How to Understand Northern Slang in Chile

“If you have had the opportunity to travel from one area of the country to another, you will have noticed that sometimes there are certain words that change meaning from place to place”  

By Eduardo Woo, previously published in spanish

Chile is long country and its slang is complex.
Chile is long country and its slang is complex.

If you have had the opportunity to travel from one area of the country to another, you will have noticed that sometimes there are certain words that change meaning from place to place.  It’s true that in Chile we all speak Spanish, but that doesn’t mean that we always understand the same thing when using a certain word.

The area we are from will influence how we speak.  And this long and extensive strip of land we call Chile is fertile ground for different dialects to emerge.

Edgardo Cifuentes, Spanish professor and Master in Linguistics from the Universidad de Concepción, commented on this phenomenon to BioBioChile a while ago: “This happens because members of groups communicate much more frequently amoungst themselves than with members of other groups. That’s why we see differences in the way people from different cities or of different ages speak.”

In the short time I have been living in Santiago, I have noticed this situation and blogged about words that ariqueños(people from Arica) use that are often unfamiliar to those from the capital.

As people saw my article, the comments confirmed that many of the words and expressions are used a lot in the greater north (mostly between Arica and Antofagasta), so I am going to take advantage of this collective knowledge and share it with you in the form of a list:

Talla: No, we are not talking about a joke, but an ice cream popsicle. Specifically, the water based ones. However, we do know that it also means joke, and depending on the context we are able to use it without problems or confusions.

-Tipex: In Santiago I’ve heard people call it “liquid paper,” but if you are looking for a white out pen in the north, ask for a Tipex. As I understand, the name comes from the popular brand of the same name.

-Lapicera: The famous “Bic pen” is most commonly known as “lapicera.”

-Pila de dedo: A batteries are known as “pila de dedo” (little finger batteries). And no, the smaller ones aren’t called pinky finer batteries. It only works for AA.

-Pupo: It’s not food, not a nickname, but a word that refers to a part of your body: the belly button.

-Calato: Our closeness to Peru has influenced the words we use as well. An example of this is “calato,” which means a naked person. Example: “Do you remember the kid that left his house calato after the earthquake?”

-Pericote: Up north, big rats are called “guaren” or “pericote”

-A tota: In other regions they use “al apa” but in the north the way to describe carrying someone on your back is “a tota.”

-Al bollo: Are you familiar with the concept of a “dog pile”? The official way to say that in the north is “al bollo,” so start working it into your vocabulary.

-Jugar pelota: Up north, when a kid asks permission to go play football, they usually will say: “Puedo ir a jugar pelota?” not “Ir a jugar a la pelota” as they would say in other parts of the country.

-Chuño: Speaking of playing football, usually after a game you end up all dirty, so you get sent to clean off the “chuño.”  It just means getting that layer of grime off your skin.

-Bomba: That delicious package of sugar and caramel that most call a “Berlin”, is also known as “bomba”. It’s common to hear people calling out selling bombas on the northern beaches. However, I don’t recommend using this word too much in Santiago, for reasons you can surely understand.

-Palo poste: The structure that has the wiring (and annoying political propaganda) we call “palo poste”.

-Pao-pao: When a mother feeds her child and she can tell they have had enough, or there’s no more food, she just tells them “pao pao”.  It’s just like saying “no more” “all done”, etc. If you’re tired of saying “I’m full” or “I’ve had enough”, “pao pao” is the expression you’ve been looking for.

-RE: When we want to emphasize or exaggerate something, RE is the addition that lets us say that something is more than it is.  Example: “Es re grande” (It’s very big); “Es re feo” (It’s very ugly); “Es re caro” (It’s very expensive); “Es re lejos” (It’s very far). The “RE” is without a doubt one of the expressions that we use the most in the north.

-Pastillas: Candy and sweets are known up north as “pastillas”. Asking for the same in the center or south would be asking for medication.

-Feria: In Santiago, it’s persa, in the north, feria. These are the local and not so established markets selling clothes, toys and more.

-Caña: For many this means hangover, but up north caña is also a straw.

-Coleto: The little buses that get you from one side of the city to another are famously called coletos

-Chifa: Are you looking for a Chinese restaurant? If so, ask for a “chifa.” They are everywhere and the name comes from Peru.

-Chuto: Simply the male sexual organ

-Virolo: Someone squinty or cross eyed is called “virolo” in the north.