Photo: Police examine a drug cartel's threatening banner -- known as Narcomantas
“Encobijados”, “Encajuelados”, “Encintados”, all are names given to those killed in drug-related violence in Mexico, and each is a slang given to the dead to describe how they were found. And while some are worried that the new vernacular is dulling the reality of the violence, and allowing people to simply accept it as routine, experts say it may just be a way for Mexicans to cope with a terrible situation.
Encintados refers to bodies found that have been suffocated in packing tape. Encobijados are bodies wrapped in a blanket, and Encajuelados are those stuffed in trunks.
A prefix that is now heard in everyday speech is “Narco,” as in “Narcofosas”, which are pits where cartels dump their victims, and “Narcomantas”—the banners cartels hang off highway overpasses with threatening messages. Also common is “Narcotienditas”, which are small drug-dealing locations. They are also referred to as “picaderos” is heroin is sold.
Even more of the slang is used when talking about the kinds of crimes. “Jobs” is used for contract killings. “Pickups” are kidnap-murders, and when gangs kill rival drug-dealers it’s called the “settling of accounts”.
Isabel Miranda Wallace, an anti-crime activist, is one of those worried that people referring to something as “a ‘pickup’ takes away from the seriousness of it,” and causes people to avoid it. It’s dangerous, she says, because it leaves no room for people to remain outraged at Mexico’s ongoing and spreading violence. “You become insure to the pain and suffering of these images.”
On the other hand, there are people like University of Texas professor, Ricardo Ainslie, that believe having a word or phrase for a terrible event allows for some people to cope with the situation.
“Language helps you absorb things that are overwhelming ... people need the language because it structures the experience,” Ainslie explained. Adding that while studying the psychological effects of violence in Ciudad Juarez, he learned that the residents refer to the cartel victims as “muertitos” or “little dead ones.”
“There’s something kind of normalizing about the language,” he said. “You’ve got this tension, and one of the ways you handle it is by trivializing it.”
Aware of the effect language has on people, Mexican officials have asked the media to “avoid using the terminology used by criminals,” and believing that Mexico is being unfairly portrayed as crime-ridden, they have launched a campaign to “Speak Well of Mexico.”
Officials also avoid saying “drug cartels” and instead refer to them as “organized crime.” They have also tried to emphasize that police and soldiers are not the ones initiating the violence, and that it originates with cartel gunmen.
Columnist and author Guadalupe Loaeza says the “self-censorship” being asked of the media is “absurd,” and says the world of drug cartels and violence “is our reality, and has to be written about.”