My beautiful country of Peru is just one of the 21 Spanish-speaking countries in the world. Peru has approximately 23 million Spanish-speaking citizens, a small fraction when compared to the 427 million Spanish speakers in the globe.
Spanish is a beautiful and fascinating language. But just as British English is slightly different to both Australian and U.S English, there are plenty of variations of Spanish. Slang words and expressions vary in every region, often revealing a lot about a particular culture. Peru is no different. Some Peruvian phrases are so cool, that I wish we had them in English. I will translate the literal meaning for English Speakers, and afterward, reveal what they truly mean.
Here are some of our favorites:
1. Hallucinate! -¡Alucina!Image Source: Salon
Middle and upper-class Limeños use the word Hallucinate! in their daily talk. Hallucinate is mainly said right before mentioning something unexpected that occurred to them. A fair translation would be: Can you believe it! When friends exchange daily gossip, it is natural to hear Alucina! a few times.
2. We Are Introducing a Huge Bomb!-¡Nos Metemos Una Bomba!Image Source: Twitter
This expression is commonly heard in Peruvian parties or reunions. When people expect to drink alcohol in heavy amounts, they say ¡Nos metemos una bombaza!, which literally translates as “We are introducing a huge bomb.”
3. What a Straw! -¡Que Paja!Image Source: Flickr
Some Americans would be surprised to learn that straw, the dry stalks of grain, are linked with happy feelings in Peru.
In their daily conversations, Peruvians say the word ‘straw’ (paja) as an expression of excitement. When something stimulating gains their quick approval, Peruvians say Que pajaa!! which translated, word by word, means What a straw!
4. He/She is a Pumpkin -¡Es una Calabacita!Image Source: Ice Flow Studios
Halloween pumpkins are a peculiar sight. They resemble human heads, hollow and with nothing inside. This figure of speech comes to mind when Limeños say Es un/una Calabaza to refer to someone without neither intelligence nor wit. Such expression was also used to reinforce certain stereotypes. Models or gorgeous people with great looks but no brains were often nicknamed Calabazas.
5. Getting Rid of their Gray Hairs – Tirarse Unas Canas al AireImage Source: Odd Stuff Magazine
Whenever this phrase is used, it is implied that staying married or to remain faithful to your loved one makes you old. If it is discovered that a man or a woman is cheating on their respective partner, Peruvians say these people are “getting rid of some of their gray hairs.”
6. Don’t Be a Toad!! -¡No Seas Sapo!Image Source: Taringa
For Peruvians, to show excessive curiosity about someone’s personal issues is bad manners. Peruvians call “Toads” (Sapos) to people who are extremely inquisitive of our personal matters. When we want them to mind their own business, we just tell them: Don’t be a Toad! (No seas Sapo). We also changed the noun “Toad” to a verb, so that Sapear means to investigate someone else’s business pretending not to be noticed.
7. He/she is a “Coca Cola”- Es un Coca-ColaImage Source: Movie writer
Coca-Cola, the brand name of the world’s famous soda, is used by some Peruvians to depict a state of mind. Limeños sometimes say Coca-Cola to indicate that someone is pretty crazy. How did this happen? Although there is no official version, I believe it has something to do with “Cola”. COLA slightly rhymes with LOCA, which means crazy in Spanish
8. Just Like Toasted Corn!- ¡Como Cancha!!Image Source: Wikimedia
Toasted Corn is the most popular snack for Peruvians. It’s the first thing served to you right after entering any Peruvian Restaurant. Perhaps the tastiest of them all is the Chulpe corn toasted in lard.
Since dozens of corn kernels easily fit on a small plate, it lends the image of abundance. So, when there is an excessive amount of any particular thing, some Peruvians don’t use the phrases “there is a lot of” or “far too many”. They just simply say, Just like toasted corn!, which translates to Como cancha!
9. To Give the Ball – Dar BolaImage Source: Publicidad Peru
When playing soccer or any other ball game, we ‘give the ball’ to reciprocate another member of a team. However, in the challenging world of dating, to “give the ball” means a somewhat different thing. If the person you’re pursuing appears to be interested in you or gives you signs that he/she also likes you, Peruvians say that person is “giving you the ball”. When a person te da bola, you are welcome to ask the person out and display your personal charms.
10. To Introduce the Flowers (Loose translation)- Meter Floro or Florear
Although there is no English translation for Floro, the word originates from Flores (Flowers). Floro has a broad meaning, but it generally means to portray any given situation in an appealing way.
Since reality is never the way most people depict it, Floro has a bad connotation. It plainly means lies, distortion and half-truths. If someone Te Mete Floro, that person is trying to convince you of a bright future if you accept their offer. Businessmen, “womanizers”, salesmen, and especially Peruvian politicians are experts “Metiendo floro“.
11. Not even a Kitty Cat! – ¡Ni Michi!Image Source: Biu
Imagine rushing to your home refrigerator hoping to find something to eat. But after you open your refrigerator, you find it empty. As a sign of astonishment, some Peruvians would say: Not even a kitty cat! Basically, Ni michi means nothing, or to find absolutely nothing. Such expression can be applied to various things, not just food.
For some reason, Peruvians sometimes associate cats with quantity. When invited to a party where practically nobody showed up, some Peruvians would say “there were only four cats”, (solo habían cuatro gatos).
12. What a Pineapple!! -¡Que Piña!!Image Source: Tiny Pineapple
In most Latin countries, Estar Salado or To be filled with salt means to have bad luck. But as rich as our Spanish language is, we have several ways to express it. In Lima, whenever an unlucky event happened to someone, Peruvians would say What a pineapple! (Que Piña!) In addition, Estar bien Piña, or to become a Pineapple alludes to someone who has lately acquired very bad luck.
We should clarify that Pineapple fruit is not associated with bad luck. It is just a slang term invented for no specific reason.
13. Nancy! – ¡Nancy! or ¡Nancy Que Berta!
Americans use the expression “Negative Nancy”, when someone is prone to complain and see the negative side of things. But Peruvians say Nancy when they deny something in a vehement way.
The origins of Nancy are quite interesting. Whenever Peruvians denied something, they said Nada que ver!! (There is no way!) Eventually, instead of Nada que ver, some funny Peruvians began saying the similar sounding Nancy Que Berta. Along the years, people just plainly said Nancy! to keep things simple. Yet, the popular Nancy Que Berta is still heard on Peruvian streets.
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14. What an Avocado! -¡Que Paltaa!!Image Source: Andina
If a person goes through an embarrassing event, some Limeños say: What an avocado! An accurate translation for “What an Avocado” would be How embarrassing! If the embarrassment is practically unbearable, they say: “What a huge avocado! (Que Paltaza!!)
15. He is a Chicken – Es un PolloImage Source: Jades World
For Americans, a chicken is a person lacking grit, someone too afraid to give something a try. But for Peruvians, to be a chicken is to be a “lightweight”, a person who quickly gets wasted after a few drinks. Ser un pollo in Peru is no fun, since you pass out just when the party is about to get louder and more interesting.
16. He/she is a Carrot- Es un/una ZanahoriaImage Source: Star Media
As a former Carrot in high school, I can faithfully tell what it means. A ‘carrot’ is a person who is calm, painfully shy, quiet, and unusually naive.
The origins of the slang zanahoria occurred by serendipity. Peruvians love using the term sano or sana (sane), when referring to someone who has a calm composure. Then, an inventive person added the horia to sana, thus creating the term sanahoria or zanahoria (carrot). As is the case with new slang, “Zanahoria” became ‘viral’ and soon millions of Peruvians used it in their conversations.
17. The Clown is Dead! – ¡Se Murio el Payaso!Image Source: Vik Muniz
When Peruvians conclude a long business or affair, they say ‘the clown is dead’. The phrase can be used for all sorts of cases: from love relationships to work assignments, business, personal arguments, reunions, etc. A vague translation would be it is finally over. I suppose the phrase comes in relation to “clown performances”. If the clown dies, the show then is finally over.
18. What a Lentil! – ¡Que Lenteja!Image Source: Taste Space
This popular slang is heard when someone wants to point that a person is extremely slow. Peruvians say que lenteja! to admonish someone who definitely needs to rush a bit. The term comes from the word lento which means slow. Lento, lenteja. Some Peruvians preferred saying lenteja instead of lento, and that’s how it all started.
19. What a Fine Leather! – ¡Que Tal Cuero!Image Source: Harley Creative
Fine leather is quite hard to find in a regular market. Nevertheless, its quality is so visible and attractive that definitely catches our eye from afar. Limeños say What a fine leather! when they see a person who is extremely attractive. If such person is so gorgeous to the point of making us drool, we say: What a huge fine leather! (que tal cuerazo!)
20. Waiter, Bring me a Pair of Blondies! – ¡Mozo, Traigame un Par de Rubias!Image Source: Megafoliopro
In the bars of Lima, I remember people used to say “blonde” when referring to a beer. I suppose it was because beer has a yellow color and it turns bright as gold when exposed to the sunlight. As soon as we entered the bars in Callao, my friends used to yell Waiter, bring me a pair of blondies! whenever they ordered a couple of beers. During the summer, my friends said Waiter, bring me a pair of very frigid blondies!, meaning traigame un par de cervezas bien frías!
21. To Stretch One’s Legs – Estiró la PataImage Source: White House Report
When a chicken dies, its legs get stretched and turn very rigid. Such image is quite compelling when Peruvians say that either a person or an animal has stretched their legs, to denote that they just passed away.
22. Throwing Away the Pear – Tirarse La PeraImage Source: KQED
Throwing away the pear happens when somebody is either too tired, uninterested or disengaged with either work or school. If such person decides not going to work that day, or purposefully miss a day in school, that person is ‘throwing away the pear’. Tirarse la pera was generally applied to high school students who were too lazy to attend class and preferred hanging outdoors.
It’s hard to explain how this phrase appeared. In Peru, Tirarse also means to steal. So perhaps the phrase may vaguely imply to go outdoors to steal a pear.
23. He is Such a Milkman!- ¡Es un Lechero!Image Source: Deviant Art
For Peruvians, milk is the common slang for ‘good luck’. So if a Peruvian has such a great luck, we say He is such a milkman! (Es un lechero!)
24. What Fabulous Cassavas!- ¡Que Buenas Yucas!Image Source: Pilar Munne
If you visit a Peruvian Farmer’s Market, you may find some fabulous Cassavas. How do Peruvian rate cassavas? Well, they must be round, well-shaped, thick and have a firm texture. Peruvians love thick cassavas, so I don’t how and when we started to compare cassavas with human legs. If a person has round, well-shaped, thick and firm legs, we compliment them by saying What fabulous cassavas! (Que buenas yucas!)
Peruvians also say “they introduced you the Cassava” (te metieron la yuca), when you fell victim of a scam.
25. What a Striking Turrón! – ¡Que Tal Turrón!Image Source: Lilia Vanini
If you drank heavily the night before, it is hard to get rid of alcohol breath. Either you use mouthwash or have fresh mints, the bad breath is likely to stay. Some Peruvians are very straight forward and will tell you: What a Striking Turrón! to inform you that you have alcohol breath. Some would just say this to tease you, or to tell you, in a jokingly way, that they know you partied hard the night before.
Turrón is the name of the most delicious Peruvian dessert. How did Peruvians associate Turrón with bad breath? The answer is simple: They didn’t. Peruvians love playing with words that rhyme, and instead of saying Tufo (Bad breath), they chose to say Turrón. Just for the fun of it.
26. Your Dogs Are Barking!- ¡Tus Perras Estan Ladrando!Image Source: I love my chi
As straight forward as some Peruvians are, they would not hesitate to tell you that you have smelly feet. But to be fair, this phrase is only used among close friends when they are bugging one another. After playing a soccer match during school, some of us would take off our shoes and lay on the grass. The phrase “Your dogs are really barking!” would then be heard every other minute.
27. I am Mission Impossible – Estoy Misión ImposibleImage Source: Chicago Now
This is perhaps our most original Peruvian expression. As I wrote in a former article, “Peruvians say “Estoy Mision imposible” (I’m mission impossible) whenever they lack money. How did this come up? Let’s begin by clarifying that Misio, is the slang word for broke. Misión is used for someone extremely broke. Then a funny person purposefully added Imposible to Misión.”
So, if you hear the phrase “I’m Mission impossible” in Peru, we are certainly not talking about Tom cruise trying to save mankind.
Note: To all my Peruvian friends commenting down below, thank you so much for your corrections and clarifications. I always welcome your criticism and learn a lot from smart readers like you.
¡Viva el Peru, Carajo!
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