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Peruvian Slang You Must Know!

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Wednesday May 22, 2024 - Posted by to Spanish Language Tips
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Peruvian Slang You Must Know!

Peruvian Slang You Must Know!

Most people’s introduction to learning Spanish is through taking classes at school, in their home country or on apps like Duolingo. When you’re first starting out, you’ll most likely focus on getting to grips with the official basics of the Spanish language – think verb conjugations, vocabulary and grammar.

However, find yourself travelling to a Spanish-speaking country such as Peru and you’ll soon realise that the local slang – or jerga – can be just as important if you want to understand what on earth everyone is talking about!

To help you get the hang of it, we’ve put together a list of our top ten ‘must-know’ Peruvian slang words so you can crack your interactions with locals during your travels.

 

1. Chela – Beer

 
One of the first phrases many Spanish students learn is una cerveza por favor – a beer, please.

However in Peru and some other parts of Latin America, you may be more likely to hear people asking for a chela!

Originating in Mexico from the Mayan word chel – meaning blue – chela was used by the Mayans to describe the Spanish when they first arrived on the continent, to refer to their light-coloured eyes and skin.

Over the years, the Mexicans started using it to also mean beer due to its’ pale yellow colour, and the word travelled across the continent to become commonly used in Peru, Colombia and many other South and Central American countries!

 

Peruvian slang chela

 

2. Al Toque – Straight Away

 

Peruvians are known for their relaxed attitude to timekeeping – but even in Peru, sometimes things need to be done promptly!

Al toque is a common expression to mean straight away, often used if someone has asked you to do something. However in true Peruvian style, the definition can be a little flexible and often refers to anytime in the near future.

Coming from the verb tocar which means to touch or to knock on a door, you could roughly translate this to ‘at the knock’.

 

3. Hacer Chancha – To Chip In

 

Had a long day at Spanish school and fancy relaxing with your classmates over some ice-cold chelas?

One of the best ways to go about buying things as a group is to hacer chancha, meaning to come together and ‘chip in’ to buy something everyone can enjoy.

Hagamos chancha al toque para comprar chelas!

 

4. Monse – Boring, Annoying, Stupid

 

This word with mysteriously unknown origins literally translates to boring. However in Peru, it can be used colloquially to describe anything you don’t like or that you find unpleasant – from an ugly shirt to an annoying or stupid person!

¿Qué te pareció la película? – Monse!

 

Peruvian slang monse

 

5. Chamba – Work

 

One of the most commonly-used slang words here in Peru, on a daily basis you’re sure to come across locals going to la chamba.

The word originated during the Second World War, when the United States joined the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbour and sent millions of young American men overseas to fight.

In desperate need of agricultural and construction workers, the US government allowed Mexican citizens to cross the border and fill their job vacancies. On arrival in the USA, they had to visit the Chamber of Commerce to get a work contract – and as most of them didn’t speak English, this quickly evolved into chamba!

 

6. Piña – Unlucky

 

In most Spanish-speaking countries, piña simply means pineapple.

However in Peru, you may be surprised to learn the slang word piña has nothing to do with the exotic fruit – it actually comes from Quechua, the language of the Inca.

As the story goes, when famous Inca ruler Pachacutec was expanding his empire across what is now modern-day Peru, some of the tribal lords rebelled against the conquest of their lands. After defeating them and gathering the enemy survivors, one Inca general suggested Piñaschay! meaning put them in prison!

From this point on, the prisoners of war and their families were regarded as piñas – imperial slaves who were condemned to work for the rest of their lives in terrible conditions.

 

Peruvian street language piña

 

7. Broder – Brother

 

Unlike the rest of the Peruvian slang on this list, this term of endearment unsurprisingly comes from English!

Just like in English, it’s used as a term of endearment when talking to your friend – ironically, not when talking to your actual brother.

 

8. Misio – Poor, Broke

 

This term is used in Peru to mean you’ve run out of money – so if you’re flat broke after buying too many chelas, you can say estoy misio!

While its origins are uncertain, many believe this phrase comes from the Spanish word miseria, meaning misery.

 

How to say broke in peruvian spanish

 

9. Brichero – Gringo Hunter

 

Could it be true love? You may think you’ve met the one here in Peru – but beware, if the object of your affections is a brichero or brichera then they might have an ulterior motive!

Bricheros are Peruvians who seek out gringos – North American or European travellers – for romantic relationships, with the goal of getting a visa to move to a Western country. The term brichero comes from bridge in English, as they’re metaphorically using you as a way to travel from their country to yours!

 

10. Palta – Embarrassed, Scared

 

The word for avocado in many Spanish-speaking countries is aguacate, but Peru, Argentina and Chile it is better known as palta – deriving from the Quechuan word pallta.

However, did you know in Peru, it can also be used to say you’re embarrassed or frightened?

Unrelated to the fruit, this use most likely comes from the secondary meaning of pallta in Quechuan – a large, heavy hanging bundle – and refers to the emotional weight you feel bearing down upon you when you’re in a shameful or terrifying situation.

So next time you get a fright or forget your wallet when you’re supposed to be haciendo chancha, try exclaiming qué palta!

 

Learn spanish in Peru slang palta

 

Bonus Slang – Soroche

 

Cusco sits at very high altitude in the Andes, with the city itself located at around 3,400m and many of the surrounding treks taking you to dizzying heights of over 5000m. Due to this, one of the negative effects that many travellers experience when they first arrive is altitude sickness – or soroche. But don’t fear! The symptoms are usually mild and go away within a day or two. They can be alleviated with altitude sickness medication that can be purchased from any pharmacy in Cusco – or through the ancient Incan custom of chewing coca leaves.

We hope you enjoyed our list of Peruvian Slang you Must Know!

If you’d like to learn more Peruvian Spanish, why not try an online Zoom class with one of our native Peruvian teachers – or even travel to Peru to take Spanish lessons in one of our several schools located across Peru?


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