Go to site main page, student resources page.

Open window for Contents, Maps.

Content created: 080821
File last modified: 150702

Glossary

Go to: a c f g h i m n o p q s t v x y z

In the main article, an accent mark was used to indicate stress in Nahuatl words. Since stress is regular, that convention has not been continued here, but long vowels, when known, are indicated by a dieresis (two dots) placed over them; the same convention is followed in the the introductory Nahuatl textbook and reference grammar elsewhere on this web site. Reign dates for emperors, like all other dates, are not agreed upon by all specialists.

In the frames version of this essay (link), clicking blue dotted underlining should play sound files. (That may not work in all browsers. Rapidly evolving and proprietary "standards" are the enemy of stable Internet sound files. In some cases clicking a link may bring up a screen-shrouding "player" with ads for upgrades or pop music. More often, nothing at all happens. In the best of cases, there is a long delay between clicking the link and hearing the sound.) No sound files can be played from this version of the glossary.

Äcamäpïchtli (“fist full of reeds”)
Emperor 1 (reigned 1376-1396). 1st Aztec ruler, son of a Culhua princess, leader of the Aztecs when they lived in Tizapan.
Äcatzintlan (“place of Lord Äca”)
A swampy island offered to the Mexica after they were driven from Tizapan by the Culhua. It became the center of Tenochtitlan. (Lord Äca [“reed”] was one of 108 Chichimec leaders said to have led a group from the seven caves.)
Ähuitzötl (“water porcupine”)
Emperor 8 (reigned 1483-1502); grandson of Motëuczöma Ilhuicamïna (Emperor 5) and of Itzcöätl (Emperor 4); son of Huitzilxochitl and Tezozomoc (the ruler of Azcapotzalco).
Äxäyacatl (“wet face”)
Emperor 6 (reigned 1469-1481); grandson of Motëuczöma Ilhuicamïna (Emperor 5) and of Itzcöätl (Emperor 4); son of Huitzilxochitl & Tezozomoc (the ruler of Azcapotzalco).
Äzcapötzalco (“the beehive”)
A town on the west side of the lake, occupied by Nahuatl-speaking people called Tepanecs, noted as a bird- and slave-trading center and known for its silverwork. It was one of the two most powerful polities around the lake until destroyed by the Triple Alliance.
Aztecs
Name of a pseudo-ethnic group, comprising the Nahuatl-speaking central participants (essentially the inhabitants of any of the of the Triple Alliance towns) of the pre-Conquest empire centered on what is today Mexico City. The word was rarely if ever used in Nahuatl, but it would have been Äztëcatl (plural: Äztëcah).
Äztlän (“place of herons”)
The legendary “northern” place of origin of the Aztecs, the location of which is not known.
calmecac
Schools, usually associated with temples, intended for the use of elite children and providing more specialized training than the telpochcalli schools sponsored by the calpölli. (Derivation unknown.)
calpölli, literally, “large houses.”
Fundamental organizing units of Mexica society, although of uncertain form. Some writers have considered these to be “tribes” or “clans” in some loose sense.
Chälco (“place of mouths”?)
(1) A town located south of Colhuacan, at the southeast corner of the lake, about 40 km southeast of Tenochtitlan. (2) The southernmost of the named parts of the lake.
Chapöltepëc (“place of the grasshoppers,” Modern: Chaputepec)
A strategic hilltop a little to the north of Azcapotzalco, beside the lake, site of a spring and one of the stopping points of the Mexica. Today a Mexico City park, site of the Presidential Palace and several museums.
Chichén Itzá
An archaeological site in northern Yucatan. Some buildings at the site show strong influence from central Mexico, especially “Toltec” features.
Chichimecs
An Aztec name for the desert-dwelling groups of northern Mexico. The Mexica considered themselves descended from these people, whom they divided into “cooked” and “raw,” depending upon whether they had or lacked agriculture. The word is also used in Classical Nahuatl as a metaphor for dangerous things. (Nahuatl: Chïchïmëcatl, plural: Chïchïmëcah.)
Chicömöztöc (“seven caves”)
The legendary stopping point for the Mexica after they left Äztlän.
Chïmal-popöca (“smoking shield”)
Emperor 3 (reigned 1417-1427), son of Huitzilihuitl (Emperor 2), apparently very cute as a child.
chinampas
Fields created by digging mud from a swamp and piling it into islands. (From Nahuatl chinämitl, “a space enclosed by a cane or cornstalk fence.”)
Cholollan (modern Cholula)
An important shrine center conquered by the Aztecs, site of the world’s largest pyramid (by volume).
cihuä-cöätl, or “woman snake”
(1) Title given to the Aztec second-in-command. Sometimes translated “vizier” or “viceroy.” Through most of Aztec history the title was held by Tlacahelel. (2) The name of a mother goddess associated especially with warfare and midwifery (and sweatbaths). She appeared dressed in white and brought disaster.
Cöätepëc (“hill of snakes”)
(1) A legendary place where Huïtzilö-pöchtli was born. (2) A location somewhere near Tollan where the migrating Mexica paused for a time. (3) A name believed to have been given to the pyramid dedicated to Huitzilopochtli in Tenochtitlan.
Cöätlichän (“home of the serpent”)
A Nahua town lying directly opposite Azcapotzalco, and to the north of Colhuacan (and perpetually at war with it).
Cöätlicue (“serpent skirt”)
An ancient Mexican earth goddess associated with rain and moisture, and the mother of the moon and stars. She was redefined by the Aztecs as also being the mother of Huitzilopochtli. In that mode she was represented with two snakes (representing gushing blood) instead of a head, beheaded by her daughter Coyol-xauhqui before Huitzilo-pochtli killed the latter.
codex
An early manuscript, whether or not it is written in a true written language. The term is applied both to pre-Conquest works drawn on hemp paper and to early European manuscripts on imported European paper.
Codex Mendoza (Spanish: Codice Mendocino)
A pre-Conquest-style picture codex containing a tribute list.
Cölhuacän (“place of the ancestors”)
(1) A town on the east side of the lake, one of the two most powerful polities, and the competitor of Azcapotzalco; center of the Culhua people, regarded as a bastion of neo-Toltec culture. (2) Mountain, possibly near modern San Isidro Culhuacan, a stopping place during the Aztec migration.
Copil
A dissatisfied Mexica, the son of a woman ostracized for sorcery, who sought to turn opinion in Azcapotzalco against the Mexica. (Derivation unknown.)
Coxcoxtli
Leader of Cölhuacän, who granted the Mexica asylum at Tizapan when they were driven from Azcapotzalco. (Derivation unknown.)
Coyöl-xäuhqui (“she of the bells on her cheek”)
A moon goddess and the sister of Huitzilopochtli, q.v.
Cuäcuauh-pitzähuac (“thinness of horn”?)
Name of the son of the Tepanec leader in Azcapotzalco. Like Acamapichtli, he was adopted as a “Toltec prince” of the Mexica and given a wife from each calpölli.
Cuauh-nähuac (“beside the trees,” modern Cuernavaca)
A large town located over the mountain pass to the south of the Valley of Mexico. Capital of the modern state of Morelos.
Cuäuhtemöc (“descending eagle”)
Emperor 11 (reigned 1520-1521); son of Ahuitzotl (Emperor 8), cousin and successor of Cuitlahuac (Emperor 10).
Cuihcuilco (“place of bright colors”)
A town competing with early Teotihuacan, but destroyed in a volcano, leaving Teotihuacan free to dominate its region.
Cuitlahuac (“dung spreader”)
Emperor 10 (reigned 1520); son of Axayacatl (Emperor 6), brother of Motëuczöma Xocoyotzin (Emperor 9) and elected to succeed him; an early victim of smallpox.
Culhua
A pseudo-ethnic term used for the people of Cölhuacän. (Nahuatl: Cölhuacatl, plural: Cölhuacah or Cölhuah.)
Florentine Codex (Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España)
An extensive work by Bernardino de Sahagún transcribing and translating comments of his local informants about a broad range of topics relating to Aztec society.
flowery wars
Wars conducted only to train warriors and procure sacrificial victims among the Triple Alliance and Tlaxcallan, Cholollan, and Huexotzinco. (Nahuatl: yäöxöchitl, xöchiyäöyötl)
glottal stop
A pause in the flow of air caused by a quick closure of the glottis, regarded, like p, t, or k, as a “stop” consonant in many languages. In Classical Nahuatl it seems to have been pronounced either this way or as a sound similar to an English H. The Spanish had difficulty hearing it and wrote it, when they wrote at all with the letter H or with a diacritical mark.
Huastecs
Name of a non-Nahuatl-speaking ethnic group of northern Veracruz.
huëhuehtlahtölli (“words of the elders”)
The totality of the inherited wisdom of the past, and the title of any collections of such material. These sometimes lengthy narratives, including moral, social, and religious teachings, were considered in the XVIth century to be a prose genre.
Huemac
The name of Quetzalcoatl’s successor as king of the Toltecs at Tollan. (Derivation unknown.)
Huexötzinco (modern Huejotzingo)
An important shrine center, conquered by the Aztecs.
Huitzïlihhuitl (“hummingbird feather”)
Emperor 2 (reigned 1397-1417)· son of Acamapichtli (Emperor 1); leader who led the Mexica retreat from Chapöltepëc.
Huïtzilö-pöchtli (“left side of a hummingbird”)
The patron god of the Mexica, a war god associated with the sun. He is portrayed with feathers on the left foot. According to Aztec legend, he jumped untimely from his mother’s womb to kill his sister Coyol-xauhqui when he overheard her planning to murder the mother, Coatlique, out of shame at the pregnancy that brought Huitzilopochtli into being.
Ilancuëitl (“old woman’s skirt”)
Name of a Cölhua “Toltec princess” married to Acamapichtli (Emperor 1).
Isthmus of Tehuantepec
The narrowest part of Mexico, crossing the states of Veracruz and Oaxaca, between the Bay of Campeche on the north (Gulf of Mexico) and the Bay of Tehuantepec on the South (Pacific Ocean).
Itzcöätl
Emperor 4 (reigned 1427-1440); son of Acamapichtli (Emperor 1) and a slave woman, organizer of the Triple Alliance to break the grip of Azcapotzalco; the uncle of emperors 3 and 5, and of Tlacahelel.
mäcuahuitl (Spanish macana)
A war club, flat with obsidian blades fastened at intervals around the perimeter, like saw teeth.
maguey
A kind of century-plant raised for hemp. Other names used in English are sisal, henequen, agave, and hemp, although the last of these can also refer to a wide range of other fibrous plants. (Nahuatl: metl.)
Mäxtla (“breechcloth”)
Son and successor of Tezozomoc as ruler of Azcapotzalco. His hostility to the Mexica was a major force in the creation of the Triple Alliance that lead to the destruction of Azcapotzalco.
Maya
A major ethnic group situated principally on the Yucatan peninsula in the Mexican states of Yucatan, Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Tabasco, as well as in Chiapas, southern Veracruz, and in Belize (Belice), Guatemala, and western Honduras.
Mexica
The English and Spanish name given to the group who migrated from the north and became the base population of the Aztecs. (Nahuatl: Mëxicatl, plural: Mëxicah.)
Mixtecs
A non-Nahuatl-speaking ethnic group centered especially in the state of Oaxaca and associated with the archeological site of Monte Alban, which they are believed to have occupied later than the Zapotecs.
Miyähua-xihuitl (“maize flower turquoise”)
A princess from Cuauhnahuac and the third wife of Huitzilihhuitl.
Mizquic (“in the mesquite,” Modern Mixquic)
A town at the southwest corner of the lake.
Moquihuix (“drunkard”)
The ruler of Tlatelolco at the time of the formation of the Triple Alliance and its fourth tlahtoani. (The Codex Mendoza represents him as dying in 1473 at the hands of his allies from Tenochtitlan.)
Motëuczöma Ilhuicamïna (“the frowning lord who shot heaven with an arrow”)
Emperor 5 (reigned 1440-1469); son of Huitzilihuitl (Emperor 2) and Miyähuaxihuitl; one of the instigators of the Triple Alliance.
Motëuczöma Xöcoyötl (or Xöcoyötzin) or Motëuczöma II (“the younger frowning lord”)
Emperor 9, the emperor widely called “Montezuma” in English (reigned 1502-1520); son of Axayacatl (Emperor 6); executed by the Spanish or in an uprising after his capitulation to the Spanish.
Nahua
An ethnic group identified principally by being speakers of Nahuatl.
Nahuatl
A language in the widespread Uto-Aztecan language family. Nahuatl became the lingua franca of the Aztec empire. In Nahuatl, the word nähuatl does not refer to the language, but rather means (1) something that makes an agreeable sound; clear, good-sounding or (2) someone who speaks fluently or well. The Nahuatl language itself was usually called nähuatlahtölli (“clear speech.”).
Nezahual-coyötl (“hungry coyote”)
An Aztec poet and ruler of Texcoco 1418-1472; the king of Tetzcohco when the Triple Alliance was created.
Nezahual-pilli (“hungry the younger”)
The son and successor of King Nezahualcoyotl of Tetzcohco, considered to be the greatest of the Nahuatl poets. Ruler of Texcoco 1472-1515. (He was succeeded in 1515 by an Aztec puppet, precipitating rebellion that broke the Triple alliance just before Cortés’ arrival.)
Otomí (also called Ñañu)
A non-Nahuatl-speaking central Mexican ethnic group. The Otomí were considered by the Aztecs to be particularly ferocious fighters, and the name was borrowed for the fiercest of Aztec warriors. (Nahuatl: Otomitl, plural:Otomih).
Öztömän
A heavily fortified town on the edge of Tarascan lands whose leaders declined to attend the dedication of the final enlargement of the Templo Mayor. The town was wiped out in retaliation.
pilli (plural: pipiltin)
(1) child, (2) lord, aristocrat. (The pipiltin ranked lower than the teteuctin.)
pochteca
A professional merchant, especially one who serves the government. (Nahuatl: pöchtëcatl, plural: pöchtëcah.)
Quetzal-cöätl (“feathered serpent”)
An ancient Mexican god, possibly confounded by the Aztecs with a Toltec king of the same name.
sumptuary laws
Regulations limiting the ownership or use of prestigious commodities. (Click here for longer definition.)
Tarascans (also called Purépecha)
A non-Nahuatl-speaking ethnic group centered to the west of the Valley of Mexico. The Aztecs, having lost a war with the Tarascans, did not launch any further attempts to conquer them.
Teloloh-äpan (“in the river of pebbles”)
A town to the southwest of Tenochtitlan whose leaders declined to attend the dedication of the final enlargement of the Templo Mayor. The town was wiped out in retaliation.
tëlpöch-calli (“youth houses”)
Schools operated by the calpölli for commoner boys, teaching especially martial arts. (Reading and writing were not taught in these schools.)
Templo Mayor
(1) The complex of temples and government buildings in the middle of Tenochtitlan. (2) The double pyramid in Tenochtitlan dedicated to Tlaloc and Huitzilo-pochtli.
Tenochtitlan (“place born of stone”)
The Mexica capital city, located exactly where the center of Mexico City lies today.
Tenochtli (“born of stone”)
A putative early Mexica leader, sometimes called Tenoch, a shadowy figure who may or may not have existed.
Teötihuacän (“place where the gods made themselves”)
An enormous archaeological site at the northern end of the Valley of Mexico, abandoned about AD 600, long before the Aztec times. Aztec legend considered it to be the place where the gods were born in a series of acts of self-sacrifice.
Teötitlan del Camino
A Nahua town south of modern Cuernavaca, never conquered by the Aztecs.
Tepanecs
A pseudo-ethnic term used for the people of Azcapotzalco. (Nahuatl: Tepanëcatl, plural: Tepanëcah.)
Tepeyacac (“mountain ridge,” modern Tepeaca)
Name of a town south of Tlaxcallan, conquered by the Aztecs and thus cutting into Tlaxcallan’s own mini-empire.
tequihua (“tribute taker”)
Prestigious title for a person who had conquered four or more men in battle. (Plural: tequihuaqueh.)
Tetzcohco (Modern spellings: Texcoco, Texcuco, and Tezcoco)
(1) The name of the lake at the center of the Valley of Mexico. (2) The name of the central portion of this lake. (3) A town lying east of Lake Tetzcohco, towards the north, apparently founded in Toltec times as a remote outpost of the empire centered at Tollan, noted for cloth, ceramics, fine gourds, and other crafts. (Derrivation unknown.)
tëuctli (plural: tetëuctin)
“Lord” a title of high nobility, often appearing as a suffix on proper names.
Tezozomoc (“of the old stones”)
The formidable monarch of the powerful city of Azcapotzalco and eventually a patron of the Mexica. (Several other figures had the same name.)
theatre state
A term used by some anthropologists to describe governments that depend for their legitimacy upon their performance of dramatic rituals.
Tïzapan (“place of chalk”)
A rocky, snake-filled piece of land offered to the Mexica by Cölhuacän when they were driven from Azcapotzalco.
Tizoc (“pricked leg”)
Emperor 7 (reigned 1481-1486); grandson of Motëuczöma Ilhuicamïna (Emperor 5) and of Itzcöätl (Emperor 4); son of Huitzilxochitl and Tezozomoc (the ruler of Azcapotzalco); older brother of Axayacatl (Emperor 6). Said to have been poisoned.
Tlacahelel
One of the sons of Huitzilihhuitl (Emperor 2), the cousin of Chimalpopoca (Emperor 3), the nephew of Itzcöätl (Emperor 4). One of the instigators of the Triple Alliance. A major formulator of Aztec governmental policy. (Born in 1397 or 1398 or perhaps 1392, died in 1480 or 1487 or perhaps 1492 — or perhaps other dates.)
Tlacöpan (“place by the sticks,” modern Tacuba)
A town north of Azcapotzalco, eventually the weak third member of the Triple Alliance.
tlahtoäni (“spokesman”; plural: tlahtohqueh)
(1) Title of the Aztec emperor, (2) title used for the head of each calpolli.
Tläloc (“sprouting seed”?)
A widely worshipped ancient Mexican god associated with earth, rain, and moisture.
Tlatelolco (“place of the embankment”)
A town split off from Tenochtitlan and located slightly to the north on the same island. It was eventually administratively re-assimilated to Tenochtitlan, but always remained an identifiable district. The largest Aztec market was located here.
Tlaxcallan (“place of the tortillas,” modern Tlaxcala)
A Nahua town (and today a city and Mexican state) directly east of Mexico City, initially allied to Tenochtitlan against Azcapotzalco, but later an unconquered rival; a participant in the flowery wars.
Töllan (“place of reeds,” modern Tula)
The principal town associated with the Toltecs, located straight north of Mexico City in the state of Hidalgo.
Toltecs
The people of a successor state to Teotihuacan, centered at Tollan (modern Tula). The state flourished from about 900 to about 1200 and seems to have created a tributary empire. The Toltecs were much admired by the Aztecs. (Nahuatl: Töltëcatl, plural: Töltëcah.)
Totonacs
Name of a non-Nahuatl-speaking ethnic group in central Veracruz. (Nahuatl: Totönacatl, plural: Totönacah.)
Totoquihua
King of Tlacopan when the Triple Alliance was founded. (Derivation unknown.)
tributary empire
An empire made up of communities that send goods as “tribute” to the capital because failing to do so would bring devastating punishment.
Triple Alliance
A coalition of the core states of the Aztec world, created as an alliance against Azcapotzalco, consisting of (1) Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco on their island in the lake, under the leadership of Itzcöätl (Emperor 4), (2) Tetzcohco (Texcoco) on the east side of the lake, under the leadership of the poet king Nezahualcoyotl, and (3) Tlacopan (Tacuba) on the west side of the lake, under the leadership of Totoquihua.
Tuxpan (not a Nahuatl name)
The last of the Huastec towns of Veracruz to hold out against Aztec conquest.
Tzintzuntzan (not a Nahuatl name)
Capital city of the Tarascans.
tzompantli (“wall of heads”)
A wooden rack for the display of the skulls of sacrificial victims. The stone base was decorated with sculptures of skulls.
Valley of Mexico
The valley in which Mexico City is located. The valley extends about fifty miles from north to south and about 35 miles from east to west, and includes the ancient site of Teotihuacan at the north, covering the modern Federal District and the eastern portion of the state of Mexico.
Xïpe Totëc (“our flayed lord”)
A southeastern Mexican god (probably originally Huastec), worshipped especially along the Gulf Coast and associated with the germination of young plants in the spring; a patron of metalworkers. Aztec sacrifices to Xipe Totec were among those involving especially many human sacrifices.
Xöchimïlco (“flower fields”)
(1) A town at the southwest corner of the lake, famed today for its commercial flower growing. The community was also known for carpentry and masonry and is reputed to be the homeland of lapidaries. Armies of Xöchimïlco pressed the Cölhuah, causing them to beg the Mexica for military help. (2) The southernmost portion of the lake.
xöchiyäöyötl (“flower war”)
Flowery wars, q.v.
Xoconoxco (or Xoconochco, “place of many fruits,” modern Soconusco)
A region where Mexico meets Guatemala along the Pacific coast, the furthest limit of Aztec expansion in the south.
yäöxöchitl (“warring flowers”)
Flowery wars, q.v.
Yucatan Peninsula
A large peninsula dividing the south end of the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea, and comprising the Mexican states of Yucatán, Campeche, and Quinta Roo, as well as Belize (Belice) and northern Guatemala.
Zapotecs
A non-Nahuatl-speaking ethnic group centered especially in the state of Oaxaca and associated with the archaeological site of Monte Albán. Zapotec is still a spoken language, and its speakers are now found throughout North America.
zócalo
A Spanish word used for a central square. The great square in the center of Mexico City is often called the Zócalo even in English.


Return to top.