Chilean Spanish is rich in its own sayings, phrases, slang, and expressions that can either make you scratch your head in wonder or open new doors to the culture.
Language is such a rich part of every culture, and each has its own expressions, phrases, slang, and pet terms, and it is essential to understand this local vernacular in order to truly understand the culture.
Many Chilean’s will say that their Spanish is poor, and that may be true in reference to the standard Spanish as defined by the Royal Spanish Academy, which has the final word on what is considered proper Spanish. There appears to be a more limited use of vocabulary, with fewer synonyms and a tendency to use general terms instead of specifics, for example, using “esa cuestión” or “esa cosa” both meaning “that thing” instead of specifically naming the subject). People who learn Spanish in Chile are often amazed at the vocabulary used by people from Mexico or Perú who may want to charlar or platicar instead of the standard conversar used in Chile, for example.
Another major difference is the pronunciation. Spanish is very phonetic and each letter is associated with a specific sound, which makes it quite easy to figure out. The problem is the regional interpretations and the sounds that are left out. Chilean Spanish tends to drop s’ and d’s, so instead of the typical “¿cómo estás?” (KO-mo es-STAS) that you learned in school, you will hear “Ko-mo eh-TAH?” because the s’s are clipped. And the typical suffix “ado” (AH-doh) is pronounced “ow” so that nublado (nu-BLAH-do / cloudy) is pronounced nu-blouw.
All that aside, Chilean Spanish has its own language rich in metaphors and cultural references, and, as foreigners, coming to understand these terms helps us move forward in our attempts to become more involved in this culture.
What follows is the beginning of a glossary that will soon be put up as a permanent “PAGE” on this blog (look for it on the column across the top). For the moment it has references to terms that have been used in the blog to date and has links to the places it was used. This is the start of a work in progress that will grow over time.
Animita (ah-nee-MEE-ta): A shrine that marks the spot of a person who dies tragically. Also refers to the “essence” of that person who is considered a popular saint who grants favors to devotees.
Barros Jarpa (BAH-rros HAR-pa): Hot ham & cheese sandwich.
Barros Luco (BAH-rrohs LOO-ko): Hot beef and cheese sandwich.
Cachar (ka-CHAR): In Chile, this means “to get” as in to understand. One theory is that it comes from the ancient Spanish word “cachear” which was used to pat down someone to check for weapons. Others believe it comes from the English “to catch.”
Cachando (ka-CHAN-doh): In Chile the gerund form of cachar, as in “getting” or “understanding” something. So in English, this blog, “Cachando Chile,” would be “Getting Chile.”
Chilenismo (chill-en-EEZ-moh): Chilean expression or slang term.
Chilensis (chill-EN-sees) Adjective for Chilean. I assume it is Latin, because it shows up in the scientific names for flora and fauna (example, the Chilean palm is the jubea chilensis).
Chinchinero (cheen-chee-NAIR-o): Typical Chilean street performer with a large drum and cymbals on his back . He dances and twirls as he beats the drum and works the cymbals with a strap that attaches his foot.
Cola de Mono (CO-la day MO-no): Alcoholic milk based punch typically served cold at Christmas time.
Colectivo (ko-lek-TEE-vo): A combination of a taxi and a bus. It’s a shared taxi with a fixed route.
Comadre (koh-MAH-dray): Close friend (female). Historically it is used for the woman who is the godmother of your child. Also used for the woman who stands up for you when you get married.
Compadre (koh-PAH-dray): Close friend (male). Historically it is used for the man who is the godfather of your child. Also used for the man who stands up for you when you get married.
Completo (kohm-PLEH-to): Chilean style hot dog loaded with ketchup, mustard, relish, chopped tomato, sauerkraut, pickled green chili pepper, mashed avocado, and mayonnaise.
For the complete list, see the updated Glossary / Glosario page, which will be continuously updated.