And yet there had been something curiously impressive about the death of the Mexican. It wasn’t that he hadn’t deserved to die. He was an evil man, a man they call in Mexico a capungo. A capungo is a bandit who will kill for as little as forty pesos, which is about twenty-five shillings—though probably he had been paid more to attempt the killing of Bond—and, from the look of him, he had been an instrument of pain and misery all his life.

Goldfinger, Chapter One

Easy entry here, as Ian Fleming defines the term for us. In the context here, it simply means a cheap hitman or assassin.

FInding the actual term in use was a bit more difficult. I didn’t think Fleming just made it up, but I couldn’t find any references to it, other than it being the name given to a minor villain in a motion picture.

Then, on about the 10th page of Google results, I came across a page entitled “The dialect of São João da Chapada: Possible remains of a mining language in Minas Gerais, Brazil” listed among the words was:

Searching Kapiangu brought me to the Portuguese term “Capiango” which is defined as “pessoa que rouba com destreza” – literally translated means “bad person who steals with dexterity.” In Spanish, it can be translated to “clever thief”, or simply thief.

“Bad person” fits with Fleming’s description that this was an “evil man.”

Could Ian Fleming have meant Capiango instead of Capungo? Or had he heard Capungo used in the context in which he uses it here in Goldfinger?

If anyone has further information, I’d love to hear from you.

As for the price of 40 pesos or 25 shillings, the current value of that would be 1.43 GBP or $2.03 USD. Adjusting for inflation from 1958 to to 2021, that would about 13.35 GBP or $18.91 USD.

2 thoughts on “Capungo

  1. I brought up your post on the MI6 message board, and a Spanish member named ggl007 responded:

    ‘ “Capungo” does not exist in Spanish. “Capanga” is used in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay to name a foreman, who can behave violently (sic). Probably Fleming heard the word and tried to write it… not knowing Spanish as it can be proven in other novels. We talk about that word (and much more!) in this book: http://www.007conexion.es.’

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