Every country has a flag, food and symbols that identify them. But what about a single word?
During the 6th International Congress of the Spanish Language (VI Congreso Internacional de la Lengua Española) celebrated in Panama, the blog Papeles Perdidos, created by the newspaper El País, published an atlas of the representative words of Spanish-speaking countries. They asked 20 writers which word they consider “best reflects your country.” The storytellers, poets and essayists responded with what they consider the most authentic words from their country, and these are my favorites:
The Most Authentic Spanish Words from 11 Latin American Countries
1. Argentina: BOLUDO
Argentine poet Juan Gelman goes for boludo. “It is a very popular term and deeply ambivalent even today. It involves reference to a fool, stupid person or idiot, but does not always imply an insulting or derogatory connotation… It has lost the offensive meaning. It has changed to a more casual understanding without losing its origin,” he said.
Perhaps this is the most important Spanish word in Argentina with other derivatives such as bolu, boludear and boludez. In his Spanish slang dictionary and phrasebook Speaking Argento, Jared Romey defines the word boludo as the following:
1) stupid, idiot, dipshit, may either be a serious insult or used in a playful or friendly manner.
2) dude, guy; phrase to get someone’s attention, generally a friend or someone who you know.
2. Colombia: VAINA
Colombian writer Laura Restrepo identifies her country with the Spanish word vaina, a universal word that serves many purposes. It is used in many Colombian Spanish expressions such as:
• ¡Qué vaina!: What a disaster!
• ¡Qué buena vaina!:In reference to success or good fortune
• Pásame esa vaina: Used together with the demonstrative pronoun esa in reference to a thingamajig
• Salí de esa vaina: I am now relieved of this burden.
“Foreigners who visit these lands, by familiarizing themselves with the multiple and versatile meanings of vaina, save themselves from having to learn Spanish,” she adds.
3. Costa Rica: TUANIS
According to writer and journalist Carlos Cortés, tuanis is the word that best represents Costa Rica. “It doesn’t comes from ‘too nice,’ as said by Mexican comedian Adal Ramones when he imitates us, but rather from the military slang of the Salvadoran General Malespín in the 19th century.” Malespín slang created new words by changing the letters in a particular way:
• a = e
• i = o
• b = t
• f = g
• p = m
Use the previous key to change the letter of the word buenos and you will get TUANIS!
In the Diccionario de Palabrotas y Coloquialismos Ticos author José González Ugalde includes it with the alternate spelling tuanes and the following uses:
1. Pleasant, nice
2. Nice, excellent
3. Very well
4. Cuba: ASERE
When asked about the most representative Cuban Spanish word, poet and novelist Wendy Guerra selected asere. She explains that this is a word of African origin.” Some say it means ‘I greet you,’ some say that in Lucumí (language) it means ‘crazy,’ but the truth is that the new generation of Cubans uses Asere and Asere que bolá as the most popular and common greeting that distinguishes us in the world.”
This Cuban Spanish word also has an alternate spelling, acere, and the Diccionario de Americanismos indicates that it also means “close friend.”
5. Ecuador: YAPA
Mariá Gabriela Alemán Salvador, an Ecuadorian writer, indicates that the Quechua word yapa is the best Spanish word that represents her country. Yapa is something a little extra, or a bonus. “When I was ten years old, all bakeries in Quito gave a yapa to the regular customer. It was one or two loaves of bread that established a pact of friendship.” This word led to the creation of others, like ñapa in Spanish and lagniappe in English.
6. El Salvador: CIPOTE
“This word is commonly used as a synonym for a child, a youth, or an immature adult. It is exclusive to El Salvador, where it was not given any of the conventional meanings (coarse or clumsy man, penis),” explains Horacio Castellanos Moya, novelist, short story writer, and journalist from El Savador.
The Diccionario de Americanismos adds one more meaning for the word cipote: “boyfriend or fiance, a person in a relationship with intent to marry.”
Kaibil was identified as the most authentic Guatemalan Spanish word according to writer Rodrigo Rey Rosa. The Guatemalan writer explains that, “in 1974 the Mayan-Mam word kaibil came into circulation to designate a type of special commando who fought in the counterinsurgency campaign in Guatemala… Kaibil appears almost daily in the Guatemalan press. It is used in both novels and stories, as well as poems and essays. We also see it in documentary and fiction films.”
8. Honduras: PIJA
Honduran writer María Eugenia Ramos says that pija is the most authentic Spanish word in Honduras. She explains that, “the word pija (meaning penis) and its derivatives have so many different meanings in Honduran Spanish that it has become part of our identity… it expresses everything from enthusiasm to indifference, to anger and to altered states of consciousness.” From there expressions like the following have emerged:
• pijuda: very good
• me voy a la pija: I’m going away
• me vale pija: I do not care
• estar a pija: to be angry or drunk
• pijinear: partying
• ser pijudo or ser pijuda: being a good person or something very well done
9. México: PINCHE
Mexican poet, essayist, novelist and short story writer José Emilio Pacheco believes that pinche is the word that best represents Mexico. He explains the Mexican meaning by quoting the definition from the Diccionario del español usual en México, warning that it is a rude word:
1. That is negligible or very petty.
2. That is of low quality, low cost or very poor.
“It is, therefore, an epithet that degrades everything it refers to. The word suggests profound anger towards something that offends and humiliates us, but we cannot change it,” he adds.
Here are some example sentences that use the word pinche from the Quick Guide to More Mexican Spanish:
1. Este pinche libro está horrible. (This damn book is horrible.)
2. El carro nuevo que compró está bien pinche. (The new car he bought is very low quality.)
In common Spanish a pinche is “a person who provides basic services in the kitchen,” or a kitchen assistant.
10. Nicaragua: CHUNCHE
Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramírez, concludes that the Spanish word that best represent his country is chunche. This word has more than one meaning: “It is a thing that represents many things: a versatile object, furniture, appliance, tool, vehicle… and also to a woman’s private parts. In addition, chunchito means ‘rear end.’”
Lee Jamison, author of Nicaraguan Spanish: Speak Like a Native!, also defines chunche as a “thingamajig,” and that it is one of the most important words in Nicaragua:
“If you only learn one word from this entire volume, learn this one! It means that whatchamacallit or that thing. It is an awesome word because it can rescue you from those awkward moments when you can’t think of the specific word for a particular object.”
11. Perú: HUACHAFO
Peruvian writer Iván Thays chose the word huachafo and explained its meaning. “Although it is considered a synonym of cheesy, its meaning is broader and goes from the grammatical to the sociological. The huachafería is the institution of a person pretending to be something that they are not. It is also related to being ostentatious, which is unforgivable in a country where a low profile is valued.”
Daniel McKay in his dictionary ¿Quién me llama?: Peruvian Spanish Slang, defines huachafo or huachafa as “a person that has very bad or very poor taste.”
More authentic Spanish words from other countries
Read the original article (in Spanish) by El País, Un Atlas sonoro del español en el VI Congreso de la Lengua, en Panamá, where all the Spanish-speaking countries, including the United States, gave their authentic words:
• Bolivia: jailón (someone from the high society)
• Chile: patiperro (the desire to travel out of the country)
• Dominican Republic: olla (literally a pot, but in this case means misfortune or adversity)
• Panama: sinvergüenzura (to show no shame)
• Paraguay: curuvica (residues of grinding a solid material)
• Puerto Rico: bregar (to struggle)
• Spain: contradiós (absurd or irrational)
• United States: parqueadero (a parking lot)
• Uruguay: celeste (light blue)
• Venezuela: bochinche (disorder or commotion)
Which Spanish words are your favorites?
Check out these other Spanish Slang Word articles.
Featured photo credit created with Tagxedo.com