Chilean Expressions

To cachar (understand) Chilean speak you must avisparse (pay attention) and apechugar al tiro (accept a difficult situation). ¿Entendió algo? (Do you understand?) Here we provide a few keys to understanding chilean slang or “Chilenismos” as they are called by the Chilenos.   

martes, 28 de julio de 2009  
Chilenismos y curiosidades del habla (Photo:Universidad Católica)

The Spanish language written in Chile adds a little spice to everyday speech.  It incorporates slang adopted from the languages of the original indigenous inhabitants of Chile, particularly the mapudungún.  Chilean expressions are called chilenismos and it is no wonder that foreigners end up loving these slang expressions and do not take long to make them part of their everyday speech.

They are words and phrases that are full of metaphoric language, rhymes and ingenious relationships to cunningly express what is known in Chile as sabiduría popular (popular wisdom).  The jocular way that Chileans tackle serious issues draws the attention of anyone not native to the country. 

The richness of speech is based in Chilean native languages, but there are also expressions that have their origins in other languages.  Some examples: cachar, which means to understand, is derived from the English word to catch; valer callampa, which means to have very little value, comes from the quechua word kallampa, that is a name for the mushrooms that grow anywhere and everywhere.

Groups of young urbanites are the primary inventors of new terms and idiomatic expressions.  It is advisable to be very informed and up to date if you are going to use Chilean slang because they are constantly changing.  A typical nuance of Chilean speak is bestiario, when diverse types of people are given animal names.

Select Chilenismos

Al tiro
It means immediately, right now, or in a hurry and Chilenos use it very frequently.  ¿Vamos a almorzar al tiro? (Are we going to eat lunch right now?) The origin of the expression comes from an ancient custom, not used anymore, of shooting a shot (tiro) into the air to let the farmers know that it was lunch time. 

Likely the most used slang used in Chile.  It is used to label someone as idiotic or stupid; however, it can also be used to refer to someone as a friend.  It has many derivations, like huevear, that is synonymous with having fun or enjoying yourself, but also for annoying someone.  Its origin is related to the word huevo (egg).  Due to physical similarity between eggs and testicles, it is used to refer to the mail genital area.  The way and the tone in which the word is used determines if the connotation is positive and friendly or negative and degrading. 

A la maleta (suitcase) o ser maletero (person who carries suitcases)
But in Chile, maletero is also the person who, in a fight, does not respect the rules of the game.  He who acts a la maleta has bad intentions and is a traitor. His real intentions are hidden, as if they were packed away in a suitcase. 

Dar cancha, tiro y lado
It means to win by a large margin and bragging about it to your rival.   Se da cancha, tiro y lado has its origin in equestrian competitions, especially in the Chilean style races out in the country. 

Cortar las huinchas
When someone is very anxious to do something, you can say corta las huinchas.  The word wincha, of quechua orgin, refers to the reigns of a horse. Cortando las huinchas or releasing the reigns evokes an image of a rider waiting for the sign to release the reigns and start the race. 

Darse vuelta la chaqueta
The people who suddenly change their opinion in an opportunistic way, dan vuelta la chequeta (turn their jacket inside out).  This expression goes back to the civil war of 1891, when some of the defeated changed their jackets and uniforms and started fighting for the other side. 

Irse a la cochiguagua
This means to live without putting forth any real effort, waiting for someone else to do the work.  It is like riding in the carriage (coche) of a baby (guagua- from the mapudungún dialect ).

Hora de once
In Chile the hora de once is the hour of tea, since they adopted this custom from the English.  The once consists of drinking tea or coffee with some light snacks around five o’clock in the afternoon.  This popular tradition can be attributed to the marines that used to enthusiastically refer to aguardiente (clear liquor made from distilled fruit) as once (eleven) because it has eleven letters. 

Marca Chancho
Marca Chancho (pig brand) is used to refer to a brand that is not very well know or prestigious. This expression was brought into existence as a way to describe the cigarettes manufactured in Valparaíso during the last century. 

Más perdido que el teniente Bello
Someone who is más perdido que el teniente Bello (more lost than lieutenant Bello) is someone is very disoriented and has no sense of direction.  The saying originated in 1914, when the aviator Alejandro Bello disappeared during an air test and it was never found.

Morir en la rueda
Morir en la rueda (die in the wheel) means to loyally guard a secret or keep silent. The expression is a reminder of the wheel that was used to torture prisoners during the inquisition, in an attempt to drag out their confessions.  

Ni chicha ni limoná’
When someone is ni chicha ni limoná when some demonstrates indecision or ambiguity, waiting for the most convenient moment to make a decision.  Chicha is strong liquor made from grapes or apples and limoná is simply lemonade.