Are you thinking about taking a trip to Peru? Who can blame you? Peru is full of amazing things to see and do.
Peru has plenty of sites to see, from the ancient Machu Picchu to the only coastal capital in South America, Lima, to the colonial-style northern cities like Trujillo with its 1300-year-old adobe city of Chan Chan.
You are probably thinking, “If I’m going to Peru, I should probably learn some Peruvian slang.”
And you’re absolutely right!
In general, Peruvian Spanish is considered to be relatively easy to understand; but just like all Spanish-speaking countries, there’s plenty of Peruvian slang words that would be helpful to know before you start ordering some pisco (a famous Brandy-like drink).
That’s where we come in.
In this article, you can find a list of some of the most typical Peruvian slang words and phrases so that you won’t be caught by surprise.
There are four significant dialects in Peru: Andean, Coastal, Andean/Coastal, and Amazonic. Coastal Peruvian is considered the “standard” dialect since it’s the version spoken in the capital.
This means that the people from Cuzco will speak a bit differently than in Lima or Trujillo. But this is common in Latin American countries and is part of the fun of learning the language!
In terms of slang, the most important lesson to know is that they incorporate a lot of vocabulary words from Quechua (one of the indigenous languages) into their “standard” Spanish. For example, the term “calato” comes from Quechua and means “naked.”
And that’s what makes Peruvian slang words so unique. So get ready to read up on some of the local terminologies to help you get around the country without trouble.
Common Peruvian Slang Words
|Pue / Pe
|Splitting the bill
This word exists everywhere in the Spanish-speaking world, and it means an animal leg or paw. But in Peru, it’s a slang term for “close friend.”
So you can refer to your friend as “mi pata.”
- Oe, mira, es mi pata Juan. – Hey look, it’s my pal Juan
2. Pue / Pe
This is one of the most common interjections you’ll hear in the Spanish language, so you’ll want to get this one down.
It has the same meaning as “well” in English. For example, when you say, “Well, I don’t know….” But, you can use it in other contexts as well.
This is a Spanish slang word that changes almost everywhere you go. It comes from the full-form “pues,” and in Peru, it gets shortened to “pue” or, more commonly, “pe.”
If you go to Peru, you’ll hear this in every conversation. Sometimes it doesn’t even have a grammatical meaning; it’s just added to the end of a sentence (Kind of like how people from California are famous for adding “like” to every other word).
- Pe, no sé qué quiero cenar – Well, I don’t know what I want for dinner
- ¿Qué tal, pe? – What’s up?
In standard Spanish, you would tell people you have un trabajo, but in Peruvian Spanish, you can say you have una chamba.
It’s a simple word that shouldn’t be too hard to figure out, but if you ever heard it out of context, you might not be able to guess what it is.
- Está todo muy mal, aún no tengo chamba. – The situation is really bad; I still don’t have work.
This word by itself can mean a lie or pig, according to the RAE. However, when combined with “hacer,” this takes on a very different meaning in Peruvian slang.
If you’re out to dinner with some close friends, you might tell them, “vamos a hacer una chancha.”
In this context, it’s just a common word for splitting the bill. So on your trip to Peru, if you go out with some friends, don’t forget to hacer una chancha.
But beware – it’s one of those slang words and phrases that are usually used negatively. It’s implying that someone has an accent because they don’t speak correctly.
So maybe someone will tell you that you have a mote inglés. For a foreigner, it’s probably not meant to be very offensive unless you upset the locals.
However, if you hear someone refer to someone’s mote charapa or the mote provinciano an older person has, it’s unlikely that they’re saying it positively.
Of course, you probably won’t need to use this word. However, it’s always good to know which Peruvian slang words are used to describe something negatively.
This Spanish word is an enjoyable one on the list. Of course, Coca-Cola can be the brand name and the drink. In fact, in many parts of Latin America, you can use it to refer to any soft drink, not just this specific brand.
But in Peru, you can use it to describe someone who is crazy or going crazy. Most likely, people use this because it rhymes with the actual Spanish word for crazy, loco.
- No sé qué le pasa, está Coca-Cola. – I don’t know what’s wrong with him, he’s crazy.
7. Al toque
This piece of slang is a classic one, and it’s pretty widely used. The literal meaning is “at the touch,” but the figurative sense isn’t too far off, either.
People say this phrase when they want to describe something immediately. As in, something will happen “at the touch / immediately.”
In the rest of the Spanish world, some people could use “al punto” with a similar meaning, but in Peru, this is a prevalent phrase to hear.
- Hijo, ven a casa al toque. – Son, come home right now.
This is another one of those words and phrases that are purely Peruvian. As a rough translation, jale means charisma. But in reality, it’s applied more to someone’s sex appeal or a person’s attractiveness.
If you go to a club in Lima (and there’s no coronavirus), you might hear people talking about if someone has jale or not.
Someone with jale is attractive, has a good personality, and is probably good at flirting. So if someone in Peru tells you that you have jale, you can definitely take that as a compliment.
It means shame or embarrassment and is usually used as an exclamatory phrase: ¡qué roche!
It comes from the French word for rock, presumably because when something embarrasses you so much, you just crawl into the ground like a rock.
In other parts of the world, people could say “qué pena” or “qué vergüenza,” depending on the context you want to use it in. For example, if someone tells you a story about something awkward they did, you could respond, “qué vergüenza” or “qué roche.”
10. Asu mare
This is one of the tell-tail words and phrases that immediately lets you know someone is Peruvian.
It comes from combining the words from the “a su madre” and refers to something that surprised you. Although “wow” isn’t the most accurate translation in English, you can use both of those expressions in the same context.
But let’s be honest, yelling asu mare is a lot cooler than some of the other standard Spanish phrases you have as options.
On a side note, there’s a hit movie called Asu Mare with two sequels, if you like dramatic comedy movies.
Of course, there are plenty of other expressions you’ll hear around Peru. Spanish is a rich language with a lot of diversity, so you’ll learn something new every day.
Some other common examples are:
- Ay, piña – Ah, what bad luck.
- Quiero jamear – I want to eat.
- Me da palta pasar frente a mi ex – I’m embarrassed to come across my ex.
- Muy bien, ¡qué bacán! – Great, that’s cool! (Also used in Colombia and Cuba)
- ¿Qué pasa, huevón? – What’s up, dude? (Also used in Venezuela in a derogative way)
- ¿Pedimos un par de chelas? – Should we order a couple of beers? (Also used in Mexico)
There’s also a ton of words that Peruvians use in their daily life that might have a different meaning than what you’re accustomed to. For example, in Peru, the word for avocado is palta, and another standard greeting is just “habla.”
And last but not least, do you know what the word Peru means? According to a book called the Royal Commentary on the Inca, when the Spanish arrived to conquer the area, they asked an indigenous man what the land was called.
Through many hand signals, they were able to communicate with the native who told them:
“Si me preguntáis cómo me llamo, yo digo Berú y si me preguntáis dónde estaba, digo que estaba en el río.” (If you ask me for my name, I’m called Berú and if you ask me where I am, I say I’m at the river.)
Since the Incan word for river was “pelú” and his name was “Berú,” the Spaniard, who obviously couldn’t understand him well, combined the two words and assumed that the land was named Perú. So, when the region fell under Spanish control, it was officially named so.
Of course, that’s just one version of the story. But as a fellow language learner, I’m sure you can sympathize with someone misunderstanding something due to a language barrier.
But now when you go there, you can impress your friends and locals with a little bit of history.
Use what you learned
Do you feel like you’re ready to start talking like a native Peruano?
This list is just the start of the slang you can learn while you travel through Peru. Go ahead, start learning some new expressions from our list and then watch some videos or speak to some natives to get used to the Peruvian accent.
Each region has its own peculiarities, so the best way to get used to the accent is by jumping right into it! So go ahead and remember, if you’re looking for the support of an incredible teacher, we can help.
We’ll see you next time.
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