variants or less commonly Zacatec
plural Zacateco or Zacatecos also Zacatec or Zacatecs
: an American Indian people probably of Uto-Aztecan speech inhabiting areas now in the states of Zacatecas and Durango, Mexico
: a member of the Zacateco people

Word History


Zacateco borrowed from Spanish, adjective and noun formed from earlier synonymous Zacatecas, borrowed from Nahuatl *zacatēcah, plural of *zacatēcatl, from zaca-, stem of zacatl “grass” + -tēcatl, suffix of personal nouns; Zacatec, shortened from Zacateco

Note: An ethnographic description of Indians on the northern frontier of New Spain, by the Augustinian friar Guillermo de Santa María (1510?-1585), says the following: “Luego se siguen los Zacatecas, de cuyo apellido tomaron nombre las minas tan nombradas que se dicen de los Zacatecas. Su significación se derivó de zacate, que es lengua mexicana y quiere decir yerba, como si dijesen viven entre las yerbas. Traen éstos unas medias calzas a la rodilla, de perro, de la rodilla al tobillo para defenderse de la aspereza de la yerba y matos.” (“Then follow the Zacatecas, from whose appellation the Zacatecas mines take their name. The sense of the word derives from zacate, which in the Mexican language means “grass,” as if to say, they live among the grasses. They wear half-length hose, of dog(skin?), from the ankle to the knee, to protect against the roughness of the grass and brush.”) (See Fray Guillermo de Santa María, Guerra de los Chichimecas (México 1575-Zirosto 1580), edited by Alberto Carrillo Cázares, Zamora, México, 1999, p. 190; the text above is the editor’s regularization of the much less coherent manuscript.) A parallel Nahuatl name “Çacachichimeca” is found in the Florentine Codex: “ … and also those named Çacachichimeca, that is to say, those who lived on the grassy plains, in the forests … ” (“ … in joan intoca çacachichimeca, in qujtoznequj, çacatla, quauhtla in nemj … ”)—see Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J.O. Anderson, Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain, Book 10 - The People [University of Utah, 1961], p. 171.

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Cite this Entry

“Zacateco.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Dec. 2023.

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