This article is from the October 2000 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Niña or Muchacha?

by Bruce McGovern 

Over the years, I have tried and tried to find out what the difference is between “niña” and “muchacha.” Clearly, though they are both translated as “young female,” there is a difference – because sometimes my wife would correct me when I used the wrong one. 

But, as many times as I have asked different people to explain the difference, I got no satisfaction.  I clearly had been asking the wrong person. 

In February, my nephew, the truck driver from Cordoba, came with us on our return trip to DF, to try to buy a VW Beetle, a wasted trip since all of them for sale were highly experienced taxis. 

One day, I asked him my ‘niña’ question, expecting to get no useful information, as usual. 

He immediately said, “I use niña from age 1 to 15, and muchacha from age 16 to maybe 20. And, I use jovencita from age 20 to, well, maybe 35.”  And, he laughed at the last comment, so I assume he may be using a little flattery on women a bit beyond the jovencita age group. 

When I told the family what he had said, they agreed –  though in the past when I asked, they were unable to give me that information. 

Well, now I know.  My only problem is, they all look pretty young these days...