If you're still looking for an unusual but endearing pet, or struggling for the right adjective to describe your rug-ratty little nephew or next-door neighbor's daughter when they get on your nerves, I've got the word of the day for you: escuincle.
(Or escuincla, if of the female gender--pronounced "es-queen-kleh" or "es-queen-klah," respectively).
I'd heard lots of people refer to kids here as "escuincles," and had also heard of a breed of dog called the "mexican hairless," but i'd never put the two together until a couple of weeks ago. Patricio and I were visiting with our friends Laura and Pedro after our first salsa dancing lesson and subsequent lunch of barbacoa, when Pedro started talking about an escuincle that he almost ran over with his minivan on a family vacation. Somehow, his tone of voice didn't carry the gravity of nearly hitting a small child, so my brain switched into overdrive and the light bulb came on; escuincles were also dogs! And a very mexican dog, indeed. iIstill can't admit to finding them adorable. As a cat person who finds it hard to love any canine except for the wiener dog, the odds are already stacked against me. Nevertheless, i'm finding escuincles pretty fascinating.
First of all, get this--they're vegetarians. Apparently, they can learn to eat meat fairly easily, but the fact that they are born herbivores is undeniably cool. Secondly, their function in ancient indigenous societies is also interesting. Clay effigies of escuincle dogs have been found in countless archaeological digs of mexican burial sites all over the country. It was believed that the escuincle helped dead spirits cross over the final river into the underworld. Why? It's all in the name, derived from the Nahuatl xoloitzcuintle, meaning "dog of xólotl," a reference to Quetzalcoatl's twin brother, Xolotl. Xolotl was the god of various things, among them the evening star and the underworld--and he was represented as a dog.
Functioning as helpers in the afterlife wasn't the only job escuincles filled, though. They were also raised for culinary purposes. Yes, the ancient Mexicans prepared escuincle for dinner, too. Admittedly, it gives me the willies to think about it, but as vegetarian animals, I suppose that they were a pretty healthy addition to the diet. Escuincle taco, anyone?
Pedro, in talking about the escuincle he almost hit, mentioned that the owners of the dog wouldn't sell it at any price. Although they'd been on the brink of extinction in the past, their fate took a turn for the better in the hands of concerned and interested nationals and foreigners, and now they can be worth a pretty penny. Like talavera pottery or tequila, escuincles became symbols of mexicanidad among artists in the 1930's (think Diego Rivera and crew), but there seem to be breeders all over the world now, from Cuernavaca to Russia. They're also known as xoloitzcuintli, mexican hairless, tepeizeuintli, xoloitzcuintle, or xolo. ("xolo" is pronounced like "show-low").
In my brief google session, I wasn't able to find out when "escuincle" became used as a synonym for a little squirt, but it's not hard to understand how the word made such a linguistic jump.
I can easily think of a few examples of kids i've known (or perhaps even the kid I once was) that can be summed up with this picture of an escuincle to the left. Come to think of it, I still feel and look a little like that when I have to wake up earlier than I'd prefer. I guess I haven't lost all my escuincle-ness after all, and that's probably not such a bad thing.
Here are a couple of sites about escuincles then and now, as well as a couple more images, just for kicks. And if you're feeling really brave, take a look at this: http://www.resourceinvestor.com/pebble.asp?relid=10958