Due to the popularity of our first installment of How to speak like a Tico, we decided to do a follow up that gives you readers more Costa Rican Spanish expressions, slang, and idioms so that you can stay engaged, and really rock your online Spanish lessons
Costa Rica is a beautiful country. It is a small country. And for this reason, it often has that small town kind of vibe. But for such a small area of land, Costa Rica packs a big punch. There are big waves, big Volcanos, big crocodiles, and huge trees! There are also a lot of big hearts, big smiles, and of course, a big pile of slang terms.
El Brete | el breh-tā
Brete is a Costa Rican word for trabajar or work that is used a lot. And though the word isn’t inherently negative, you don’t frequently hear people say it with positive emotional inflection.
Question: “Que mae, a donde vas? (Hey, man. Where you headed?)
Answer: “Me voy al brete.” (I’m going to work.)
Brete es brete … Work is work.
Naco o Naca | nä-kō
Directly translated, naco means plug chewing tobacco … like the black, braided hunks of tobacco cowboys and baseball players used to chew on in the old days. But this usage has nothing to do with chewing tobacco and everything to do with social disgrace.
In Costa Rica and Mexico, naco o naca is used to describe people of humble origins as well as people who frequently commit social faux pas.
Statement: ”Mae, que caro mas naco.”
Meaning: “dude, what a piece of crap [embarrassing] car.”
Statement: “Vea … ese lugar solo tiene la ropa naca.”
Meaning: “Check it out, this place only has cloths [poor] uncultured people would wear.”
Statement: ‘No sea tan naco!”
Meaning: “Don’t be so crude!”
La Uña | lä o͞o-nē-ä
I love the phrase that this term comes from, carne y uña. It’s the American English equivalent to ‘two peas in a pod’. Carne y uña literally, means flesh and nail, so the idiom is a metaphor for closeness.
Men can refer to their wife or girlfriend when speaking to another as, ‘la uña’ a very slang, naco way of saying ‘my other half’ or ‘my woman’.
Question: “Que haces mas tarde?” (What are you doing later?)
Answer “Estoy pasando el dia con la uña.” (I’m spending the day with my woman.)
Chepe | CHe-pā
Chepe is a common Hispanic nickname for Jose. So naturally, San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city is nicknamed Chepe. It still makes me laugh every time I hear the town with 1960s style blocky, Russian-looking buildings affectionately referred to as Chepe.
Vamos pal Chepe! (Let’s go to San Jose!)
Chinga o Chingo | CHēn-gä
In Mexico and Puerto Rico, this word is slightly more nefarious: ‘fornicate’. But in Costa Rica, it is much more innocent and means naked.
Oye, por que andas chinga? (Hey, why are you running around naked?)
Chuzo | CHo͞o-sō
This is a tico word that you would see on billboards selling cars or clothing because it basically means stylish and cool rolled into one.
Statement: ”Mae, que chuzo de caro!.” – basically the opposite of naco in this usage.
Meaning: “Man, what a sweet ride!”
El Chante | el CHän-tā
Chante is a Costa Ricanism for casa (house). El chante along with la choza (hut) are frequently interchanged with casa and hogar (home).
Question: “Donde vas después del trabajo?” (Where are you going after work?)
Answer: “Me voy pal chante, mae” o “Me voy pa la choza, mae” (I’m going home, man.)
El Chorizo | el CHôr-ē-sō
It’s not sausage! Even though chorizo is a type of pork sausage. This is one of my favorite Costa Rican sayings and it is used similarly in Argentina as well. It means corruption.
I was once pulled over by a transit police officer who was trying to shake me down for cash instead of a ticket. He told me, “The fine is 400 dollars, but you can take care of it and ‘prepay for just 200 dollars.”
My response was, “Mae, que choricero! No voy a darte ni m!*rda!” (What an act of corruption! I’m not giving you sh*t!”
Statement: “Hay tanto chorizo en el gobierno.” (There’s so much corruption in the government.)
Practice your Tico talk and crush your next Costa Rican visit!
You’ve learned the loca speak for what’s cool and what’s not. You’ve learned how to refer to your home and work. Plus, you’ve learned how to talk about corruption!
With a bit of pronunciation practice, you’ll fit right in in tiquicia!
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