Folk Metaphor

Zorrillo; Caballo; Paloma

Skunk; Horse; Bird (Pigeon/Dove)

These are common Spanish words for different animals, but for Spanish speaking truck drivers, zorrillo (skunk) means the highway patrol, a caballo (horse) is a policeman on motorcycle, and paloma (bird) denotes the patrol from the Department of Transportation (D.O.T.). Jorge learned these terms on the highways in Midwest United States—he simply kept hearing them in context, and eventually understood what they meant. When truck drivers are on the road, they use a radio to communicate with other truck drivers nearby. Interestingly, although they are not officially set apart, English speaking truck drivers and Spanish speaking drivers use different channels. He says he thinks that other languages might have their own channels as well, but he is not sure. These words are used mainly to warn others if they see patrolmen or police. Because the patrolmen and police have access to the radio as well, should they think to tune in, the truck drivers use this coding to avoid being so obvious.

Jorge thinks this shows a negative attitude toward the officers of the road. “It’s their job to give us tickets. If I can help another driver to not get a fine, that’s great.” He says it’s a way to be stealthy, but it is also a way to make fun of authority. “Sometimes we’ll say, ‘stupid horse’ or ‘dumb pigeon’ in Spanish.

I agree—naming the officers after animals is clearly a way to make fun of them. The Spanish-speaking truck drivers have code words for other things too, such as Romana (Roman) for the truck scales, but it is the terminology for road authority, in which they specifically make allusions to animals.

I think that there is a slightly different dimension to it as well—I think these terms also signify, in a sense, a feeling of power by the truck drivers. Truck drivers have little authority, on or off the road, but I noticed that when they are sitting aloft in their massive trucks, they feel powerful. In fact, sitting up there and looking down at all the other puny cars and buses one feels like king of the road, and the other vehicles do indeed look like creatures. While driving, Jorge would often refer to them as such, calling another car “that little thing.” An expert driver, he does not worry about making a mistake, but does tell me that if other cars break the rules, such as tailgating or cutting too closely in front of the truck, “they’d better watch out cause they’ll get squashed like a bug.” The patrolmen have authority over the drivers, of course, but sitting so high in their trucks seems to give them a slight sense of power, intangible as it might be. Black and white patrol cars really do look like little skunks, and the D.O.T. in their white cars do look like pigeons. Policemen on motorbikes, of course, do resemble a mounted horse.

Finally, I think these words are also significant in that they reveal how important it is for truck drivers to cooperate and support one another. More than people in other professions, truck drivers seem to bond very closely, they are generally very warm to each other. I have seen Jorge talk jovially and joke around with random truck drivers who pass by over the radio, and have never witnessed hostility or rivalry. It is natural, then, that they would want to help fellow drivers avoid a large fine, or a damaging record on their licenses. Driving for days at a time alone in a truck can get lonely, I suppose, and truck drivers seem to turn to one another for companionship, as well as for road information.