Chilenismos = Slang
One of the things that sets Chilean Spanish apart from the rest of the Spanish speaking world, is the reliance on Chilenismos in the Chilean dialect. Chilenismos are simply the “modismos” or localized slang words of Chile. Learning Spanish in a classroom hardly prepares you for the level of language that is spoken here. I’m so thankful to have taken a phonetics and diction course at ASU before coming, because I have been able to recognize and utilize some of the modismos that we talked about in relation to Chile. For anyone that is thinking of traveling to Chile, I highly recommend purchasing a “chilenismos” book or at least becoming familiar with some common words and phrases before you arrive. I have tried to compile a list of the most used chilenismos, but it is impossible to include them all!
“Po” is used frequently here. This is a “filler word” and has absolutely no significance whatsoever. It is used in the same way as we North Americans use “like” or “so”. “Po” is typically placed at the end of phrases such as “si po”, “no po”, “ya po”, “hola po” and so on, however sometimes it is simply placed in the middle of the phrase. “Quieres ir a la feria conmigo weon? Si po!”
This is the most widely used word in Chile that has two VERY distinct meanings. The first (and slightly less common) is a form of insult that is extremely strong. If you are walking down the street and someone pushes you over, you might yell “weon” in an angry and loud fashion. However, it is also used between close friends, most commonly with adolescents and young adults (“Hola weon, ¿que onda?”). In this form it is a form of endearment between friends, but there are rules. When greeting a male friend, it is always “weon”. A female greeting a very close (sister like) friend would say “weona”. BUT it is never ok for a male to say “weona” to a female, even in the closest of friendships because it is considered very vulgar and rude. “Weon” originated from the more widely accepted “huevon” and was eventually shortened to “hueon” in Chilean dialect. The spelling change was for simplicity purposes only. Once you know enough Chilean friends to use this fun Chilenismo.. you can completely pass for almost-Chilean.
“Cachai” is used a lot in conversation here, meaning “do you understand?” There is debate on the origin of this one, but some people say it comes from the English word “catch” so the literal translation is more like “did you catch that?” It is actually a verb, in this case conjugated into the vos (Chilean) form because the most common conversational usage is informal. However, it is also common to hear “¿cachaste?” (“did you understand” in second person singular, preterite) or “si, cacho” (“yes I understand” in first person singular, present). “Vamos a la playa a las 3 en la tarde. Voy a traer el bloqueador y necesitas traer la comida ¿cachai?”
“Bakán” is something that you will hear everyone in the central region saying. It is most easily translated into meaning “cool” or “awesome”, so if you are trying to describe your awesome new phone or night out, it is common to hear “¡Bakán!” or “¡Súper bakán!”. It can also be used as an interjection in response to someone else describing something. “Mira mi celu nuevo weón.”… “¡Bakán!”
“Filete” is an even stronger way to say how cool something is. Chileans often use this in reference to a fun night out, using “filete” in place of “bakán”. However, you need to be careful what you are describing when you use it! When it is used to describe a person, the meaning changes from “cool” to “sexy” so avoid using it to describe someone unless that’s how you mean it!
“Fome” is also one of those words used commonly here. It is used to describe something that is “uncool” or “boring”, and there are an indefinite number of uses. When something isn’t going your way you can say “qué fome”. The same goes for when something doesn’t work, is boring, or anything else that can be described with distain.
- Al tiro
“Al tiro” is the Chilean equivalent to “ahora”, meaning “right now”. It is rare to hear a Chilean say the word we all learned in elementary Spanish, “ahora”, and instead you will hear “al tiro” everywhere. I was in the library and the librarian actually explained to me how this one came about. When a race is about to start, or any competitive sporting event really, there would be a “tiro” or a pull on the trigger of the start gun. From this we get the phrase “al tiro” meaning “right now”. Cool, huh?
- ¿Cómo estai?
One of the peculiarities of Chilean Spanish is the use of the “vos” grammar form. “¿Cómo estai?” is the same as saying “¿cómo estás?” or “how are you?” in second personal singular. This form is not taught in the US because Chile is one of the only places in the Spanish speaking world where it is used. There are rules to go along with this form as with every other conjugation, however it is much to complicated to explain in full here, so I am only going to include some of the most basic points of using the “vos” form. First of all, “vos” form is considered slightly more formal than “tú” and much less formal than “usted”. Typically, “vos” is used between friends and in informal settings in place of the tú form. For “-ar” verbs, you simply conjugate into the “vosotros” form and drop the “s” at the end (hablai, caminai, estai, etc.). For the “-er” and “-ir” verbs, you end the root stem of the word with “-ís” (tenís, comís, sabís) and for “ir” it is common to hear “¿adonde vai?”, meaning “where are you going?” which would traditionally be said: “¿adonde vas?”. However, it is important to note than when these are spoken, it is rare to hear “vos” used with the verb because this is sometimes considered extremely informal or even rude.
“Taco” can be used in 3 very distinct ways here with the most obvious being the food. However, when you are describing your morning commute, you can also use “taco” to talk about the traffic. If there is a lot of traffic, you say “mucho taco”. In addition, “taco” is a heel on women’s shoes. In the stores they will often be labeled as “zapatitos con taco”. So, if you are eating a taco, sitting in traffic, and wearing your heels, you can say “estoy comiendo un taco, en el taco, con mis tacos”.
“Paco” is a common term for the local carabineros. The Carabineros are the local police force and no one in Chile refers to them as the policía. “Paco” on the other hand, is kind of like the equivalent of the english: “po po” or “fuzz”. With this in mind, never call a Carabinero “Paco” to his or her face. This is extremely offensive to them because the Carabinero profession is highly regarded here.
“Flaite” is a word that is used by Chileans to signify a person with bad intentions. For example, if you are walking down the street and there is a person who looks like he/she is looking for trouble, you can call them a “flaite”. The flaites here also have a language of their own. It originated in the prison system so they ould communicate without the guards knowing what they were saying. This language eventually spread to the streets, and now some of the words are integrated into day-to-day Chilean life.
- Wawa (guagua)
“Wawa” is by far the strangest sounding word that actually has a legitimate meaning in the Chilean dialect. To us English speakers, it sounds like when a small child is asking for water (wawa). This is actually somewhat close to the meaning. “Wawa” actually comes from the Mapuche word for baby or child. So when you hear adults on the streets of Chile talking about the “wawa”, they’re not doing it to sound funny!
“Wata” is another of those random Chilenismos that sounds almost infantile in English. However, this is used very commonly in place of the word “estómago” or “stomach”. It is not a replacement for medical terminology, but in every day speech you will often hear someone refer to a larger person as being a “watón” or “watona”, or simply referring to the stomach with this word.
“Pololo” or “Polola” is a word specific to the Chilean people that is used in place of “novio” or “novia” (boyfriend/girlfriend). Here, “novio/novia” is only used if the couple is engaged to be married. If it is only a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, use “pololo/polola” otherwise people will think you are getting married!
El Acento Chileno = The Chilean Accent
To start off with, the Chilean dialect is fast. Like, really fast. So words that you know from Spanish I are often difficult to understand when spoken here. Because of this, many of the phrases here sound like one long word. It is actually really intriguing to watch and listen to Chileans speak because it seems like they don’t have to breath very often…
The main thing that you notice with the Chilean accent is that they like to drop consonants at the ends of words. The word “helado”, which means “ice cream”, SHOULD be pronounced [e-la-do]. However, you typically hear [e-lao] with the last two vowel somewhat combined and completely missing the “d” sound. The same goes for any word that ends with this letter combination. If the word is plural and there is an “s” at the end, they like to drop that one too. This means that you have to follow the conversation to be able to accurately identify the subject and number of the sentence. In most cases, “estás” (you are) and “está” (he/she is) are pronounced the same. You will also often hear them saying the phrase “más para allá” differently. It should is instead squished together into “ma’ pa’ allá” which is pronounced something like this: [ma-pa-ya].
With all of these rules and identifying features, the Chilean accent is considered the hardest dialect to understand in all of the Spanish speaking world. (Yes, it even tops Cuba and Puerto Rico where they have accents tinted with African and French…) However, once you learn to speak like a Chilean, you can easily understand anyone else that speaks any Spanish dialect. It is a great way to learn, but remember to retain some of those elementary Spanish pronunciation rules so that other people can understand you too!
(And on a side note, once you learn how to speak like a Chilean, you can really impress people with how fast and fluid you speak!! )