Chilean for beginners – where does this ´Spanish´ come from?

Didn’t they speak Spanish in Chile? They do. It just happens to be a slightly different version of it…a Chilean version of it.

So you arrived at the airport, you walked off the plane and so far your Spanish lessons during college paid off. ‘Great,’ you say to yourself, ‘this is going to be good, fun, just as I planned’. Until you leave the airport, and the taxi driver asks you “Pa’ onde lo llevo?” and your mind starts racing, looking through your inner dictionary and trusty translator searching for the meaning of ‘pa’ or even ‘onde’. Onde? Is that French?

This wonderful country has developed its own colloquial language off of Spanish. Unfortunately, no one teaches it. The good news is, versions of Chilenism dictionaries have come out, and even Amazon sells one!

Although it isn’t known exactly where these words come from, there are theories on how they might have come about. Some are derived from the Romans, for example the word bacan which is said to come from the word “bacanales” meaning the parties they threw in honor to Baco, the god of wine.

Pololear on the other hand, originates from around 1880. Back then it was common to see insects named pololos drawn towards flames and paraffin (this bug is also a symbol in The Santiago Firefighters Company’s logo), and so as a symbol or test of love, these bugs were gifted to lovers, and they began to be called pololas.

Another example, and commonly used is the word cachai. It originates from the English “to catch,” but it is used in the sense of “to understand”. Cahuín is another word heard around the country, and it describes gossip or a story about others commonly mixed with exaggeration or lies. This word is inherited from the Mapuches, and it refers to a reunion of the Caciques or Loncos who would talk about each family’s situation. The list goes on!

What are you to do? As you go out in the city, you will start to carretear and eventually order your first piscola (or maybe they ask you to buy a misíl at the closest liquor store), you will start to loosen up and start talking to Chileans – be warned, don’t expect to understand anything they say back. Not only do they have their own vocabulary, but they have their own supersonic speed for speaking. Give it time. Eventually it will even stick to your own vocabulary, and you will be speaking Chilean in no time!

Learn more about the word po here:

Words you need to know:

  • Weon (and any derivative from this word, like wea, weá…) : Literally anything. depending on context, it can be an insult, or an expression. “Weon” itself is directed at someone, while weá is in reference to something. Once you get this down, you’ll be able to communicate with 70% success.
  • Cachai: Do you understand?
  • Pololear: to date someone
  • Bacan: really cool or fun
  • Apañar: used by young people to ask for help or company in a task or plan.
  • Carrete: party, or nightlife plan. Keep in mind it’s very common in Chilean culture to go out to each other’s houses!
  • Copete: alcoholic drink
  • Piscola: typical drink, 95% of what people drink here in Chile. It is composed of Pisco (distilled from wine) and some kind of soft drink like Coke or Sprite. To what percentage is each, depends on how you like it and how well you can hold your alcohol. Be careful, Pisco is either 35º or 40º…so don’t underestimate it!
  • Misíl: a bottle of 1l of Pisco
  • Promo: a bottle of 750 ml and 1.5l Coke
  • Altiro or al toque: Right away
  • Pescame: pay attention to what I’m saying
  • Zorrón: some guy who thinks is cool, usually into skateboarding or snowboarding…
  • Hacer una vaca: put together money between a few people for a common goal
  • Arrugar: to quit early or cancel plans last minute
  • Ser fome: to be boring

*They like to replace any of the ‘s’ at the end of the words with ‘ai’. For example: Estai (estás), llamai (llamas), teni (tienes), seai (seas), and so on…

So yes, they speak Spanish. Yes, they speak really fast. Yes, they have words no other country has…but hey, this is Chile!

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