How Madeleine Albright Acquired 'Madam Cojones' Nickname

In her tenure as the first female U.S. secretary of state, Madeleine Albright was referred to as "Madam Secretary" as a formal greeting of respect. But the former diplomat, who died on Wednesday at the age of 84, also earned a nickname that translated from Spanish slang to English as "courage" and "guts."

During a 2014 conversation with radio host Michael Krasny at the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund's Day of Philanthropy, Albright explained how she received the nickname "Madam Cojones," which was brought to light on social media shortly after the news of her death.

Albright explained during the interview that while she was serving as an ambassador to the United Nations under then-President Bill Clinton in 1996, "Cubans shot down unarmed civilian planes that were flying over international waters, piloted by Cuban-Americans."

"And I kept getting calls from Washington saying, 'You've got to get condemnation of the Cubans for this.' So what they did was send me the transcript of what the Cuban pilots were saying to each other as they were chasing these unarmed planes around and everything was translated in English except one word."

Albright said that the transcript showed the Cuban pilots saying that they had "cojones," and that the unarmed planes "don't have cojones."

The former secretary of state said that she held a press conference shortly after the incident in which she came up with the line: "It's not cojones, it's cowardice."

"President Clinton thought it was the best line ever and he sent me down to Miami in order to be part of the ceremony honoring the fallen pilots. And I'm walking into the Orange Bowl, through the tunnel that the [Miami] Dolphins come in, and 60,000 Cubans stood up and said, 'Madam Cojones.' So that is how it happened," Albright said.

On Wednesday, Albright's family announced on Twitter that the 84-year-old former diplomat died from cancer.

"Madeleine Albright, born Marie Jana Korbelova, was a native of Prague who came to the United States as a refuge in 1948 and rose to the heights of American policy-making, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, the nation's highest civil honor," the statement read.

Following the news of Albright's death, a number of U.S. politicians expressed their condolences on social media. Among them included former President Clinton, who said in a statement: "Hillary and I are profoundly saddened by the passing of Madeleine Albright. She was one of the finest Secretaries of State, an outstanding U.N. Ambassador, a brilliant professor, and an extraordinary human being."

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley wrote: "Saddened to hear of the death of Madeleine Albright, an accomplished diplomat and trailblazer. My heart is with her loved ones today, and her legacy of global diplomacy lives on."

Similarly, Colorado Senator John Hickenlooper called Albright, "one of the great foreign policy voices of our time."

Madeleine Albright
In a 2014 interview, the former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright explained how she received the nickname "Madam Cojones." Above, Albright speaks during a hearing on "National Security Implications of the Rise of Authoritarianism Around the World" on Capitol Hill on February 26, 2019 in Washington,DC. The former diplomat died on March 23, 2022, at the age of 84. Mandel Ngan/Getty