicted in Western literature and film for decades. The movie Desperado is about a cowboy character running from the law. Which is appropriate for a person that shot the sheriff. He is a desperado, an outlaw.
The Eagles song Desperados has lyrics describing a cowboy wandering the range "out mending fences". This is not appropriate. Desperados are not necessarily cowboys. I thing the Eagles missed the target to this one.
Prices shown in USD.
Type your email address below to get our free Urban Word of the Day every morning!
Emails are sent from firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll never spam you.