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Costa Rica is often called the happiest country in the world, and some Costa Rican Spanish phrases (most famously, pura vida) are used to describe the country’s exuberant embrace of the joy of living.
But Costa Ricans also have a keen sense of irony – and a wicked sense of humor. Ticos love a good joke, and it’s not unusual to hear even a grandmother use a little salty language.
Costa Rica is a tiny country, sandwiched between two oceans and two other countries. Yet it has a rich history of inventing its own uniquely Costa Rican slang. Many Costa Rican Spanish phrases have delightful and humorous backstories.
We wanted to create a glossary of 20 amusing Costa Rican phrases that you should know if you plan on visiting the country. We left out a few that might get you in trouble, but here are some that provide a window into Costa Rica’s creativity, originality and instinctive feel for looking on the brighter side of life.
20 Costa Rican Spanish phrases
To learn how these phrases are pronounced, click on each one to go to Google Translate, and then click on the “Listen” icon at lower left.
agüevado. Originating from huevos (“eggs,” meaning testicles), this word describes a variety of unhappy emotional states: bored, bummed out, depressed, frustrated, tired, bothered. Este trabajo ya me tiene agüevado. “I’m already sick and tired of this job.”
al chile. Literally “to the chili,” this odd expression usually means fast, right now, right away. It’s also used to mean “really.” ¿Al chile? ¡Al chile! “Really?” “Really!”
cada loco con su tema. Literally, “each crazy person with his own issue,” or “To each his own.” Está tratando de vender sus tacos caseros frente al Taco Bell. Cada loco con su tema. “She’s trying to sell her homemade tacos right in front of the Taco Bell. To each his own.”
chunche. Thingamajig, whatchamallit; a word used for any object you don’t know the name of. Derived from the unintelligible manner in which early Chinese shopkeepers used to describe their goods. Necesito un chunche para abrir botellas de birra. “I need a thingamajig to open beer bottles.”
comehuevos. Egg eaters. Refers to frugal Costa Rican families who take cheap vacations on the beach, bringing boiled eggs to eat so they don’t have to pay for restaurants. Los restaurantes de aquí nunca ganan nada de los comehuevos. “The restaurants here never make anything from the egg eaters.”
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darle pelota. “To give the ball to someone,” meaning to pay attention to someone, usually used in the negative. It suggests a soccer game where you’re wide open, but the person with the ball doesn’t pass it to you. Te dije que tu novio era un idiota, pero no me diste pelota. “I told you your boyfriend was an idiot, but you didn’t listen.”
diay. A filler word meaning “gosh, gee, wow,” often used to suggest the difficulty of addressing some issue. Si no quieres trabajar, diay, va a ser difícil pagar tu renta. “If you don’t want to work, gee, it’s going to be hard to pay your rent.”
güevón. Literally meaning someone with big testicles (huevos = eggs), this does not refer to courage but to foolishness. Not a real insult, but used as a mild put-down among friends. No seas güevón. “Don’t be a dummy.”
hablar paja. “to talk straw,” meaning to speak nonsense, to say things that aren’t true. Dijo que era rico, pero estaba hablando pura paja. “He claimed to be rich, but he was talking pure BS.”
mae. Apparently originating from the English “man,” this uniquely Costa Rican word (sometimes spelled maje) is used to address another person in informal contexts, similar to the word “dude.” ¿Diay, mae, cómo no metió ese gol? “Oh, dude, how did he miss that goal?”
manda güevo. Literally “send egg,” this delightful saying means, “It’s easy, just do it!” It’s also sometimes used to mean “What a disappointment!” ¿Tu papá es dueño de una fábrica y te da pereza buscar un empleo? ¡Manda güevo! “Your father owns a factory and you’re too lazy to find a job? C’mon, just do it!”
meter la pata. Literally “to stick your foot in,” this means to screw up, make a mistake, blow it. Metí la pata cuando me burlé de mi jefe. “I screwed up when I made fun of my boss.”
nada que ver. Literally “nothing to see,” this Spanish saying popular in Costa Rica means that one thing has nothing to do with another thing, but it’s often used to mean, “No way” or “That’s just wrong.” Este vino está en descuento y todavía cuesta quince mil? Nada que ver. “This wine is on sale and it still costs fifteen thousand? No way.”
necio. Foolish, stubborn, dumb. Not a harsh insult, but a mild put-down. No sea tan necio. “Don’t be so dumb.” Similar to bruto (dumb) – No sea tan bruto, mae.
no jodás. Don’t screw around, don’t mess with me; often used like a sarcastic “Yeah, right.” ¿Crees que podrías jugar con Saprissa? No jodás. “You think you could play with Saprissa? Yeah, right!”
pura vida. The best-known of Costa Rica’s sayings, pura vida could be called the national motto. Used in a wide variety of contexts, it means “life is wonderful,” “everything is great,” “I’m really happy” and even “Thank you.” Mi jefe ya me pagó el aguinaldo. ¡Pura vida! “My boss already paid my Christmas bonus. Life is good!”
soyla. “I’m the one,” a whimsical word used to describe a woman who does everything. Soy la que limpia, soy la que lava, soy la soyla. “I’m the one who cleans, I’m the one who washes, I’m the I’m-the-one.”
tuanis. A very Costa Rican word of uncertain origin, meaning great, excellent, pretty, nice. (Some say it came from the English words “too nice,” but evidence for this is scant.) Esta playa es bien tuanis. “This beach is really nice.”
upe. A word shouted outside someone’s home when seeking entrance, in place of knocking. Or a word spoken when you enter a store that appears to be empty and you’re looking for the shopkeeper. A common alternative is “¡Buenas!” – “Hello?” Dije “upe” cinco veces, y la única que me contestó fue una lora. “I said ‘Hello!’ five times and the only one who answered me was a parrot.”
vieras que. “You should see,” you should be aware of, FYI, in case you didn’t know. This is an expression often used to call attention to something the other person might be unaware of. Quisiera trabajar aquí, pero queda a 10 kilometros de mi casa, y vieras que no tengo carro. “I’d like to work here, but it’s 10 kilometers from my house, and just so you know, I don’t have a car.”
Bonus Q&A: How do you say…?
- How do you say “cool” in Costa Rica? Qué chiva is a Costa Rican Spanish phrase often used to mean something is “cool,” nice, pretty. If you’re referring to cool weather, the word is fresco.
- What famous Costa Rican expression means “everything is cool”? Pura vida will get the job done, but another very popular phrase is todo bien – all’s well.
- What do Costa Ricans call themselves? Costa Rican are known as ticos (lowercase in Spanish, uppercase in English). This derives from their habit of using the diminutive suffix ico instead of ito, as in un poquitico, “a little bit.”
- How do Costa Ricans say hello? Aside from the standard hola, buenos días and buenas tardes, the Spanish phrases used by Costa Ricans include the single word buenas, especially when greeting strangers in passing. And although Mexicans answer the phone by saying bueno, Ticos answer the phone by saying aló.
So, in conclusion …
¡Diay, mae, no jodás, no hables paja, manda güevo, deme pelota, vieras que todo es tuanis en la tierra de pura vida, güevón!