No sabo kids

« previous post | next post »

Edwin Flores and Maya Brown, "The 'no sabo kids' are pushing back on Spanish-language shaming", NBC News 9/16/2023:

A growing group of young Latinos are using TikTok and social media to push back on not speaking perfect Spanish — an attempt to define their identity and heritage on their own terms.

[…] In recent years, the phrase "no sabo," which is the incorrect way of saying "I don't know" in Spanish (the correct translation is "no sé") has become synonymous with young Latinos who aren’t fluent in Spanish.

But what used to be a put-down term has now become a cultural hit online and a widespread meme: TikTok alone has more than 644 million video views with the hashtag #nosabo and #nosabokid is close to 400 million.

The verb saber "know" has an irregular conjugation, so that the first person singular present tense form is "(yo) sé", not "(yo) sabo" — in comparison, the regular verb comer "eat" has the form "(yo) como".

Add the negation no and we get no sabo "I don't know" instead of no sé. And apparently this is a case where incomplete learning leads to regularization, like English knowed instead of knew.

There's a recent card game "Yo Sabo" which

[…] was born when Carlos wanted to improve his Spanish after always being known as a “No Sabo” kid. It was created to help people learn and remember those tricky Spanish words, but it soon evolved to a game that connected people to their Latino roots. We hope that playing Yo Sabo with your friends will help not only improve your Spanish, but also create a memorable night of sharing childhood stories from a Hispanic Household! Who knows, the “No Sabo” kid may surprise you!

There are memes (and t-shirts and so on) introducing "no sepo" as a (meaningless?) alternative, as in the image introducing the cited NBC News article:

Commenters will no doubt be able to explain for us where "sepo" comes from — my only point of reference so far is that Sapo y Sepo, Inseparables is the Spanish translation of Arnold Lobel's 1970 book Frog and Toad are Friends. Which is partly because Sapo is Spanish for "toad", but it's not clear to me where Sepo comes from, or why it's relevant to the #nosabokid hashtag.

Here are some of the "no sabo" tiktok videos, and one giving a set of instructions for dealing with a family reunion as a no sabo kid…


  1. Jeff said,

    September 16, 2023 @ 12:31 pm

    The subjunctive conjugation of saber is (yo) sepa, so like no sabo, I assume no sepo is a play on that misconjugation.

  2. DJL said,

    September 16, 2023 @ 3:00 pm

    The verb 'saber' is ambiguous between 'to know' and 'to taste' – in the case of the latter, 'esto sabe a sal' means 'this tastes of salt' – and a common phrase, though regarded as incorrect by the RAE (link below) is 'sepo a sal', which means (or would mean) 'I taste of salt'. The correct form for 'I taste of salt' is supposed to be 'sé a sal', and I think the 'yo sepo' memes are about the 'sé-sepo' usage as it pertains to 'saber' qua to taste (and I would say 'yo sepo' is rather widespread among native speakers too).

  3. Cervantes said,

    September 17, 2023 @ 7:14 am

    Yes, sepo is not formally correct but it is vernacular in some places.

  4. JorgeHoracio said,

    September 17, 2023 @ 7:48 am

    probably 'sepo' comes from a mistaken analogy with the irregular verb 'caber' :
    caber -> quepo
    saber -> sepo (x)

  5. Coby said,

    September 17, 2023 @ 8:32 am

    The polysemy of saber goes back to the Latin sapere, which, however, has the regular (?) first-person singular indicative present sapio. The shortened Spanish form may have been formed by analogy with haber, he, just like Italian sapere, so and avere, ho.

  6. /df said,

    September 17, 2023 @ 2:16 pm

    That's a plausible answer for the first question that I had.

    "(?)" presumably because sapere (L.) belongs to the i-stem subset of the 3rd conjugation and so has one foot in the 4th conjugation as the -i- appears or not in various formations? Wiktionary suggests the same origin (semivowel stem) for both i-stem 3rd conjugation and 4th ("regular i-stem") conjugation verbs, raising the question as to why these verbs evolved differently. G search didn't offer any suggestions, but then it offers lots of results about declensions when you ask about conjugations, struggling, I'd say.

  7. Peter Taylor said,

    September 17, 2023 @ 3:43 pm

    To expand on JorgeHoracio's comment, the general rule is that the first person present indicative gives the stem for the present subjunctive (so quepo as an irregular first person present indicative gives quep- as the stem for the present subjective: quepa quepas quepa quepamos quepáis quepan). But the very rare verbs where the first person present doesn't end in -o break this rule. So Jorge's comment links into Jeff's, but the connection is not obvious without a bit of knowledge of Spanish.

  8. Adam C said,

    September 17, 2023 @ 4:47 pm

    Reminds me of ‘No soy taco’ (“I am not a taco”) day in the cafeteria. Always gave me a chuckle.

  9. gds555 said,

    September 18, 2023 @ 6:47 pm

    At the rate things are going, a substantial number of third-, fourth-, and/or later-generation Latino Americans seem likely to end up being just as nearly-fully-assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture as the Franco-Americans are—the latter being a group whose members, while clearly fundamentally American in personality, also possess a certain je ne savois quoi.

  10. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    September 19, 2023 @ 7:59 am

    gds555 said,

    "the Franco-Americans … also possess a certain je ne savois quoi." So they've been here ever since Carles li reis, nostre emperere magnes set anz tuz pleins ad estet en Espaigne? Were they fleeing the Saracens?

  11. Josh R. said,

    September 19, 2023 @ 7:26 pm

    The mention of "no sé" reminds me of the following Saturday Night Live sketch. Which may be linguistically interesting, because aside from a brief aside in the intro, the entire sketch is in Spanish, and the audience is expected to follow and get the comedy from context and what Spanish one might have picked up by osmosis living in the U.S.

RSS feed for comments on this post