Listening to and understanding “Chilean spanish” is often a complicated task for foreigners visiting the country. This applies even to native Spanish speakers, since the language is continually embellished with wit and mischief – and often vulgarity – on subjects such as food, clothing, sex and relationships in general, scatological functions, games and monetary units, among many others.
Coinciding with the celebration of of the 200th anniversary of Independence of the nation, the Dictionary of Spanish Use in Chile, DUECh, (for its acronym in Spanish), a work that has collected thousands of concepts not belonging to common Spanish and that in the two plus months since it was launched, has remained among the 10 best selling non-fiction books in the country. During the recent International Book Fair in Santiago, the first print run of 5,000 copies was sold out.
One person with quite a bit of knowledge about the questions that natives and foreigners have regarding the informal language in Chile is Ximena Lavín, the coordinator of the Department of Idiomatic Inquiries, of the Chilean Language Academy, who in addition was one of the editors of the descriptive dictionary which includes around 9,500 idioms with corresponding citations in the text from the press, literature and electronic media.
“ Foreigners, especially those who have recently arrived, often ask about colloquial expressions they don’t know. Among those idioms, many have a humorous element whose comprehension requires, besides a purely linguistic knowledge, an advanced understanding of irony and double entendre, as well as an understanding of the phonetics of Spanish in Chile”, she explained.
As an example, the researcher cites the phrase ““más cocido que botón de oro”, (literally “more cooked than a gold button”). “Very cooked” means “very drunk” (“cooked” is defined in the DUECh as “ in an inebriated state”.) Nevertheless, the humorous effect of the phrase lies in the homophones “cocido” (drunk) and “cosido” (the past participle of “coser”, which means to sew with a thread and needle), which is possible due to the fact that in Chile (and in all of the America’s) “s” and “c” have the same sound.
“ In a literal interpretation, the phrase would mean ‘ sewn as strong as a golden button is sewn’, indicating a very valuable object which you can’t lose; but, in a specific context, explains Lavin, a competent speaker is able to deduce that that is not what is meant. At that point, he or she associates ‘cosido’ (sewn) with its homonym ‘cocido’ (drunk) and succeeds in identifying the correct interpretation, and ends up enjoying the humorous effect caused by the initial confusion.
With respect to the curiosities of the Chilean language, another editor of DUECh, Dario Rojas, points out the existence of numerous metaphors and comparisons based on the animal kingdom, through which characteristics considered as pertaining only to animals are attributed to human beings. For example, the word “chancho” in Chile and in most of the Americas, refers to a pig. And as such, the same word is used to ascribe to people behavior or characteristics that are typically attributed to that animal; namely, filth (He’s a real pig; he doesn’t wash his hands), gluttony (He ate three servings of lentils; he’s a pig, and fatness (He’s eaten so much he looks like pig)
In addition to these metaphors, he adds, the names of animals are used to create a multitude of expressions: cabro (goat) means child or youngster, gallo (rooster) – person, caballo (horse) – ” very good”, yegua (mare) – a malicious woman, sapo (toad) – an informer, peuca – woman, from “peuco”, the name of a bird of prey, apequenarse – to get scared, from pequén, the name of a small bird; irse al chancho (to go to the pigs), to go too far; buitrear – to vomit, from “buitre” meaning vulture, among many others.