Chilenismos – what makes spanish in Chile unique!

I have reached a milestone in my long and winding journey through the Spanish language…

I just finished reading my first ever novel in spanish!!!! Granted, it was the final Harry Potter book which I have read in english and so know the story…but hey, it is still rather a big accomplishment considering how long it is… The idea of reading a whole book in spanish was inconceivable just a few months ago. I know I have made this point many times in my blog, but I think unless you have put yourself in another country with a totally different language and tried to build a life in that country/language you will never know just what these “small” accomplishments mean. I never thought it would be as frustrating as it was to learn and live a new language! I still have a long long way to go, but the light at the end of the tunnel is just a little brighter every day. I have actually come up with a few milestones or goals that when I finally reach them (if ever) I will know I have reached that infamous light…

  1. Be able to multi-task in spanish, i.e. be working on the computer or something but have the news on in the background and be able to listen and understand what they are saying. Right now my brain only has the capacity to do one thing at a time in spanish as it needs all my concentration and focus.
  2. Be able to understand jokes and especially the frequently used double-meanings (the subtle meaning often being in some way sexual) that Chileans are so fond of.
  3. Be able to understand “español a la niños”…this is like a whole other language and with kids like Rodrigo´s three year old nephew I hardly understand a word he says. He blabbers away to me and then often has this confused look on his face when I answer “si” which is clearly not the answer he wanted. The funniest thing was that one day Adriana (Pablo´s mom) asked him if he understood my spanish and his totally honest answer was “no”…from the mouths of babes…
  4. Truly understand and use chilenismos…

Let me enlighten you a bit more about the fourth milestone…chilenismo´s, which can be a headache for any foreigner trying to survive in the very unique version of spanish they call…Chileno!

These are slang words and phrases that Chileans use frequently and which at first make absolutely no sense to anyone else…even other spanish speaking people. Now I know you are thinking that the same thing exists in english with colloquialisms in South Africa or Australian etc…this is true… but we don´t have a whole dictionary (about 1000 pages) of words and phrases unique to our version of english. This exists in Chile…I skimmed through a copy of the dictionary last weekend and it dawned on me just why this language has been so difficult to conquer…

Let me share a few of the most common (and simple) chilenismo´s with you, so that one day if you decide to visit me (hint hint), you will at least be better prepared than I was. (An aside: this blog would be alot better with voice since many of the examples below rely on the way you pronounce the words, but hopefully this will give you an idea any way.)

1. Poh

This is actually not a word, but rather an expression used for emphasis that can be attached the end of almost any word… sipoh, nopoh, yapoh, vamospoh…the possibilities are endless…

–          apparently it comes from the word “pues” which according to the dictionary is a grammatical link between phrases and is often used in question or exclamation sentences.  But since Chileans are rather lazy at pronouncing the ends of words, it was shortened to poh and sometimes is not even said with the proper sound, but rather as a kind of sigh at the end of the word.

2. Huevon

This one simple word has at least three different meanings depending on the tone of voice used, the person saying the word and the person being spoken to.

–          You can basically construct a sentence only using this word – “Puta, huevon huevon huevon” basically means “man, what a stupid guy, dude”. You can use huevon as a way of referring to a friend, almost like dude, you can use it to say that something or someone was stupid or you can use the word simply as an emphasis at the beginning, middle or end of a sentence…you can use it anywhere, anytime…and Chileans frequently do. Seldom will you hear a sentence without at least one huevon.

–          But beware about using it wrong…the problem with many of these chilenismo´s is that as a foreigner it is sometimes difficult to grasp the subtleties of when to use them. My first attempt at using huevon backfired badly and had Rodrigo in stitches…it was really late at night, at my birthday party actually, and I used huevon when replying to him about something…apparently (and I can´t remember why exactly), but it was not the appropriate use…I have heard women and men use the word, but it seems there are unspoken rules that I still do not understand…hence I have never tried to use it since…

3. Cachay

–          The thoughts on this word is that is comes from english “to catch something”, i.e. to understand. So it is used as a question, kind of like “…you get it?” This is definitely one of the easiest words to use and there is no real chance of screwing it up like there is with many other chilenismos. The first time I used it, the friends I was with were really impressed…Chileans seem to like it when you try and speak their own special version of spanish.

4. Bacán or la raja

–          Both these terms mean fantastic, cool or great. They are said with alot of emphasis and are very simple to use. Probably even Ingrid-proof, but I haven´t actually used them much yet…

5. Altiro

This is kind of like South Africa´s “just now” and whilst the definition is “immediately” when someone says to you “voy a hacerlo altiro“ (I will do it immediately), it may not actually mean right this very minute which “immediately” would mean to us in english. It may happen now, or later today or tomorrow or who knows when…the concept of time is rather flexible in Chile (as it is in South Africa).

But then besides actual words and phrases, they just have a different way of talking in general when it comes to the 99% of words common to different forms of spanish. Nearly any word ending in “…as” gets changed to “…ay”, so for instance “Como estas?” (how are you?) becomes “Como estay?”. Easy enough when you get used to the changes, but at first you kind of wonder whether they are speaking the same language, because since they speak so fast, it is really difficult to understand separate words. Then, sometimes the end of the word is not changed to another sound, but simply omitted altogether…the most common example of this is “gracias”. As a foreigner I pronounce all the syllables, gra-ci-as, but Chilenos omit the final “s” although they are adamant they say it, kind of as a sigh instead of an “s”.

These examples are some of the most simple and easy to understand, the tip of the iceberg so to speak…but don´t be deceived…there are hundreds and hundreds more complicated phrases waiting to leave you totally flabbergasted and wondering if you are ever going to be able to grasp Chileno.

P.S. In the next installment on Chilenismos I will tell you about some of the many phrases they use relating to animals…so watch this space if you want to know what it really means to refer to someone/something as a fox, mule or skunk in Chileno…

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2 Responses to Chilenismos – what makes spanish in Chile unique!

  1. Coni says:

    Just a bit more on the word Huevón (or weón if you want) and all the different ways of using it (adjective, noun, verb)

    Huevón: As Ingrid said could either be Dude, Idiot, or “some guy”. You can call your friends “weón” (boy friends or girl friends) But never… and this is where you got it wrong Ingrid… never call your boyfriend or girlfriend Huevón (or huevona for female) It will most deffinately create an issue, remember, that by essence, the word “Huevón” is a swearing word.

    Other nouns:

    Huevá (hueá) : What people from Britain (I don’t know if in the rest of the english speaking world) would call a “thingy”. It can also mean something or a situation with lucks of importance or relevance, as in “That that you are saying is a huevá” ( and we usually only say “hueá” as we are too lazy to pronounce the V.

    Hueveo: Noun. This is how you would call when you are either partying ( I went to a “hueveo” or ir you are tissing someone “don’t stress, It is only a hueveo” And that can be turn into a verb: Hueveo, hueveando, hueveaba, hueviaría… etc….

    Variation of the word from “Huevón iinto Huéa” (Notice that the accent is different to the other, very different word, Hueá). So, when you say that someone is an ass… you say, that guy is a Huéa! And you can also use it when something didn’t work out as you expected, say, if you failed an exam you would say: I did like “las huéas”.

    And I am sure we can think about another 10 different uses and variations of it! So if you come to Chile… bring your dictionary!

    • ingridckoch says:

      Thanks for the extra details Coni. It just re-emphasises for everyone how complicated Chileno is…but I am learning to love the language more every day, even if my use of chilenismos is still non-existant 🙂

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