A War Over New Words: An Analysis of Drug-Trafficking Vocabulary in Mexico

Miranda Leigh Dahlin


The realm of transnational drug organizations is not a place that many academics have ventured. However, there are interesting developments taking place on different terrains across which these organizations traverse - especially on the terrain of language. In Mexico, there has emerged a whole new vocabulary that is related to the realm of the narcotraficante (drug trafficker), the cartels, and their actions. This new vocabulary is charged with assertions of power and legitimacy. There have been different strategies employed by some state officials to manage, or attempt to take control of the power assertions that are present within these new terms. The main strategies I examine in this paper are the repression of narcocorridos, and 'Habla Bien de México' - a campaign initiated by the Ministry of Tourism of Mexico to repress the vocabulary employed by drug traffickers. I argue that these attempts to control what I term 'narco-vocabulary,' is an effort to maintain the semblance of a boundary - which is porous and often does not even exist; this is a boundary between the more accepted forms of mobility - like the circulation of information and legal goods and services, and the passage of (documented) bodies through tourism and legal immigration - and the 'underbelly' of transnational mobility and globalization, such as undocumented bodies passing through national borders, and the flow of illegal goods and services like drugs and weapons. 


drug-trafficking violence; language; Mexico

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