Sunday, November 30, 2008

Word of the Day: Diantres

¡Diantres! is what you might hear an old woman say out of surprise in Costa Rica. It's a euphemism for diablos or demonios, and is the etiquette-equivalent of saying 'heck' instead of 'hell' in English.

I lived with a religious family in Costa Rica, and the mother would often say diantres. After I while I had to know what that really meant. Then, after knowing that it meant 'devils' or 'demons', I started blaming everything on "los diantres". Whenever I couldn't find something in my room, I would decry the mischevity of those darned "diantres" that were hiding my shit. The family got a kick out of it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Word of the Day: Picado

Picado is the past participle of the verb 'picar', which can mean a number of different things in Spanish. In Costa Rica it is used in this participle form as an adjective to mean 'chopped'.

For example, if you help out a Costa Rican in the kitchen, she might ask you for chile picado, which just means chillies (or peppers, depending on what type of chile--picante or dulce--it is) chopped into small pieces.

Another popular use of picado is to mean 'scrambled', as in 'scrambled eggs'. It took me a while to start asking for 'huevo picado' instead of 'huevos revueltos'. (Please note that the singular 'huevo picado' is what I typically hear in restaurants, perhaps because in Costa Rica scrambled eggs are not a main course, but a side dish for a Costa Rican breakfast.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Word of the Day: Queque

Queque is a word for 'cake' that is very similar to its English translation. Many Latin Americans outside of Costa Rica will correct you when you say queque, instead preferring the more Spanish word pastel or torta.

In Chile they use the word queque for cake, but also use it for buttocks. Whenever I tell Costa Ricans this, they think it's kind of goofy. Well, it might be, but I always remind them:

"Uds. (los ticos), sí, tienen razón porque un queque no siempre viene partido"

"You Costa Ricans are right because a cake doesn't always come separated into pieces."

I'm not sure how well this translates, but I always got a good laugh out of it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Word of the Day: Lavado

Lavado, which literally means 'washed', can mean 'broke' (out of money) in Costa Rica. You can also say 'limpio' (Spanish for the adjective 'clean'), which also means you're completely out of money.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Word of the Day: Filo

Filo is Spanish for 'edge', as in the edge of a blade. In Costa Rica people sometimes use the word to mean hunger, instead of the standard 'hambre'.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Word of the Day: Arepa

An arepa is pancake-like Costa Rican flapjack made with flower, eggs, milk and/or sour cream, and sugar.

I find arepas tastier than American pancakes. They're creamier--and less chalky--than pancakes and don't need syrup to taste good. They are often served with the mid-afternoon café.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Word of the Day: Malanga

Malanga is a gray, starchy tuber that takes on a soft, gooey texture when cooked. It is very similar to tiquisque (pronounced [tiquisqui]), which fits the same description and is much more common in Costa Rica than the malanga. Both vegetables taste great and are a good change-up to the more conventional potato.

Perhaps more common than all the aforementioned tubers--especially in the rural areas where it's grown--is yuca, which is gooey like the malanga and tiquisque, but much more fibrous.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Word of the Day: Manteca

Manteca is essentially 'lard'. It's not exclusive to Costa Rica, but foreigners in the country will quickly take notice of this fatty staple. Costa Ricans will fry just about anything and everything in Manteca. Manteca has traditionally come from animal fat, but has recently comes from the next worst thing, palm oil. Just like animal fat, the majority of the fat in palm oil is saturated, which is bad for your heart. Costa Ricans will hear occasional news stories encouraging people to make the switch to vegetable oil, but manteca is well ingrained into the culture.

While I am often critical of manteca, it's only fair to point out that many Americans (myself included) have a diet that's much worse than the typical Costa Rican diet.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Word of the Day: Maicero

Maicero comes from the word for corn, maíz, and literally means 'corn producer'. However, it is used as a pejorative term for a rural campesino, meaning 'hillbilly' or 'country bumpkin'. The connotation is very negative, essentially like 'hick' and 'redneck' in the English language, but without the playful benignness that is attributed to these words as a result of recent popular culture. (Will anyone doubt that the "Blue Collar Comedy" guys have made being a hick a lot hipper?)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Word of the Day: Apretar

Literally meaning 'to tighten' or 'to squeeze', apretar comes to mean 'to kiss one's boyfriend or girlfriend' in Costa Rican Spanish.

Apretar is often mispronounced in the present indicative form.

The verb, in standard form, calls for a stem change ('-e-' to '-ie-') when the stem is the tonic syllable. For example, the third person singluar form would be 'aprieta', or 'aprietan' in the third person plural form. However, many ticos will say 'apreta' and 'apretan' for these verb forms, respetively. This is a common mistake found in other countries as well.

Apretado in Costa Rica can also signify a homemade frozen treat made from a base of either water or powdered milk, and one of many flavors of syrup. The contents are placed in a plastic sandwich baggie and then frozen. To eat it you simply bite a small opening from one of the two points in the bottom of the plastic bag, and suck out the contents from the makeshift teat. This apretado treat is called chiribisco [spelling?] in many parts of Costa Rica.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Word of the Day: Jama

Jama is Costa Rican for 'food'. Of course, the standard comida also works, but ticos will often informally refer to food as jama.

Mothers will yell to their kids:

¡Está la jama! (Food's on the table!)

Ticos will sometimes, but not as often, use the verb jamar instead of comer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Word of the Day: Largo

In Costa Rica largo not only means 'long', but it's also a very common word to mean 'far' or 'far away' (instead of using the more common Spanish word, 'lejos'.)

So instead of saying "la iglesia está muy lejos" (The church is very far away) you could say "la iglesia está muy largo", which would mean the exact same thing to a Costa Rican. (Of course, if a Costa Rican frowns upon this usage, it won't mean the exact same thing to him because of his negative feelings toward it.)

Notice that in my example iglesia, which is femenine, does not change largo--which is typically an adjective--into its femenine form. That's because in this case largo isn't an adjective, but an adverb, which is gender neutral. Essentially, largo assimilates to the part of speech of the word it's replacing, lejos (a genderless adverb).

Rapu Davi (Pura Vida),


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Word of the Day: Fritear

Fritear is a popular way to say the verb 'to fry'. The correct Spanish verb is actually 'freir', but many make the mistake of using the past participle of this verb, 'frito', as the base morpheme for the verb itself.

This non-standard way of speaking is also used in other areas of the Spanish-speaking world. I have heard the verb 'fritar' in other countries, which comes to mean the same thing. It's just that Costa Ricans will most commonly add an '-ear' ending to new, made-up verbs--whereas other cultures tend to simply add an '-ar' suffix.

To use a personal example, if I had a love interest at the time in Costa Rica, a friend of mine would always ask me "are you going to [insert girl's name here]-ear today"? (The actual pronunciation of the suffix is most commonly [-iar] because of the Costa Rican tendency to say the 'e' like an 'i' when forming a dipthong with an 'a' or an 'o', the two other "strong vowels" in Spanish.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Word of the Day: Yodo

Yodo is the Spanish word for 'iodine', but in Costa Rica it's also slang for 'coffee' because of both liquids' deep, dark color.

Pura Birra,


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Word of the Day: Guanacaste


1. One of Costa Rica's seven provinces.

2. Costa Rica's national tree.

Guanacaste Day: A Costa Rican holiday that commemorates the annexation of Guanacaste to Costa Rica on July 24th, 1824.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Word of the Day: Maña

Maña is a noun meaning 'habit' or 'custom' that often has a negative connotation, perhaps more like 'vice' (vicio).

Consider the following example:

Mi hijo tiene la maña de ir a la cantina cuando debería estar estudiando.


My son has the bad habit of going to the local bar when he should be studying.

Some people will say that maña is to be used with animals, whereas humans have costumbres. While this may be more "proper" in a certain sense, you will hear ticos speak of people who have mañas (or who are mañoso, which can mean anything from mischevious to stubborn) all the time.

This is a tough one to grasp. Please leave any questions or comments that arise.

Pura Vida

Friday, November 14, 2008

Word of the Day: Biodigestor

This isn't an exclusively Costa Rican word, but it's relevant to this blog because biodigesters are quite common in rural areas in Costa Rica and I myself managed a biogas project in Santa Fe de Guatuso, a small town of 250 people in the "Zona Norte" countryside.

A biodigestor is any manmade contraption that uses the anaerobic (withou the presence of oxygen) decomposition of organic materials to make biogas, which is largely methane, for either cooking, heating, or electricity. In layman's terms, un biodigestor takes poop and turns it into gas.

If you're feeling extra ambitious, check out the biogas project that the Santa Fe women executed or the biodigester design they used.

¡Pura Vida!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Word of the Day: Matricidio

Ticos will sometimes jokingly refer to matrimonio as matricidio.

To the layperson, this implies an association between homicide and marriage. Marriage--when not done right--can kill your ambition, your sense of humor, your personal finances et al. I'm single and always have been. This is just what I hear...

Pura Vida ;)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Word of the Day: Salado

Salado, meaning 'salty' in most situations, is used in Costa Rica to mean 'unlucky' or 'unfortunate'. Costa Ricans will use salado(a) to lightly tease someone who missed out on a good opportunity. In this sense, it's sort of like saying "too bad" or "tough luck" in a sarcastic way.

The concept of luck is very strong in Costa Rican culture. Ticos will not only employ salado(a) for bad luck, but will also employ the word dichoso(a) for good fortune. (The noun 'dicha' means 'joy', but when put in adjective form in Costa Rica it effectively means 'lucky'.) "Qué dichoso", someone might say when you tell him you're going on vacation.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Word of the Day: Ride

If spelled "phonetically" in Spanish this word would be 'raid'. Since there isn't a good word in Spanish for the English noun 'ride', as in getting a ride to school, Costa Ricans simply borrow the English word to mean the same thing. For example, someone may use the imperative "deme un ride"!

Costa Ricans will not say ride to mean a trip in a motor vehicle--as in "it was a bumpy ride from Ciudad Quesada to Guatuso". For this they will most likely say viaje.

If you want to use only Spanish words to ask someone if he wants a ride, simply ask:

"[Ud.] Quiere que lo lleve a San José"?


"Do you want me to take you to San José?"


"Do you want a ride to San José?"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Word of the Day: Viejo Verde

Viejo verde is a common label for a man who chases younger women. ('Viejo' of course meaning old, and 'verde' meaning 'green' or--in this case--'young'.) To be fair, a woman can also be a vieja verde, but it is much more typical for the man to be older in a relationship. It is not uncommon for a 30-year-old man to date, and eventually marry, a 20-year-old woman. However, if the age difference becomes much more exaggerated than this, people will call the man a viejo verde, the equivalent of "cradle-robber" in American English. This label of viejo verde is also valid when an older man's admiration of a young woman is verbalized but not necessarily acted on. I know many old Costa Ricans who would say sexually suggestive things about young women, who were then gently called viejo verde

Another way to say viejo verde in Costa Rica is sátiro.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Word of the Day: Vacaciones!

I'm in Knoxville, Tennessee for the weekend. I'll continue posting the Word of the Day starting Monday. 

Pura Vida, 


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Costa Rican Spanish Word of the Day: Diino

I have a hard time even calling this a word, but it might be worth noting that [dino] with a slightly prolonged 'i' sound will informally refer to the Spanish divino. A woman in my community once told me that a painting was "super diino". As any normal human being would do, I gave her a funny look. When I asked her what the heck that was, all the other women in the room were in disbelief that I hadn't heard the word before.

Gauging their reaction, maybe it's a more common word than I might think. Maybe it's just a word that women use amongst themselves. Also, perhaps it's a word that is used in other countries, but Costa Rica is the only place where I was able to earn a woman's trust enough to hear her use such informal language with me.

Either way, it's pretty messed up. I wouldn't try using this word. You might get some funny looks.



Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Costa Rican Spanish Word of the Day: Si Dios Quiere

Literally translated as "if God wants" (or the more idiomatically correct "God willing" in English), 'si Dios quiere' is an expression that has permeated Costa Rican language and culture.

This expression often throws foreigners through a loop, whether they're believers or not. Many ticos will start or end the future projection of just about anything with 'si Dios quiere' (or 'si Dios permite'). While most people wouldn't have a problem with this, some ticos go a step further to add it onto your sentence when you--wittingly or not--leave it out.

I recall a specific instance when I was telling my neighbor about my graduate school plans. He nodded his head in agreement and said "Sí, si Dios quiere". If it were simply an involuntary cultural reaction I wouldn't have thought much of it, but in this case he was clearly calling attention to my omission of God in the equation.

I am personally not critical of the expression. (Even if I were, my quibbling would be nothing short of futile.) However, others have argued that the pervasiveness of the expression is a sign of--if not an actual cause of--an overreliance on faith and hope instead of self-determination in tico culture. In order to capture this attitude, I wrote the following parody for an underground Peace Corps Costa Rica fake newspaper, "The Times of Tico", which I authored while in the country: "Son's Laziness Mistaken for the Will of God".

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Costa Rican Spanish Word of the Day: Gallina de Palo

A common Costa Rican nickname for the iguana is gallina de palo, essentially meaning "chicken of the tree". (The resemblance to the popular brand of tuna in the US is a mere coincidence.) Actually, gallina specifically means 'hen' and 'palo' most formally means 'stick'. However, Costa Ricans will commonly use the word 'palo' whenever talking about a tree. When I first arrived in Costa Rica, I was taken on a walk in the woods and was met with some great confusion when someone was trying to point out a "stick" about 50 feet off the ground. The "stick" turned out to be a pretty big one, firmly planted into the ground!

Anyway, they call the iguana gallina de palo because it tastes a lot like chicken. Yum!

Todavía en la lucha,


Monday, November 3, 2008

Costa Rican Spanish Word of the Day: Cachos

Cachos is the most common way to say 'horns' or 'antlers' in Costa Rica. (In other Spanish-speaking countries, cuerno is the more common term.) To "ponerse los cachos" is to cheat on your significant other. The verb can also be used in a transitive sense, as in the following sentence: "Mi novia me puso los cachos." (My girlfriend cheated on me.)

In Costa Rica bakeries will sell pastries called "cachos". They're flaky, cone-like pastries filled with dulce de leche, a product made by slowly boiling milk and sugar until it caramelizes. I was always a sucker for these cachos. When I would go into a bakery to get a cacho, the owner would always have a good "cachos" joke for me. Of course, she was especially proud of her jokes because I was actually dating her daughter...

Siempre en la lucha,


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Costa Rican Spanish Word of the Day: ¡Aca!

¡Aca! is an interjection that Costa Rican farmers will use to yell at their cows. They simply scream it over an over again when trying to herd their cattle.

Perhaps it isn't actually an interjection, which is a word that is "interjected" in a sentence without a market grammatical connection with the other parts within. Perhaps ¡Aca! actually does originate from an actual command, making it a verb--or maybe even shorthand for a longer sentence. I will try to get to the bottom of this etymological issue when I go to Costa Rica in January.