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Talk Like a Tico

Mar 11, 2019
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How to Speak Costa Rican Spanish – Learning to talk like a Tico

Nothing endears foreigners to Costa Ricans more than hearing them pronounce distinctively Costa Rican expressions that they couldn’t possibly have learned in a Spanish class back home.

Try saying this before you leave the bar: “Una birra más, mae, el zarpe, y voy jalando pa’ la choza porque me espera la doña.” (“One more beer, man, the last, and I gotta go home because the Mrs. is waiting.”) You’ll be an instant hero.

Costa Rican Spanish is rich, witty, often politically incorrect and sometimes comically crude. The Ticos love a good laugh, and their language reflects that.

Here are some words and phrases you might hear on the streets of Costa Rica — some of them coined here, some of them rarely spoken elsewhere. Learn to use them, and you’ll make friends fast.


agüevado: sad, depressed, upset, tired, frustrated and/or bored. Derived from huevo(egg or testicle), this versatile word describes many emotional states, none of them good.

birra: beer. Cervezais the proper word, but this slang word borrowed from English is widely used.

brete: work. En este pueblo no hay brete— “There’s no work in this town.”

casado: traditional lunch or dinner, usually including beef, chicken, pork or fish, plus rice, beans, salad, chopped vegetables and sweet plantains. “Casado” literally means “married,” and the word is derived from the assumption that a man who brought a lunch like this to work was sure to be a married man.

chante/choza:house. Debería pintar la choza— “I should paint the house.”

chifrijo: a popular dish of beans and rice with chicharrones, pork rinds. Derived from a combination of chicharronesand frijoles. The inventor of this dish claimed to own the trademark to the name and threatened to sue anyone who used it, inspiring some amusing variations on the word.

chiva: cool, neat, awesome. ¡Qué chiva!— “How cool!”

chunche: thingamajig, whatchamacallit; a word for an object whose name you don’t know. Derived from Costa Rican imitation of words used by Chinese merchants.

diay: gosh, gee, wow, well, heck; an interjection with no real English equivalent that sometimes accompanies a complicated, troubling or obvious thought. Si no quiere trabajar, diay, ¿cómo va a pagar la renta? — “If he doesn’t want to work, gee, how’s he going to pay the rent?”

gallo pinto: literally “speckled rooster,” a traditional Costa Rican breakfast of rice, beans, eggs, bacon or ham, and often plantains, cheese and sour cream.

mae/maje: man, dude, guy; usually used as a filler word to address another person, but also used of a third person. Said to be derived from the English “man,” as in “Hey, man.” Mae, no sea tonto, ese mae está loco— “Man, don’t be stupid, that guy is crazy.”

pura vida: pure life. The national expression of Costa Rica, it means life is good and everything is great. It’s used in a wide variety of contexts, even to say “Thank you” or “You’re welcome.”

soda: a humble Costa Rican restaurant, typically served casadosand other traditional staples.

tapis: drunk, or a drink. Estaba bien tapis— “He was real drunk.” ¿Nos echamos un tapis? —Want to have a drink?

tico: Costa Rican. Used as an adjective or a noun, ticois not capitalized in proper Spanish, though it is in English. Derived from the Costa Rican habit of using “ico” instead of “ito” as a diminutive suffix, as in “un poquitico” (a little bit) instead of “un poquitito.”

todo bien: all’s well. Common salutation, or the answer to one. ¿Todo bien? —“Everything going OK?” Todo bien— “All’s well.”

tuanis: great, awesome, cool. Es un lugar super tuanis— “It’s a really cool place.”

upe: a word shouted outside someone’s door in place of knocking, or when entering an empty store, to see if anyone is there. ¡Upe!— “Hello!”

zarpe: last drink of the night, one for the road, sometimes used ironically when it’s not really going to be the last drink of the night.


alcagüete:someone who tolerates more than they should; a pushover.

chingo/chinga:naked or almost naked; chingaalso means cigarette butt.

coco: the common word for “coconut,” this word is also used of the human head, because it’s hard and kind of round.

comehuevos:egg eaters. Refers to Costa Rican families who take cheap vacations on the beach, bringing boiled eggs so they don’t have to spend money on restaurants.

embarazada:pregnant. Not to be confused with “embarrassed” (avergonzado). Pregnant women are sometimes referred to as panzona, meaning they have a big panza(belly).

guácala: yuck! Indicates something that looks, smells or tastes bad.

guachimán: security guard. Derived from the word “watchman” and sometimes abbreviated guachi.

güevon:literally a person with big testicles, indicating laziness; a mild put-down commonly used among friends.

mami/papi: a child’s words for “mom” or “dad,” but often used by adults to address each other, and sometimes even used by parents to address their children.

mocoso: snotty-nosed; a slang word for a child. Esa mujer ya tiene tres mocosos— “That woman already has three kids.”

mopri:a friendly way of addressing another person, derived from scrambling the word primo(“cousin”).

miserable: cheap, tight-fisted, stingy. ¿Cómo pueden cobrar cinco mil por two gallitos, los miserables? — “How can they charge five thousand for two little tacos, those cheapskates?”

muerto: literally “dead body,” this word is used of a speed bump on a road.

necio:annoying or foolish. No sea necio— “Don’t be an idiot.”

pelado: “hairless,” used to mean a child. Also used to mean broke, penniless.

soyla— a woman who has to do all the work. Derived from Soy la que…(“I’m the one who…”). Soy la que cocina, soy la que limpia, soy la que lava ropa, soy la soyla— “I’m the one who cooks, I’m the one who cleans, I’m the one who washes clothes, I’m the ‘I’m-the-one.’”

zorra:“fox,” meaning a loose woman.


al chile:literally “to the chili,” this can mean fast, quickly right now, or   “Really?” or “Really!”

cada loco con su tema: “every crazy person with his own topic,” meaning “to each his own.”

darle pelota: “to pass the ball,” meaning to pay attention to someone. Te dije qué deberías hacer, pero no me diste pelota— “I told you what you should do, but you didn’t listen.”

demasiado loco para andar suelto: “too crazy to be running loose.”

hablar paja: “talking straw,” meaning speaking nonsense.

la mamá de Tarzan:“the mother of Tarzan,” meaning a know-it-all, a conceited person.

manda güevo:literally “send egg,” this expression means that something seen as potentially difficult is actually easy, so just do it.  ¿Has estudiado inglés dos años y no puedes decir nada? ¡Manda huevo! —“You’ve been studying English two years and you can’t say anything? Just do it!”

meter la pata:“to stick your foot in,” meaning to make a mistake.

nada que ver:“nothing to see.” This common expression means one thing has nothing to do with another thing, but it’s often used more broadly to mean, “No way,” “That’s wrong.”

no jodás:“don’t screw with me.” Rarely used in anger, this common expression might be uttered while laughing at a joke.

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