Those who frequent Mexican restaurants in the United States sometimes see dishes prepared with mojo de ajo, which amounts to ‘garlic sauce.’ The noun mojo, which also exists in the form moje, comes from the verb mojar ‘to wet, moisten, dunk,’ which evolved from Vulgar Latin *molliare. That had developed from Latin mollire ‘to make soft, pliant, flexible,’ the ancestor of the Spanish mullir that means ‘to soften; fluff up.’ A common way to soften something is to soak it in a liquid, and in the end Spanish mojar acquired more of a connection to dunking and wetting than to softening per se.
Colloquial Spanish has taken the idea of a hand dipping an object in a liquid and extended it that of a hand sticking a pointed object into a person and causing a red liquid to emerge; in other words, mojar can mean ‘to stab.’ Something that can also be dangerous is the act of swimming across a border river to enter a country illegally and look for work there. A person who ‘dunks’ himself in such a way has come to be called a mojado, a term that English uses (with the pronunciation mohado) or that it translates as ‘wetback.’
The online Span¡shD!ct notes that the reflexive verb mojarse has the colloquial sense ‘to get involved,’ and it gives as examples yo prefiero no mojarme ‘I don’t want to get involved’ and no se moja por nadie ‘he wouldn’t stick his neck out for anyone.’ The reinforced verb remojar means ‘to steep’ and also ‘to celebrate with a drink.’
© 2011 Steven Schwartzman