20 Peruvian Slang Words That’ll Have You Living the Good Life in Lima
Think you can live it up right in Lima or Cuzco with just the Spanish you learned in high school?
It’ll work for a while, but when the slang starts flowing, you’ll get a crash course in a whole new variety of Spanish.
For starters, consider that a wild night out will be at a tono, not a fiesta (see #7 below).
That’s right, Peru has developed its own peculiar set of slang to keep things interesting…and which sometimes keep foreigners/older folks a bit out of the loop. These words are particularly useful if you’re out partying, flirting or getting into trouble.
The phenomenon isn’t unique to Peru. Whether you’re in Argentina, Cuba, Spain, Mexico, Ecuador or doing a tour of Latin America, you’ll want to learn the slang appropriate for that region.
The following guide will quickly get you up to speed on Peruvians’ least formal words and phrases. Most of these are now pan-Peruvian (intra-Peruvian distinctions are falling away thanks to TV and internal migration) and some can even be heard in neighboring countries like Columbia, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia.
Want even more local lingo? Click over to this post, where we’ve compiled all our Spanish slang posts:
20 Peruvian Slang Words for Partying, Chatting, Drinking and Even Working
Pata in standard Spanish means the leg or paw of an animal (pierna is only used for human legs).
However, this is the Peruvian slang replacement for amigo (friend). Note that it always ends with an a, no matter whether you’re referring to a male or a female. You can say “Es mi pata” (He’s my pal) or “Ei, pata, ¿qué tal?” (Hey, buddy, what’s up?).
The currency in Peru is the sol (as of this writing, one American dollar is worth about three soles). The slang word is luca. According to one source, it comes from the Spanish gypsies’ word for money.
Spanish speakers from some lands litter their sentences with pues (then, well) as a meaningless filler word. Peruvians use the shortened form pe.
“Pe, no sé” is like, “Well, I don’t know.”
The slang verb jamar is common in a few Latin American countries as an alternative to comer (to eat). Jama is the noun form, so it just means “food.”
You don’t have a trabajo (job) in informal Peruvian jargon, you have a chamba.
6. pitri mitri
This is a cutesy, rhyming way to say “Awesome!”
Use this word instead of fiesta (party). But note that it’s common enough in Peru to get printed in newspaper headlines without explanation, so it’s probably about time for the youth to come up with something new.
This isn’t so much slang as it is an important national pastime that you must be aware of if you’re going to speak Peruvian Spanish. It’s brandy made from grapes.
If you have a high-end pisco, enjoy it straight; otherwise you’ll want to use it in a cocktail to create…
9. pisco sour
This is the national cocktail of Peru, and you can instantly spark a fight by suggesting to Peruvians that it might in fact be Chilean. Regardless, both countries do a fabulous job with it, and it’s famous enough internationally that you can find good pisco and instructions anywhere.
It’s made with pisco, egg white, lime and simple syrup. I have never succeeded in making a passable pisco sour, though, so I won’t have you suffer my attempt to explain it. The bartender in the video below has an Argentine accent, but on the other hand he seems quite snobby, so I’m guessing his version is good. There are subtitles to help you with the Spanish.
Meanwhile, this Peruvian native has his own ideas about how to create a large volume of pisco sour for a minimal cost. Notice any differences in accents, ingredients and preparation?
10. hagamos chancha
A chancho is a male pig and a chancha is a female pig, but when you want to split the bill between your friends in Peru you say hagamos chancha or, more declaratively, vamos a hacer una chancha.
This is a slang version for vergüenza (shame/embarrassment). “Me da roche hablar de eso” means “I’m embarrassed to talk about that.”
“¡Qué roche!” means “What a shame!” or “What a bummer!”
This could be translated as “awesome,” “great,” “cool,” etc. You might say “qué bacán” to indicate that you agree with someone, or that they’ve said something that you think is interesting or great.
This pan-South American slang word means dude or guy. Be careful as it can sometimes be a bit insulting when used in the third person, like es un huevón—”he’s an a**hole.”
Usually it’s used in addressing someone and is pretty neutral. “¿Qué tal, huevón?” means “What’s up, buddy?” In Peru it can sometimes be shortened to just on.
14. tirarse la pera
This means to play hooky (truant for you Brits).
Literally, tirar is “to throw,” tirarse is a colloquial (but not vulgar) word for sleeping with someone and la pera is “the pear.”
Yeah, I know, go figure. You may be left with an image that you can’t get out of your head, but at least you’ll remember this one now, right?
This means more or extra, as in “¿Puedes darme yapa?”—”Can you give me a bit more?”
The RAE says that this means someone of mixed European and Native American ancestry, or someone of native ancestry who puts on European airs.
In Peru, it can be an extremely disrespectful way of referring to natives from the Andes, so you’ll probably want to pass on using this word. It’s good to know what it means, regardless, because you might well hear it used neutrally or positively in the right contexts, like “Hey dude, what’s up?”—“Cholo, ¿qué pasa?”
So, you might hear it in Peru but probably will choose not to use it yourself. You’ll hear the more affectionate but still dangerous cholito(a) as well.
This can denote both an accent and a speech defect. Very likely, you, the language learner in Peru, will have a mote extranjero, or foreign accent. You might have a mote norteamericano (North American accent) or mote inglés (English-speaker accent).
Your Peruvian friends (especially the older and less indoctrinated by television) might have a mote provinciano (provincial accent), mote norteño (northern accent), mote serrano (highland accent) or mote charapa (jungle accent).
The word comes from Quechua, and be careful with it as it’s often disrespectful—it’s a way of saying that someone isn’t speaking right. Probably another word that you should opt to not use, but which is good to know in case you hear it flying around.
This is a shortening of por favor (please). You may also hear porfis.
In proper Spanish, this would be la policía (the police) but in the Andes they’re informally known as el tombo.
20. coca cola
You’ve heard of the drink, but probably not its fun use as an adjective. Estar coca cola in Peru means to be going crazy, going out of your mind.
Using Peruvian Slang Like a Local
You’re now ready to put all of this together to make a few sentences. First, you can suggest to a Peruvian buddy that you go drink a brandy…
Ei, pata, ¿tomamos un pisco?
He’s all like, dude, I don’t have money.
Huevón, no tengo lucas.
You’re feeling generous; this time you’re not splitting the bill but you’re going to treat him.
Esta vez no hacemos chancha; te invito yo.
He thinks that’s awesome, and in that case declares his intention to drink the fabulous Peruvian brandy cocktail.
¡Bacán! En ese caso, tomo un pisco sour.
You playfully call him a jerk and tell him he’s shameless.
¡Huevón! ¡Eres sin roche!
Then you’ll go for a wild night of pisco sours and hopefully manage not to get in any trouble with the tombo.
Or maybe that’s just my version of a great night out in Lima. You may create your own adventures, patas míos.
Mose Hayward blogs about cocktails, toasting, and flirting in the weirdest corners of the world for TipsyPilgrim.com.