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Slang & Idioms

Last Updated: Apr 05, 2012

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 - Costa Rica

Costa Rica's official language is Spanish, though a large number of its citizens are at least moderately bilingual. English, due to its status as the international language of tourists, is the most common second language in Costa Rica. In most areas frequented by tourists – hotels, restaurants and national parks – visitors will find signs in English and employees who speak it fluently. In addition, the Caribbean coast considers its local creole, which is very similar to Jamaican English, as one of its unofficial languages.

Though slightly smaller than West Virginia, Costa Rica is home to a rich variety of expressions, street slang, and country-specific vocabulary. Learning the most commonly used words and phrases will help you to understand what's going on around you, as well as enjoy the real Costa Rica, as spoken by its people.

Costa Rica's top three most common expressions:

Mae (my)

Mae can be used to mean "dude" between friends, or simply to refer to any man or woman ("ese mae te está llamando" = "that guy is calling you").

Pura vida (poor-ah vee-dah)

Pura vida means "pure life," but more than anything, it's a way of life. This phrase symbolizes the Costa Rican idea of letting things go, and simply enjoying life. Use it as an answer to "como estás?" ("how are you?"), or to say "thank you" or "you're welcome."

Tico / Tica (tee-ko/tee-ka)

Due to a quirk of speech, Costa Ricans are called Ticos. Since Spanish uses gendered nouns, a Costa Rican man is a Tico, and a Costa Rican woman is a Tica.

Costa Rican Slang:

Spanish

English

aguevado (ah-gway-va-doh) bored or boring
brete (bre-tay) work or job
chunche (choon-chay) thingamajig
como amaneció? (coh-moh ah-mahn-es-ee-oh) how are you this morning?
dolor de jupa (dole-or day hoop-ah) a headache
estar de chicha (es-tar day chee-chah) to be angry
estar de goma (es-tar day goh-mah) to have a hangover
güila (gwee-lah) Despite its meaning in Mexico, a guila in Costa Rica is merely a "girl."
jamar (hah-marh) to eat
jumas (hoo-mahs) drunk
la choza (lah choh-sah) home
la jama (lah hah-mah) food
la vara (lah bar-ah) the thing
macha (mah-cha) a blond female, usually a foreigner
mucho gusto (moo-choh goo-stoh) Translating directly as "[with] much pleasure," Costa Ricans use this in lieu of "de nada," or "thank you."
no entender ni papa (no en-ten-der nee pah-pah) to not understand a word
no joda!/no jodás! (no hoe-da/no hoe-das) don't bother me! / leave me alone!
ojo! (oh-hoe) watch out!
pinche (peen-chay) Despite its meaning in Mexico, pinche means "stingy" in Costa Rica.
por dicha (poor dee-chah) thank goodness
pulperia (pool-pehr-ee-ah) a small corner store
pura paja (poor-ah pa-hah) crap; bullshit
que m'iche? (kay mee-chay) what's up? / what do you have to tell me?
que mala nota! (kay mahl-ah no-tah) what a bad person!
que pereza! (kay pay-ray-sah) ugh, what a drag! (synonym of "que tigra!")
salado (sahl-ah-doh) unlucky or "too bad!"
soda (soh-dah) a small, family-run typical restaurant
soque! (soh-kay) hurry up!
tome chichi! (toe-may chee-chee) Though this phrase has no direct translation, it's essentially a teasing form of "take that!"
tuanis (too-ahn-ees) Said to be a Spanish adaptation of "too nice," this popular phrase means "cool."
una teja (oo-nah tay-hah) Una teja is 100 of anything, usually money (100 colones). If someone is giving you directions, however, una teja refers to "100 meters," or one block.
upe! (oo-pay) hello? anyone home?
va jalando! (bah hahl-ahn-do) get out of here! / go away!
vieras que/viera que (bee-air-ahs kay/bee-air-ah kay) vieras que/viera que (bee-air-ahs kay/bee-air-ah kay): Another Costa Rican idiom with no direct translation, "vieras que/viera que" means "sure", in the sense of "I sure was surprised by his apology!" ("Vieras que sorprendida me dejó su disculpa!")
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