After moving to Chile, I quickly learned that you have to be ready to change your Spanish vocabulary, depending on the country that you’re in. The vocabulary terms that you may have learned in Spanish class are not always the correct terms. In this post, I’ll be presenting words that I was taught in class, along with the word that is more frequently used in Chile. (Side note: Keep in mind that the first word is also correct and acceptable. Nonetheless, the second option is more common in the Chilean dialect of Spanish).
1. Aguacate → Palta
You will most likely hear the word palta within a few days of arriving in Chile. I don’t know about you guys, but I wasn’t taught this word in Spanish class. Palta is a significant word to know in Chile as Chileans love avocado almost as much as they love marraqueta bread (that means a lot). Avocado is typically spread across bread for breakfast and also eaten again with bread for the Chilean version of tea time, called once. Furthermore, the avocados in Chile look a little different from what you see in the United States. Here, palta is much smaller, softer, and greener.
Example: Oye, la palta se ve muy buena.
2. Autobús → Micro
If you’re planning on using public transport in Santiago, I recommend memorizing this word now. Las micros are the public buses that run throughout Santiago and can be used by putting money onto a Bip! Card. In Santiago, when referencing regular buses like the ones that run from city to city, these are called buses. However, when talking about Santiago city buses, the word micro is always used. The micros can be a pain because they run at various times and sometimes even drive by you while you are waving them down (I know from personal experience). Thus, it’s quite common to hear the word followed by an expletive (¡Micro culiada!). I won’t translate that…
Example: ¿Cuál micro tomo para llegar a tu casa?
3. Novio → Pololo
I have searched online many a time trying to find the etymology of the word pololo/polola, used in Chile to mean boyfriend/girlfriend. I have yet to find a consensus on the root of this common word, but many people indicate that it comes from the indigenous language of Chile, mapundungun. In Spanish class, I was always taught to use the word novio/novia. However, in Chile the versions of novio/novia indicate something utterly different than pololo/polola: they are used for when a couple is engaged to be married. So, be careful when introducing your boyfriend in Chile, because people may tell you “congratulations” if you use the word novio.
Example: No seai tan jote weon, ella ya tiene pololo.
4. Lo Siento → Sorry
That’s right, Chilean Spanish uses the English word “sorry”, but with the double r pronounced as the typical Spanish rolling r. You’d be surprised at how many English words you can get away with using in a Spanish accent in Chile, and I will make sure to write about this in another post. Be aware that sorry isn’t the only way to apologize as disculpa and perdón are also common, but you really won’t hear lo siento often.
Example: Sorry, no quería hacerte sentir así.
5. Cerveza → Chela
Although the word cerveza will always be understood as “beer”, I find that Chileans more commonly say chela. This word could be derived from the phrase cerveza helada. Popular drinks in Chile also include michelada, which is a mixture of beer, lime juice, salt, and spices.
Example: Queri una chela? Tenemos Escudo y Kuntsmann.
6. Bebé → Guagua
Guagua is another word with an unclear etymology. Some people say that we use the word guagua in Chile for “baby”, because it means “baby” in the Mapuche language, mapundungun. Others say that guagua is an onomatopoeia for the sound that babies make when they cry “guaaaaa guaaaa”. You will hear both the words bebé and guagua in Chile, but most likely you’ll hear guagua used more often in informal speech.
Example: Tu sobrina es la guagua más linda de Chile.
7. Carro → Auto
I find it quite interesting that the word for “car” varies so much from country to country. When I was living in the south of Spain, it was always coche. In school, I was taught carro (I’m supposing that this is more of a Mexican Spanish variant?), while in Chile the common word is auto. If you use the word carro, you will be understood in Chile, but the word here is always auto.
Example: Vamos en mi autito, será más rápido.
8. Fiesta → Carrete
This one is pretty easy to remember, because you’ll most likely be invited to carretear (to party) during your visit. Although its etymology is debated, this word may stem from its original meaning of a sewing bobbin. Many say that the word evolved from a time of day when women would chat and sew in the evening to a much bolder definition of a full-on party.
Example: El viernes tendremos un carrete en mi depto.
9. Tráfico → Taco
After living in Chile, the word taco may not be as enjoyable as you once thought it was. You see, while we typically think of a taco being a delicious Mexican food, it means “traffic” in Chile. Particularly for those living in Santiago, taco will become your worst enemy.
Example: Voy a tener que esperar que pase el taco.
10. Trabajo → Pega
Pega is a funny word for your job when you think about where this word comes from. If you have any background with Spanish, you’ll know that the verb pegar typically means “to hit/ to strike”. Therefore, we can conclude that this word has a bit of a negative connotation.
Example: Es difícil encontrar una pega sin un pituto.