More Fun Chilenismos


If you´re a human being, is it okay to behave like a pig? What does it mean to act like a frog? A lot of jumping maybe. How does one make a cow? If you´re confused, don´t worry. I´ll let you know what these animals have in common. Welcome to the second episode of how to understand a Chilean.

A saying in Spanish is called modismo or dicho. They are born out of a socially determined usage that  gives new meaning to a certain group of words. Many are used all over the Spanish-speaking world, just like any other language. If you don´t understand where they come from culturally, that can´t be translated literally and make any sense. Most regions have their own typical phrases. In Chile they can be referred to as chilenismos.

As I previously explained, there are many reasons for the great variety found in Chile. I also believe that the humorous people in Chile are very quick-witted in conversation, continuously inventing new uses for the Spanish language. Many refer to animals.

Let´s begin with two not so nice examples. Do you know anyowe who always wants to know everyone else´s business? Here this is called ser sapo, or acting like a frog. I guess this stems from frogs and they´re giant eyes who seem capable of seeing many things. If you try to overhear a telephone conversation or read email over someone´s back you are being sapo. The best snoops do this without being detected so as to avoid being pegged with this unsavory nickname.

Next we have hacer perro muerto, or pulling a dead dog. In English we would often call this “dine and ditch”. As it appropriately sounds in Spanish, this is nasty business, clearly not recommended in any country. If one does this in Chile it is possible they the owner will “Sacarte la cresta.” The cresta is the crown of the rooster. Removing this part from someone implies potential or threated violence.

Now for two happier sayings. In Santiago there are a boatload of cafes and restaurantes, but you get what you pay for. The expensive ones can be fantastic, but one must be much more discerning when it comes to the inexpensive places. This has resulted in many Santiaguinos knowing very well how to cook a delicious dish at home, particularly the younger fold who are beginning to move out on their own at a younger age instead of staying home until marriage (people marry late here, if they do marry at all).

Hacer una vaca, or making a cow does not mean fashioning your very own out of clay and water. When friends want to have a BBQ (an asado), picnic in the park or a big spread for dinner everyone throws in some cash. Between two and three thousand Chilean pesos per person (about five USD) you can make a real food festival without anything going to waste (echarse a perder) in the fridge (refri). Lastly, one of my favorites is pasarlo chancho. Chancho means pig and can be a term of endearment between a couple or family members. Mothers say to their babies upon eating their entire meal “Eres mi chanchito!” or, you are my messy little piggy! This saying, to pass the time like the pigs do means to have a wicked good time at a party or asado, drinking, eating, dancing and telling jokes. If you have such a wonderful time, lo pasaste la raja!


About Sharlene Newman

Nearly seven years ago I moved from the global north to the global south. I write and translate and give solicited advice! I know some stuff and don't know a bunch of other things about Chile and South America, but I'm learning every day. Send any comments or questions you may have my way.

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