“Más de un siglo después de uso de la moneda estadounidense, seguimos buscando el peso, tramitando la peseta, pidiendo el medio peso, luchando el vellón, sudando los chavos…” -Luz Nereida Pérez from the book Puerto Rico y el lenguaje
Puerto Ricans say chavos instead of dinero
Puerto Rico is a United States territory since 1898 and the currency used is the US dollar. But if you visit Puerto Rico one of the first things you will notice is that locals don’t use the Spanish words dólar, centavos or even dinero. The explanation is at the opening quote of this article: after more than a century of using the US dollar, Puerto Ricans use the words from the time the island was a colony of Spain.
The most common word for “money” in Puerto Rico is chavos. The Spanish word dinero, is more often used in formal situations like presentations and written reports. In my previous post The History of 5 Spanish Slang Words from Puerto Rico, I wrote about the history of the word chavo:
Is the contraction of the Old Spanish word “ochavo,” a copper coin from the XVII-XIX centuries that weighed one-eighth of an ounce. The word “ochavo” is related to the word “octavo” (Spanish for an eighth).
Here is a real example from Twitter that uses the word chavos as in money:
Cuando uno está pelao, uno quiere un montón de cosas. Cuando uno tiene chavos, uno no sabe en que gastarlos.
— Rex J. Reyes (@Rexkater) January 12, 2013
The word chavo for money is also shared with Cuba and Dominican Republic. In other Spanish speaking countries such as Mexico and Bolivia this word means a young boy.
Puerto Rican Slang Words in Spanish for US Currency
The Spanish translation for US coins penny, nickel, dime and quarter are un centavo (one cent), cinco centavos (five cents), diez centavos (10 cents) and veinticinco centavos or un cuarto de dólar (twenty-five cents or a quarter of a dollar). But these aren’t the most common ways to talk about money in Puerto Rico, take a look at what you are going to hear:
1. Chavo means cent or penny
To sound and blend with the locals, in Puerto Rico you will need to substitute the word centavos for chavos such as: un chavo, cinco chavos, diez chavos and veinticinco chavos. With this insight now you know that in addition to money, chavos can also mean pennies or cents.
A third meaning for chavo is a penny and you will hear the following variations using the diminutive form -ito: un chavito or chavito prieto (little black cent). Other Spanish slang for penny are perra or perritas.
2. A nickel is un vellón
In Puerto Rico a nickel is un vellón. The word vellón evolves from the French billon. According to the Tesoro Lexicografico del Español de Puerto Rico, the word vellón has been used through the history in addition to make reference to the 10 cent coin as in vellón de diez.
In the southern municipality of Ponce the word ficha (translated to token) is used for nickel. Hacendados or plantation owners used these tokens or riles as a currency to pay their workers and it was valid only to buy goods inside the same Hacienda.
3. The dime
There is no specific word in Puerto Rico for dime. You will hear vellón de diez or diez chavos. Many people also use the English “dime.”
4. Peseta is a quarter
The word for a quarter in Puerto Rico is peseta. The peseta was Spain’s currency until the Euro took its place in 1999. The word peseta is a diminutive of the Catalan word peça or piece. Many Puerto Ricans will pronounce this word as pejeta.
In Cuba a peseta is a 20 cent coin.
5. The dollar is un peso
Finally, the word for dollar in Puerto Rico is peso; also used in plural as pesos for any denomination greater than one. I compare this word the English “bucks.” For example:
Préstame 10 pesos para echar gasolina.
Give me 10 bucks to put some gas in.
It is interesting how these old word from Spain have remained in the Puerto Rican vocabulary. Also, go ahead and share the image above with your friends with a Pin, a Like, a Tweet or a Stumble. Or watch this video that includes the pronunciation of these words as well as other money related Puerto Rican phrases.
Check out these other Puerto Rican Spanish Slang Word articles.