Chilean Slang, Where to Begin!

Travel Tips — By Bearshapedsphere (Eileen Smith) on July 8, 2010 at 12:14 am

If you don’t understand Chilean slang, you’re frito, cachai? (you’re in bad shape, got it?)

Photo courtesy of Daquella manera on Flickr

Chilean Spanish is rumored to be “mutually intelligible” with other forms of Spanish, but I’ve sat through a very slangy movie with a Spaniard (from Valladolid) and had to translate about 20% of the movie to standard Spanish), so I’d say it’s debatable whether that’s actually true. Chilean Spanish is peppered with swallowed consonants, a strange verb form and colorful words and expressions. Some say that if you don’t speak any Spanish at all, you may actually be at an advantage, since your expectations for comprehension are so low. On the other hand, if you consider that te defiendes (literally, you defend yourself, in this case that you get by), you’re likely to be more frustrated, especially on a short trip before you get your ear accustomed.

After spending six years in Chile, I feel qualified to say that the four major diversions from other Latin American Spanish are mainly the following: consonant disappearance, mystery verb endings, words and expressions.

Consonant disappearance, or what happened to my d and my s?

The S in Chilean Spanish has a maddening tendency to disappear in certain situations, being replaced with a small puff of air. Most notably, at the end of words. This makes the two words fosforo and fosforos (match and matches, respectively) sound like fohforo and fohforoh. And that can be frustrante (say: fruhtrante, frustrating).

Another mysteriously disappearing letter is the d in the last syllable between vowels in all of the past participles (andado, caminado, etc), and any other word that follows that pattern, such as the delicious navegado, which ends up being said navegao.

Mystery verb endings

If you remember studying Spanish and reciting to yourself the various possible verb endings for regular -ar verbs, you probably said something like this: o, as, a, amos, an (unless you studied Spanish from Spain, in which case it was o, as, a, amos, aís, an). Chilean Spanish makes a departure from this, with an additional possible/likely ending for the tú form, which is -aí. Cachar, which Chileans use to mean “to understand” is the most common place to find the -aí ending, with the word cachaí peppering all but the most stilted conversations. The -er version of the same ending is -ís, where a verb like tener will also have the ending tenís. But then you must remember that the terminal s is often dropped, yielding tení.


Slang words abound in Chilean Spanish. Many of them come from Quechua (an indigenous Andean language also spoken in some small areas of Chile and in some areas in the Peruvian, Bolivian and Ecuadorean highlands), such as guagua for baby, or huincha for measuring tape, or from Mapundungún, an indigenous language spoken in Chile and Argentina in parts of the south, such as the term of affection  “washi” or “washita” which is generally only used among very close friends or as a piropo, or flirtatious comment. Other slang words come from coa, a kind of jailhouse slang that has come to the society at large through the media and reintegration of former prisoners back into the community. Much of Chilean coa is shared with Argentine coa, and some of it is mainstream at this point, with words like luca (1,000 pesos) being very commonplace.


Like the Chilean slang words mentioned above, these come from a variety of sources, and some you’ll be able to figure out from context, while others will leave you scratching your head. Many of the expressions have to do with romantic conquest or lack thereof, such as a personal favorite, “me serruchó el piso” which means “he sawed the floor out from under me” which has to do with someone interrupting your attempts to woo a woman, and stepping in.

Photo courtesy of PhillipC on Flickr

There’s a word or expression for everything, and if you want to dig a little deeper, check out one of the following helpful chilenismo links  to get started:

And if that’s not enough, two books can help you to decipher all but the most obscure Chilean conversations, and they are:

And if that’s really not enough, then come on down to Chile and get your feet wet. Immersion is the best teacher, and patience your best friend. For one gringa’s take on what it means to sit down and listen to another language full-time, click here.

Look for an upcoming blog post on where to study Spanish in Chile, and another on the many meanings of the most popular word in the Chilean slang vocabulary, weón (huevón).


Tags: Chile, Chilean slang, Chilenismos, coa, learning spanish, Santiago, studying spanish



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