With every week that goes by, I feel a little more amazed by one of Colombia’s most defining features: its ever-present, beloved regionalism. After all, where would this very weekly article be, without it? I’m sure there are countless significant, cultural and historic reasons for this obsession, but the idea the meandering hill ranges and glistening lakes might play a huge role in it all, really does seem romantic.
Equally, it seems as though each region I discover offers me an even longer list of lovely words, so few of which bear any resemblance to the Castilian Spanish I was taught at home. I might not be able to get much use out of them in next year’s oral classes, but I do feel so lucky to be stumbling across so many more cultures than I bargained for!
This week, I’m covering the south-west’s Nariño region. ¡Diviértete!
Aguaguado: A childlike ‘crybaby’. Who, me? Surely not!
¡Atatay! /¡Atatacas!: Equivalent of the constantly-used Castilian phrase, “¡qué asco!” meaning “Ugh! That’s disgusting!” – Words I think I must utter about a fifteenth as often as my Spanish-speaking friends. Either Colombians have a much lower tolerance for disgust or I’m just less vocal about it.
Ayora: ‘¡Ay!’ + ‘¿Y ahora?’ are forged here to mean “no way?!” In either an awestruck or negatory way. As a non-native, I’m always a big fan of these fun merge-y words because they make me feel clever and fluent. Hoorah.
Bonitico: A term of endearment, with recognition from God himself. Ironically, some seem to use this to refer to the penis… clearly, this was a word created by a man with one complex or another.
Bámbaro o cacorro: With these two different words conflating the words ‘effeminate’ and ‘homosexual’, the Nariños aren’t doing themselves proud, here… I guess I’ll have to visit the region to know whether these archaic ideas are still widely held!
Cacha: Used to refer to a good friend… or a bag of marbles. I wonder if this has anything to do with our phrase ‘you’ve lost your marbles’ (meaning that you’ve gone mad). Almost definitely not, I’d imagine, but it’s a sweet thought that you might lose your mind because you’d lost your good friend!
Cachos: ‘Banter’, banter and more banter. The Colombian and British senses of humour may be pretty divergent (people here invariably think I am very rude and/or intellectually stunted), but one thing we certainly share is an ability to laugh at ourselves… and each other.
Cari: That’s right: guinea pigs are indeed gendered in Nariño and this is the word for the male ones. Why? Because they’re a delicacy there. Delish.
Carisina o pijuda: Both of these words refer to a woman who is undomesticated or not great at household chores… Eek! Sounds a bit like me! Not to mention any other contemporary woman who isn’t lying to herself. Funnily enough, male equivalents of these words do not seem to exist, but please correct me if I’m wrong (I hope I am)!
Cuscungo: The ‘owl’ is master of the magic of fortune-telling to the indigenous Quechua people, who reside mostly around the central South American Andes. The Quechuan words, ‘cozco’ (‘navel’) and ‘hunguy’ (‘death’) are merged here; word has it that the owl’s cawing over a home is a sure sign of death.
Chumado: Drunk, battered, carparked, trolleyed, pissed, binned, waved – any of the above, really. A multitude of words for ‘intoxicated’ is clearly another thing our cultures have in common, then. Phew!
Guagua o guagüita: a ‘toddler’ or ‘baby’. This, like so many other words here, is Quechuan. However, I like to imagine that the etymology of these words is derived from some ‘universal’ baby language – surely the first sound of every baby ever is a variation on the word ‘ga-ga’?
Mucho/a: “Dame una mucha” means – you guessed it – “give me a kiss”. Oh, thank god! Romance isn’t dead, after all.
Viringo / biringo: I’d start leaving these out every week, but I feel consistency is key; you might as well be able to recite all of the twenty regional Colombian words for ‘naked’ if you can! Now that’s a party trick.
Stay tuned for next week’s equally confused instalment of my Colombianismos.
Especial para EL TIEMPO