web analytics
Black Velvet
December 16, 2012 – 3:09 pm | 17 Comments

Childhood memories are vivid, almost indescribable in their detail, and impossible to forget. A Christmas memory I have is that of a black velvet dress  a family friend gave to me for my seventh Christmas.
The …

Read the full story »
casa + cultura

The sabor of Latino living.

dichos + del alma

Inspiration and reflection.

el buzz

News and pop culture.

foto + video

See us. See yourself.

the habla habla

Our stories.

Home » the habla habla

Papi vs Ay, Papi!

Submitted by on June 19, 2011 – 6:50 am7 Comments


One Man’s Papi Protocol

By “Navo”

papiknows.comI never really liked the word Papi. When I was younger I didn’t like saying it at all, except in some very specific cases.

I have tried to think about why this is and have found that I have defined a pretty complicated protocol for the use of the words — Papi, Papá, Papa and all the other variants. I guess because of all the different cultural connotations topped with my American Brain/Mexican Brains’ struggle for power.

Now that I’m older and arguably wiser, I still find that I tap into the protocol I created for the Papi word. (I share my Papi Protocol below) Recently I struggled naming my site Papi Knows because of my mixed feeling towards it, but the good outweighed the bad in the end.

I found that how, and when, you use “Papi” depends on nationality and what region of the country you are from.

Being Mexican and growing up rural areas of the of Mexico and the United States, I don’t recall ever hearing anyone use the word Papi other than the women in my family saying it to little toddler boys.

Never heard Papi from the men, at least not as an adult. There probably are other times it was said, but we won’t go there and keep it wholesome here. But, really, if I think about it my mixed feelings toward this word, I think it stems from those “alternative” meanings.

Hey, Papi!

Que Papi!

When I heard it used for the first time on TV by a Dominican guy, it blew my mind. I was a kid. It was strange to me. When I heard it used by men on other men it was by my Puerto Rican, Cuban, or Dominican guy friends when getting, and giving, shoutouts to other guys – - Hey, Papi! or Hey, Papa!

I think I had to connect the use of it to the 1950′s word “Daddy-O” to make me feel comfortable when it was said to me by other grown men. Mexicanos don’t use Papi as slang, ever.

I’m sure I said Papi to my dad when I was a toddler but something changed (I don’t know at what age) and after that I would only call to my dad using the words, “pa” or ” ‘apa” (I guess I dropped the first P or it’s silent!) Here’s the kicker though, when I talk to my siblings or my mom, I feel fine using Papi if, and only if, I was talking about him for example “Where’s Papi?” or “Ask Papi, he should know.”

I guess the same protocol could be applied to the word “Daddy” and the same provocative connotation can be attached to that English word too. But for some reason it’s not the same. I consider the provocative version of Papi stickier than its English counterpart.

Why is that? Maybe overall, Papi has that “Latin flare thing” about it that I’ve defined using the American side of my brain. Because of this, I’ve put more negative weight on the P word when used in that way. A silly theory, maybe.

I understand that others might not see it in that way and the ladies might use it interchangeably with the word baby with referring to their guy in a cutesy term of endearment. Hell, My mom still calls me Papi sometimes and I’m 30-friggin’-years-old. So, then there’s that way of using Papi – in place of baby – that puts the word on the fence for me.

This whole mapping of this word’s usage reminds me of the classic Eddie Olmos speech about biculturism in the Selena movie when they’re riding in the Big Bertha bus. It’s that complicated.

My Papi Protocol

  • I say ‘apa if talking directly to my dad.
  • If speaking in English, and to my mom or siblings about my dad, it’s Papi.
  • I’ll also say Papi to my baby son but only within the first 12 months, after 12 months I might call him papa for next couple of years but beyond that, I’ll probably drop the use and go to hijo.
  • If it is extended family or friends, I’ll say, mi ‘apa or mi jefe.
  • If I was talking to strangers in Spanish, I’ll say mi Papá.
  • I’ll feel comfortable if my Caribbean friends call me Papi.
  • I don’t like when I hear it used in the “Ay, Papi” way.
  • My mom still has license to call me Papi.
  • And as a fan of baseball, I know who Big Papi is.

Any one else using this handbook, or know what I’m talking about? Maybe it’s all the same in English and these details of saying daddy, dad, father work in very much the same way but I wouldn’t know since my lean is toward using the P word! I can only imagine the handbook if I was from the Caribbean!

Navo is the founder of Papi Knows, a crowd-sourced Dad y Papi community that includes social networking, blogs, and videos on all things Papi. He also is the creator of Blogadera, a Latino blog directory.

Share, por favor!


  • This was so interesting to read. I call my son papi all the time (he’s 5). I think it sounds sooooo CUTE! This is coming from una gringa married to un Mexicano so honetly I probably do not know all the ways the word is used and the appropriate ways in which to use it. To make things more difficult, we call dad (his father) Daddy and his grandfather Poppy.
    I enjoyed your post and hearing a male’s perspective on the word.

  • Gigi Hall says:

    Loved the article! I understand what you’re saying too!!

    My family is Dominican, so naturally I *STILL* call my 7yr old son “Papi” or “Papito”. And I call my step-father, Papi. My dad, for some reason is “Dad” or “Luis”. He’s Colombian so perhaps that’s why. We never grew up with the word “Papi/Papa” with him.

    The idea of calling a lover “Daddy” though always creeped me out. Yet, for some reason it’s a popular phrase/term with American males. I have yet to discover the attraction for men with this “play” on words. Oddly enough though, I have NO problem calling my sweetheart “Papi”. And yes, I mean it as in “Ay Papi” or like a “Papi Chulo”.

    It’s amazing how one word can have so many connotations and bring up a variety of images for us. I guess that’s what adds to the wonderful dynamics of writing!! It’s like sazon for our blogs :)

  • Navo says:

    Maybe I overthink things sometimes! Thanks Tikitiki for featuring this random overthink. It is interesting when you think about it, especially as a guy – a man – how and when words like this get used, not used and replaced just naturally. You never really stop to think why, but boy when a man starts thinking about this stuff…it’s like some big theory for the discovery channel.

    @tara castillo I agree I think it is cute. my daughter calls my dad – her gramps, Pappa/Poppa.

    @gigi it’s funny. I forgot to mention my wife and I call each other momma and daddy now…just as new parents it came about out of nowhere…hey daddy go get the clothes out of the dryer, whatcha wanna do tonight mama? — and it’s just us in the room, even better we’ve been caught saying this around family. they’re like what in the world!?

    – ah the things we say.

  • [...] the rest of this guest post I did as seen on Tikitikiblog.com - Papi vs Ay, Papi! [...]

  • Dariela says:

    I love this! I don’t have such a long protocol for the word papi but I completely understand everything you say and why you don’t like it sometimes and sometimes you do.
    With my first born, my in-laws, who are gringos, didn’t understand why I called my son papi. I explained the best I could but still, they just accept it but will never “get” it. The same now with my daughter, I call her mami!
    There should be a protocol for many words! There is the word gordito for example, uff, that’s a hard one for some people!

  • [...] the rest of this guest post I did as seen on Tikitikiblog.com - Papi vs Ay, Papi! [...]

  • Enrique says:

    I am Mexican and I use the word “papi” all the time when speaking in Spanish with my male and female co-workers, friends, relatives or even my pets. For some reason I just friggin’ love this word. I even use it to call on my food or personal belongings, for example when I’m looking for my cellphone I’m like “¿dónde te metiste ahora papi?”. I’m also exceedingly gay.

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.

CommentLuv badge