This is the first of a series of three posts on the vocabulary of the three countries I visited in Latin America: Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico. I collected expressions from friends and from conversations around me. Most of the three vocabularies are in Spanish, but include Quichua, Nahuatl, and Czech, among others.
Language is a fascinating and rich subject that is influenced by factors as varied as geography, history, and anthropology. I welcome any questions, suggestions or corrections you have to this vocabulary. I hope that you find it interesting, informative, and useful for future travels! Speaking of – this work is by no means complete, and I look forward to adding to it in the future.
Thanks to the friends that helped with the Ecuadorian glossary, including Carla, David, Liz, and Pancho. And an especially huge thanks to Alex, who contributed a huge amount of words and schooled me on the difference between Quichua and Quechua!
N.B. For NSFW Section, See: How To Talk Like A Colombian (coming next week!)
The hard blue skies of Colima were fading into distant memory when I finally unpacked my old rucksack. Eight months, three countries, and several thousands of miles later; since my last day in Mexico I had been through candy-land Los Angeles, pine-dusted Vancouver, and London, with its slate-grey skies and discarded papers scuttling through the streets. Now I sat in Edinburgh. Through my bedroom window, green Blackford Hill blustered against the prevailing wind, just the same as last September. Had I really left here? I was down to the last dregs of the rucksack when out they came: one, two, six sketchbooks. Batik print – hardcover black – bound in cloth. When closed, and stacked high, they amounted to a satisfying stack. Open, I left my room behind, and there I was again – Latin America.
In each of these sketchbooks I found words hidden in the seams. Squatting in the centre, scrunched into the corner, or tucked into the flyleaf. Last time I returned from the Americas I brought a raven, a live and bristling thing, its feathers stamped in ink. This time I brought ink, too: the words tattooed into the books, the ones I had gathered like a magpie. Somewhere along my sketchbook journey I learned the trick of annexing the final pages for my vocabulary, but sifting through the earlier sketchbooks was an exercise in cat-and-mouse, the words shy like the people.
Ecuador was the first one on my travels. The mountain kingdom. What a country! I remember the enormous sky over Quito, never the uncomplicated blue of Mexico but constantly charged and changing, bruised by a thunderstorm or marked by white scratches, cirrus clouds stricken by fast high winds. One could never predict the coming days. The paramó below the savannah sky was wrinkled by the passing of time and glaciers. The land curved away in all directions from the Equator.
Ahorita – right now, this instant (also used in Colombia and Mexico). Anyone who has experienced Mexican time will understand this is a somewhat vague definition of this instant, similar to the French “maintenant”.
Bacán – cool.
Broder – comes from brother, means friend or mate. “Dale bro, ahí topamos” – “Alright friend, see you there”.
(Broma) colorida – (referring to a joke) dirty, vulgar
Carishina – a bad cook. “¡No seas carishina, corta bien la cebolla!” – “Don´t be a carishina, cut that onion properly!”). Can be used for either a man or a woman.
Chacra – ranch
Chevere – meaning cool, used by everyone from the cool kids to your Grandma. For an alternative definition, look out for the upcoming Mexican glossary.
Chirimoyas – custard apple. Strange green dimpled fruit with enormous ebony seeds and flesh that tastes like bubblegum.
Dale – meaning ok, fine, got it. See also: sale (Mexican Spanish).
Ecuador – the country, but also employed to say “great, perfect, that´s it”:
“¿Alguien tiene agua?”
“Sí, yo tengo.”
Free solear – to free solo something in rock climbing.
Frutillas – strawberries.
Gamin – a maverick or reckless person. Can be used in a derogatory manner to mean foolish or uneducated: “Un gamin se cruzó la calle sin ver” – “A gamin just crossed the road without looking”.
Gaminear – infinitive of gamin. “Una man estaba ahí gamineando, dando belay sin prestar atención” – “That girl was gamining over there, belaying without paying attention”.
Hueviear – to mess with somebody. “¿Me huevas?” or “¿Huevas conmigo?” – “Are you f—ing around with me?”. Comes from huevas, the Spanish for testicles.
Huevon – a fool or an idiot. Can be used affectionately or derogatorily. “¡No seas huevon!” – “Don´t be a huevon!”. Can also be spelt with a g (guevon).
Man – meaning dude or guy. “Ese man” or “eses manes” – “that guy” or “those guys”. Can also be used for women: “Esa man es bacán” – “That girl is cool”.
Mijo/Mija – a derogatory way of referring to people, particularly of a man referring to a woman. However, can also be used affectionately – but between close friends only. Comes from “Mi hijo/a” – “My son/daughter”.
For example: “Mija, ayudenos con una agua” – “Mija, get us some more water” (when a man asks a waitress for water).
Pana – friend, mate
Rascacielos – skyscraper. Lit. “sky-scratcher”.
Saltamontes – A grasshopper. Lit. “Mountain-jumper”. Surprisingly, not much larger in South America than in Europe.
Tomate de arbol – strange fruit that looks like an elongated, pale tomato. Disgusting to eat raw, but makes a weird and refreshing juice.
Topar – to touch, but also to meet up at a place. “Topemos en el bar” – “Let´s meet at the bar.”
Ve – to see, but can also refer to a person. Used like the Canadian “eh”: “¡Vamos ve!” – “Let´s go, eh?”.
Vos – informal version of “tú” – “you”. “¿Que es de vos?” – “How´s it going?”.
Quiteño or Quitoan Spanish – ¿Want to talk like you´re from the capital of Ecuador? Of course you do. Put an “f” at the end of everything, and also a “guevon”:
“Vamosff ve, vamos a llegar tardef” – “Let´s go eh, we´re going to be late”.
“Sí, vamos a comer weon” – “Yeah, let´s go man”.
Weon, guevon, huevon … at this point it degenerates into a sound that is no longer recognisably a word.
Achachay – hot
Araray – cold
Ayayay – “Ouch!”
Atatay – disgusting
All these four are reactionary sounds and can be used interchangeably in their shortened forms – Yaya, tatay, raray – to express surprise, for instance if touching a burning stove.
Cara – man
Cocha – lake
Chuchaqui – hangover. Possibly the best word in the world. I started spreading it in Mexico, to some success. “Estoy crudo” just doesn´t describe it.
Chunchi – elastic.
Cuy – guinea pig. I´ve also heard it referred to, formally, as a “conejillo de Indias” – “little Indian rabbit”. Neither from Guinea nor from India, neither a pig nor a rabbit; it seems we´ve all gone mad. Apparently it´s called a cuy in Ecuador because of the curious way they squeak. Alternatively it could be the sound of the spit they´re being roasted on … guinea pigs are quite popular for dinner in Ecuador.
Cuis – to crack your knuckles or bones.
Guagua – kid. “Los guaguas” – “The kids”.
Maña – a trick or a hack, possibly dishonest.
Pai – heart
Shunsho – idiot. Similar to tonto in Spanish.
Warmi – woman, lady.
Yana – black.