So, you’ve been through many years of academic drudgery.
You’ve dressed up as Don Quijote (or Sancho, depending on your luck) to “practice” (or reach new heights of cringe-worthy embarrassment).
And you’ve put your language skills to the test by studying abroad in Toledo or Madrid.
You may think you have, at long last, mastered Spanish.
And then you decide to move to Chile.
Chilean Spanish defies any and all reason. Between dropping every other “s” and “d” and adding extra “poh’s” at the end of words, Chileans have concocted their very own breed of incomprehensible Spanish – which even other Spanish speakers admittedly find challenging.
It’s all only made worse by Chilenismos, words and expressions exclusively used in Chile.
But don’t despair: take a last swig of your escudo (a popular type of Chilean beer), pick your head up from your chorillana (Chilean dish consisting of bits of meat and egg over a plate of fries), wipe your tears and buck up for one final lesson.
The Beginner’s Guide to Chilean Slang
Understanding and Using Chilean Verb Conjugations
One of the first things you’ll notice when speaking with Chileans is the inordinate amount of “ay” sounds in their speech. This is because the second singular person tú (you) is frequently conjugated with an “i” at the end of the verb.
You’ll likely hear “¿Cómo estai?” soon after arriving to Chile, which is simply the Chilean version of asking “¿Cómo estás?” (How are you?).
Here are a few other examples of this odd conjugation:
Tú hablas (You speak) → tú hablai
Tú sabes (You know) → tú sabí
Tú quieres (You want) → tú querí
Above all, you’ll hear the term cachai thrown at the end of virtually every sentence. Don’t be alarmed: this is not a Ninja war cry, but rather a typically Chilean way of saying, “You know?”
Cachar, which comes from the English “to catch” and means “to understand,” literally translates to, “You get me?” Don’t hesitate to sprinkle your speech with this expression to add some extra Chilean flavor to your Spanish communication. You’ll probably startle some locals but will hopefully earn a bit of respect for attempting to go native. Cachai?
Saying “Yes” and “No” in Chile
You thought you’d gotten away with the basics of “yes” and “no”? Wrong again! In Chile, you’ll hardly ever hear the affirmative and negative stand alone. Instead, get used to hearing “si poh” and “no poh.” Poh, which evolved from pues (well), is a common add-on to words and phrases.
Now that you’ve got “yes” and “no” as well as basic conjugation under your belt, let’s explore three areas of Chilean life – dating, nightlife and work – in which you’re likely to hear the most slang… and be tempted to sling some out yourself.
Romantic Chilean Slang to Navigate Chile’s Dating Scene
The first time a taxi driver, intrigued by your foreign accent, asks you the traditional triumvirate of questions – “Where are you from?” “Why are you in Chile?” “Do you have a pololo or polola?” – you’ll be equipped to confidently answer that last one instead of blankly staring and asking “polo-what” as every other uncult foreigner will do.
No, a pololo is not some sort of tropical disease but the Chilean manner of referring to a boyfriend. Novio or novia, the terms used in the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, in Chile refer to highly serious relationships – engagements and marriages, essentially. Anything else, even year-long commitments, are pololo-worthy.
The word itself comes from the Mapudungun (Chile’s indigenous Mapuche Indian tongue) for “fly.” According to Chileans, just as flies hover around fruit, so do pololos around their objects of affection. A charming concept, in an insect kind of way.
You can also use it as a verb, pololear, as in, “Estoy pololeando” (“I am dating”).
The following are a few other terms you’ll find necessary as you dip into the world of Chilean dating:
Engrupir – to flirt or hit on someone, generally successfully
As in, “Me engrupí esa mina” (I got that girl).
Gorrear – to cheat on your significant other
As in, “El gorrea a su polola todo el tiempo” (He always cheats on his girlfriend).
Jote – essentially, the Chilean equivalent of a player
As in, “No está realmente interesado en ti, solo es un jote” (He’s not actually into you, he’s just a player).
Mina – young (usually attractive) woman
As in, “Mira la mina allá” (Check out that girl over there).
Tocar el violin – to be the third wheel
As in, “Toque el violin anoche” (I third wheeled last night).
Cuico / cuica – yuppi or upper class
As in, “Es demasiado cuica para mi” (She’s too yuppi for me).
Pierna peluda – another (rather astounding) way of referring to your (male) significant other that literally translates to “hairy leg.” Female significant others can be called pierna suave which means “smooth leg,” since ladies tend to shave their legs.
As in, “Donde está tu pierna peluda?” (Where’s your boyfriend?).
Or, “Donde está tu pierna suave?” (Where’s your girlfriend?).
Surviving Chile’s Pisco-Soaked Nightlife with Slang
Your first night out in Chile will feel like a right of initiation. From downing your first piscola (the national Chilean cocktail, an ungodly mix of Pisco and Coca Cola) to trying your hand at cumbia (a popular dance some call the salsa of the Southern Cone), you’ll feel like the king or queen of the carrete (party). That is, until the following morning’s caña (hangover).
The following are a few words to help you manage:
Caña – hangover
As in, “Ay, que caña que tengo” (I have the worst hangover).
Carrete – party (noun)
As in, “Vamos a salir de carrete esta noche” (We’re going to party tonight).
Carretear – to party (verb)
As in, “Carretee todo el fin de” (I partied all weekend).
Flaite – trashy
As in, “Que flaite este disco” (This club is so trashy).
Fome – lame
As in, “Anímate, no sea fome” (Come on, don’t be lame).
Bacán – awesome
As in, “El carrete estuvo bacán” (The party was awesome).
Chilean Slang to Use at Work in Chile
As a foreigner in Chile, you may find yourself among the ranks of work visa-less mongrels roaming about in search of pega (a job). The word itself says it all: pega literally translates to “a hit” or “a beating.” You’re likely to hear a weary “Me toca la pega” (I have to go to work) from your Chilean acquaintances.
The following is a handy list of work-related words and expressions:
Taco – from the word trafico, refers to traffic jams. What you’re likely to encounter on your way to work.
Al lote – disorderly, without rules
As in, “El proyecto está al lote” (The project’s a mess).
Al tiro – immediately, right now
As in, “Mi jefa necesita que haga este proyecto al tiro” (My boss needs me to work on this project immediately).
Harto – many
As in, “Hay harta gente en esta oficina” (There are so many people in this office).
Luca – 1000 pesos
Since Chilean money is counted in thousands, an easier way of talking about 10,000 pesos (the rough equivalent of $20 USD) is saying “10 lucas.”
And now you’re set to go out into the world. Spread your wings and hablai Chileno.
Oh, and One More Thing…
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