Marimorena – Is it sexist to use this word in Spanish?
The origin of the expression ‘marimorena‘ is not well known. What is certain is that it arose in the mists of the late 1500s during the emergence of imperial Spain. A story places Mari Morena, a woman, at the centre of this meaningful expression, associated with scandal, trouble, fights and quarrels. I will refer to the colorful version of the story given in the 1899 publication España Moderna, Modern Spain. It intrigues me as to why the name of a woman should become so associated with those actions that are generally more attributed to men.
The Royal Spanish Academy Dictionary clearly states that marimorena is a colloquial feminine noun, meaning: to fight, quarrel and brawl .
The version of the story appearing in the 1899 publication España Moderna, Modern Spain  unveils significant details as to how the name of Mari Morena has transcended the centuries.
By 1579 there was a well established taberna, tavern, in Cava Baja, a street in Madrid run by Alonso de Zayas and Mari Morena, his wife.
The Cava Baja is one of the oldest streets of Madrid and by the 1600s would have been the hub for arrivals and departures, for carriers of merchandise and couriers bringing the mail to the provinces. Later, it became synonymous as the place where groups of thugs used to frequent.
In 1579, Alonso de Zayas and Mari Morena became very well known in Madrid following a high profile judicial court case which took place as a result of a quarrel that arose in their tavern. Alonso de Zayas and Mari Morena had refused to serve their finest wine, contained in cueros de vino, leather wine holders, to thirsty soldiers, because it was reserved solely for members of the Court and their more illustrious customers.
According to the chronicles of the time Mari Morena stood her ground during quarrels in her tavern better than anybody else. She was known as a barmaid ready to ‘crack heads’ to resolve any quarrels by those who did not want to pay or were drunk; and her name and manner survive to these days.
Then as an extension of her name the expression se armó la marimorena meaning “it was a serious quarrel or fight”, entered the language.
Although this story tells us about a remarkable woman who knew how to fight her corner; it appears that the meaning of this expression has evolved. I agree with those who argue that this expression may perpetuate the stereotypical view of women as being quarrelsome. Perhaps, the challenge which faces us today is to restore the original meaning of marimorena as an expression to describe a woman who stands up for herself.
 For the Real Academia Española, Spanish Royal Academy’s definition of marimorena, please click here.
 España Moderna, Modern Spain, año II, número 128, page 115, agosto de 1899, Madrid. To access the pdf file of this publication, please click here.