Peruvian Slang

Slang is a part of any culture. There are different words for different things depending on the country, region and the sub-culture that you live in.  I find slang fascinating and when you pick it up you are instantly considered by the locals to be either hilarious or a more legitimate member of the community. One thing I have found that is to my advantage is being able to speak to taxi drivers and vendors in their language at a high level of fluency so that they do not take advantage of me. There are certain things that may help you as you travel through Peru and I am going to explain more in a minute.

Of course, there is a ton of slang that I have not picked up on because I don’t roll with every type of person in Peru but I have picked up a few things that I think are fun and different and could be helpful to a potential traveler.

  1. The diminutive. Everywhere you go you will constantly hear “mamacita” or “papcito”. Vendors especially love using the words mama and papa when they are addressing their customers. Some people find it really annoying. I have come to love it and I use it when addressing the vendors now. “Mamacita, cuanto cuesta un kilo de tomate?” They respond very nicely and I think they enjoy that I am embracing the term. Other diminutives that are used often are: “acacito” which means “right here”, “cerquita” – very close, and “chiquititos” – little ones, often used when referring to children. Now, the last one is the most hilarious to me because pequeño means small and chiquito means very small so adding an “ito” to the end makes the word literally mean very very small ones.  Finally, it is common to hear names with the diminutive. I went to the dentist and the secretary/dental assistant called me Amycita (Eh-mi-si-tah). I rolled with it. She was just trying to make me feel more comfortable. Honestly, you will hear an “ito” or “ita” added to almost any word possible. Try it out! It’s quite fun.
  2. Yes or Yes. The term “sí o sí” is often used and it literally means yes or yes when referring to something that is going to happen no matter what. “Tenemos que terminar el trabajo hoy dia, si o si.” We have to finish the work today no matter what. I like to think that this would translate well into  “no buts about it!”
  3. Money. The Peruvian Nuevo Sol is the official currency of Peru but there is a lot of slang used to refer to it just like there are the words green and bucks for dollars in the States. “Luca” is used to refer to the sol. “Tengo diez lucas.” I have ten soles. Of course, going back to the diminutive you will probably hear “Tengo diez luquitas.” “China” and “plata” are other words that refer to money. “No tengo china.”
  4. One more song! A word that I learned recently that I had never heard before is “yapa”. My band had just finished a set an the audience members were yelling out “Una yapita más!”. One more song is all they wanted!
  5. Children. Now, I am not sure if this is just a Peruvian thing or if it is used in other countries too but I heard the word “chivolo” used when referring to a child or a young person. I remember having a discussion with some Peruvian friends about the origin of this word. I pulled something off the top of my head explaining how I thought it might have come about. A chivo is a goat in Spanish and the offspring of a goat in English is a kid. Therefore, a chivo’s kid is a chivolo! Who knows what the real origin is but I like to think my definition is pretty clever.
  6. Cutting words down. This is a common thing that happens in any language and it is not just in Peru where you will hear the shortening of words. I know that Chileans are known for cutting off their words at the end of sentences too. What I often hear are words like “por favor” – please, shortened to “porfis” and “tranquilo” – calm, shortened to “tranqui”. A Cusqueñan friend of mine said when she heard one of my band mates use the term “San Sebas” to refer to the district San Sebastian, she knew he had spent quite some time in Cusco.
  7.  Adding words. Not only are words cut down, sometimes an extra word is added to sentences. Mexicans use the word “weh” at the end of sentences. In the same light, Peruvians, more often with serranos or people from the Andes of Peru, use the words “pe” or “pues”. There is no translation to English. I liken it to using the word “like” in a sentence when it doesn’t belong. “I’m like, so happy that I like, live in Peru.”
  8. Friends.  There are multiple words that I have heard referring to close friends. Some of them include “causa”, “pata”, “chochera”, and “yunta”. The most common that I have heard is pata but any of them are acceptable when referring to a close friend. If someone is just a friend or someone you know you would use the word “conocido”. Another word I like that refers to a group of friends or even just a group of people (and sometimes a big group of dogs) is “mancha”. “Qué tal mancha!” What a group!

 I know this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you have been to Peru or are living in Peru, what is some slang that you hear or use?

Amy Brown

My name is Amy Brown and I have been living in Cusco Peru since August 2010. I taught English and I am now teaching violin. I love going on adventures and I play in a two bands here in Cusco. I graduated from Denison University in Ohio in 2009 majoring in Spanish and Communication.

2 thoughts on “Peruvian Slang

  • May 3, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    Good start, Amy!

    “yapa” comes from the Quechua word “yapay”, which means to increase or augment. So the “yapa” is an extra bit added to an order as courtesy. It’s the same idea as behind a “baker’s dozen.”

    I’d caution males from referring to females as “mamacita”. It’ll likely be taken as suggestive. Now, if that’s what you intend…

    “Yunta” is a yoked pair, as in oxen at a plow. The slang term refers to one’s significant other, not just a friend. Other terms for girlfriend and boyfriend are “chica” and “chico”, with a possessive – “su chico”, “mi chica”. Another slang term for girlfriend is “costilla” – literally “rib”, as in Adam’s rib.

    And, of course, everyone has a nickname!


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