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Cusco or Cuzco? A Historical Review

Which is the correct way to write the ancient inca’s capital, Cusco or Cuzco?

A question that is common and recurring when people visit “Cusco” is trying to find outwhat is the proper way to write the name of the Inca capital. This is due to the dichotomy caused by modern standardization by the municipality of the city.

The municipality of the imperial capital, supported by the Cusco Academy of Quechua, launched the campaign.

Certain media also supported the formal substitution of the name Cuzco for Qosqo.

Peru Amazon Trips will try to clarify the true nature of the conflict.

Consecration of an error. 

As is easy to see, the notation of <Cusco> seems to have been totally successful among the uninitiated and those unaware of the history of the name.

This has surprised by the superstitious stance of many Cuscoists. What was the reason that originated this change? It happens that a certain curious person detected, that cuzco meant ‘small dog, mongrel’ according to the RAE. Therefore, this people considered this as “offensive” to the residents of Cusco.

The least that could be done in reparation was to initiate a campaign in favor of the form <Cusco>, in order to drive away “dangerous” associations.

The fact is, however, that the same dictionary also records, as an alternate form, and with the same meaning, cusca.

Aside from all this, the reaction of the anonymous amender is naive, not to say absurd: the word Cuzco for every Peruvian and foreigner undoubtedly refers only to the imperial city, free of any association with the meaning of ‘dog’, since this meaning, of uncertain local use, is not common within the sphere of the Hispanic world in general.

Curiously, if such a meaning has achieved some diffusion today, it is precisely because the self-deprecating campaign launched against the innocuous form of Cuzco.

Major Mistakes

The term <Qosqo> is seen as a major mistake due to a misguided campaign. The correct pronunciation in Quechua is [qosqo], not in Spanish.

The Quechua language only uses three vowels (/i,u,a/), with variations like [e] and [o] appearing due to certain consonants. Phonologically and orthographically, according to the official Quechua alphabet, the term should be written as <Qusqu>, pronounced [qosqo].

Most bilingual speakers of Cuzco Quechua call the city [qosqo] in Quechua and [kusko] in Spanish. Other Quechua speakers use [kusku], not [qosqo].

Decoding the Meaning

The term <Cuzco> with <z> and <u> originates from the early years of the conquest and was initially used by Inca Garcilaso himself. It was used by colonial Quechua experts because the <z> represented a phoneme different from /s/, which disappeared from Cuzco Quechua in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The use of <z> was not arbitrary but aimed to faithfully represent the Quechua pronunciation of that time. This spelling persisted until at least the late 17th century in Cuzco’s own dialect. The form <Cuzco> is considered the most genuine version to rescue the true etymology of the word.


In conclusion, there are plenty of reasons to stick to the traditional spelling of Cuzco with <z> in Spanish, while Quechua experts decide within their own language whether to write <Qusqu> or <Qosqo>. With the orthographic problem clarified, unnecessarily clouded due to the lack of a historical perspective, we at Peru Amazon Trips believe it’s time to correct the mistake and revert to writing <Cuzco>.

Our journalists, so adherent to norms, should know this. Moreover, some of our intellectuals would do well to free themselves from an error they fell into due to the simplifications accustomed to us by Cuzco academics.

Ultimately, it’s not advisable to play with the “restorations” of the original forms of Quechua words. People should deliver these types of issues based on colonial documentation or linguistic information, as they may backfire otherwise.

Peru’s history is intrincate and surely you can find the best information with us. Contact us today and get the best experience while visiting this amazing country!

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