If you’re Mexican, you may have once heard of your uncles (quite literally) taking out the big guns and showcasing their “cuernos de chivo.”

If you can relate, then you probably know that cuernos de chivo is Mexican slang for AK-47 assault rifles. Growing in popularity in Mexico within drug cartels and family homes alike, the easy-to-obtain rifle is known as one of the deadliest in the world — and is sometimes procured at the Mexican-United States border.

But why do they call these kinds of guns “cuernos de chivo,” anyway?


Before we answer that question, examining the AK-47’s origin story is just as interesting. As per VICE, the rifle, officially named the Avtomat Kalashnikova, had a fascinating creator. Russian-born inventor and lieutenant general Mikhail Kalashnikov thought-up the deadly creation in 1947. The Soviet Army officially adopted the rifle by 1949, and some estimate it to be the most popular shoulder-weapon worldwide.

While Kalashnikov invented the AKM and AK-74 assault rifles in the following decade, he was also a writer and poet. And, maybe even an idealist. As per The Guardian, the inventor said before his 2013 death: “I’m proud of my invention, but I’m sad that it is used by terrorists.”

“I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work — for example a lawnmower,” he said at the time. “If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.”

Well, Kalashnikov did not go into agricultural machinery — or watchmaking — which is why we have cuernos de chivo. And while more than 100 million AK-47s have circulated throughout the world since their inception, resulting in countless deaths, Kalashnikov wasn’t always so remorseful about the invention.

The Russian militant told a reporter that he could still sleep soundly, even amid the weight of his deadly invention. “I sleep well. It is the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence.”

As per The Conversation, the Soviet Union gave Kalashnikov the Stalin Prize and the Order of Lenin for his accomplishments. Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin once said the AK-47 was “a symbol of the creative genius of our people,” and the inventor received a “Hero of Russia” award in 2009.

“I created a weapon to defend the fatherland’s borders. It’s not my fault that it was sometimes used where it shouldn’t have been,” he said at the ceremony.

Okay, so now that we have the backstory — here is exactly why Mexicans call these rifles “cuernos de chivo,” and why they probably grew in popularity in the country.

An online forum may point to the real reason people call AK-47s “cuernos de chivo” in Mexico

As per VICE, people use AK-47s all around the world. This includes the Iranian Armed Forces, the Zimbabwe military, U.S. special forces, and Mexican carteles.

In fact, 63% of gun seizes by Mexican authorities involve AK-47 rifles. Mentioning other narco slang like calling hand grenades “piñas” or referring to armored vehicles as “duras,” the outlet describes how gangs equally refer to AK-47s as “cuernos de chiva.” But why?

This term reportedly originated from a man nicknamed El Culichi, who started calling AK-47s “cuernos de chivo” in the 1960s. An internet user once reportedly explained in an online forum that El Culichi “walked around in broad daylight with his guns for the whole world to see, but always had an Avtomat Kalashnikova around his neck.”

The user described, “[El Culichi] said it was his ‘cuerno de chivo’ [or goat horn] because it was curved just like the horns of a goat.” Oh, this makes sense.

“The case was that this young man baptized AK-47s with that nickname,” the user continued. “And because of the importance he had in business around the country and United States at first, and then also in South America… people began learning the gun’s nickname everywhere.”

“The same people around him started saying [that nickname] when referring to the gun, and with time, all the states in the [Mexican Republic] know perfectly what it means.”

So why are “cuernos de chivo” so popular in Mexico? These rifles are especially tied to the country’s narco gangs, which is mostly due to them being easy to obtain. For example, Leviatán México states that some people illegally buy AK-47s at the U.S.-Mexico border. Plus, as per VICE, the price of these guns decreases depending on the location. According to the outlet, while cuernos de chivo cost between $2,000 and $4,000 in southern border states, people buy them for as low as $1,200 in the north.

However, this isn’t the only reason cuernos de chivo are especially popular in Mexico. They’re popular throughout the world for their ease of use.

According to Leviatán México, people can use AK-47s in any climate, and they are particularly easy to shoot with. Shooting 600 bullets a minute, they are reportedly simple to reload. VICE also points to the cuernos de chivo’s simplicity. As per their report, people can use them in a wide variety of topographies, including dry deserts and humid jungles.