Costa Rica was very poor and very isolated for a long time and because of that it developed many expressions that can only be found here. For travelers the most common expressions are always interesting to understand.
Once, a tourist asked me what language do we speak in Costa Rica. My answer, of course was Spanish. He asked me then if there were many Spaniards in Costa Rica. I said “Not particularly… Why?” and he said… “Then why do you speak Spanish?” followed by a long list of examples of how, for instance, in England they spoke English, in France French… and in Mexico… Mexican!” I ended up saying “Oh… ok… We speak Costa Rican!”
But then, if I think about it… It is actually quite true… Costa Rican Spanish is, if spoken among pure Costa Ricans, quite different form the rest!
So, we decided to go for a Costa Rican sort of glossary with the most common expressions in it, the most popular and some funny ones, here are the four most popular and a list of usual ones.
The Costa Rican motto! Used to say hi and to say bye, to say “I am fine” and to say someone is really nice “!Es Pura Vida!” it is state of mind that summarize the usual life enjoyment of Costa Ricans. Came from a Mexican movie called “Pura Vida” in which the main character repeated the phrase all throughout the movie. I can just imagine all the people that came out of the theater making the phrase theirs as it reflects very much the Costa Rican spirit.
It is the usual call between friends, like “Dude” or famous aussie “Mate”. Its story is quite funny, as literally it means silly. In the old days, in the old leather factories, there was a very annoying job, a sort of polish that had to be done manually, the name of it was “Majar el cuero” Sort of “Step on the leather”. When someone wanted a job but didn’t know how to do anything they used to say “Es un maje” (maa-he), which meant that he/she was only good for this sort of annoying but easy job. Whenever someone was fooling someone it was said “Te agarraron de maje” They caught you as if you were a “maje”. And little by little the expression turned to be “mae” (my), and became a solid everyday expression in the Costa Rican culture.
Tico / Tica (tee-ko/tee-ka)
Ticos is the way Costa Ricans are internationally known. It comes from the way we used diminutives: “Chiquitico” for instance instead of the correct Spanish “Chiquitito”. With the termination of the words in “Tico” they started to call us that way.
Instead of “tu” Used in Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua and some areas of Colombia and Central America. Instead of the usual Spanish “Tu” in the second singular person. It is quite interesting because basically it is an ancient treatment (Like thee in English) that remained in the poorest and most isolated areas of the Spanish Empire.
From the “General Malespin” code in 1856 war. Tuanis meant everything was fine. Nowadays it is the actual meaning of “cool”
Some other expressions:
|Spanish||English||Where it comes from|
|aguevado (ah-gway-va-doh)||bored or boring||Whatever has to do with “güevos” comes from men’s testicles.|
|brete (bre-tay)||work or job||The “brete” originally is the oxen yoke.|
|chunche (choon-chay)||thingamajig||This is as well Colombian. The Chinese had come to work in the railroads and whenever they could they would start a grocery. Whenever people asked them for something like that or this “thing” it would be said “Chunche” instead of the right word.|
|como amaneció? (coh-moh ah-mahn-es-ee-oh)||how are you this morning?||Amanecer means dawn. As country people started the day before dawn it was costumary to say “How was your dawn?”|
|The original meaning of this word is some big work made with stubbornness. So both words mixed.|
|estar de chicha (es-tar day chee-chah)||to be angry almost in a childish way.||“Calma chicha” was the expression used in Spanish for the ocean’s doldrums (Dead calm) that used to cause a frustration combined with desperation. And very often this carried to a desperate anger or a sort of tantrum.|
|estar de goma (es-tar day goh-mah)||to have a hangover||Goma is glue, and the expression comes from the glueish sensation of the mouth after being drunk.|
|güila (gwee-lah)||A güila in Costa Rica is merely a “kid”. I can go very differently in different countries in Latin America.||Couldn’t find its origins, although in Chile it means “rag” and might have to do with the little beggars.|
|jamar (hah-marh)||to eat||From the “caló” language (Gypsy Rumanian)|
|jumas (hoo-mahs)||drunk||Coming from an old latin “Umere” that meant to be humid. It moved to the traditional castillian as jumas meaning drunk and to Latin America.|
|la choza (lah choh-sah)||home||“The hut”, basically a primary house.|
|la jama (lah hah-mah)||food||Same as jama, coming from the Rumanian caló.|
|la vara (lah bar-ah)||the thing, a lie or a weird thing.||Vara was a measure a little shorter than the yard. To cut a vara was to cut less than the price. The first expression for “vara” was “No te pongás en varas” (Do not get into varas) meaning do not give me varas instead of yards. Do not fool me.|
|Macho/macha (mah-cho / mah-cha)||a blond person||There are many explanations for this one, from the Chilean “macha” which is a white flesh shellfish, to the fact that the blond Europeans that came to Costa Rica were tall and rather large and they used to say they are “machos” to say masculine and strong.|
|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||Papa means potato, the simplest tuber.|
|joder (hoe-der)||To bother||Joder comes from latin “futüere” meaning copulate. And in ancient yidhish “yadah” was “to know in the biblical sense”|
|ojo! (oh-hoe)||watch out!||Ojo means eye. Meaning put your eye to something.|
|pinche (peen-chay)||Stingy||Comes from Pinchar, pinching, taking just a little.|
|por dicha (poor dee-chah)||joyfully|
|pulperia (pool-pehr-ee-ah)||a small grocery store||It seems that in the old coffee processing plants the pulp area was where they changed the coffee basket payment tickets for food.|
|pura paja (poor-ah pa-hah)||bullshit||Paja meaning straw but also in many countries “pajear” means masturbate. So it may come from there.|
|salado (sahl-ah-doh)||unlucky or “too bad!”||From salty. There is a tradtion that says that if you drop the table salt you get bad luck.|
|tuanis (too-ahn-ees)||“cool.”||From an old war code (In the 1856 war against William Walker) meaning “All is well”|
There are plenty more that will be publishing little by little until we have our complete Costa Rican terms glossary.