You can’t call yourself fluent in Costa Rican Spanish unless you understand its slang.
Tiquismos, as they are known, play an important role in most daily conversations. Despite having been a Spanish teacher for many years with a Masters Degree, I quickly found myself overwhelmed by Costa Rican slang when I moved here in 1980.
I began an exhaustive study of the local lingo and compiled thousand of tiquismos or costarriqueñismos (expressions) in the process. Learning these phrases will help you navigate Costa Rica’s linguistic jungle, especially if you plan to live here.
I am going to start this series with some of the more commonly used terms.
A cachete: This expression is used when something is really good. A cachete inflado is a synonym.
Un Aguila: Literally means “eagle” but is used to refer to Imperial beer that has an eagle on its label. If you ask for an “águila” you will be served an Imperial. In Costa Rica there are three things that are important in every man’s life: beer, soccer (fútbol) and women, but not necessarily in that order.
Choza: Means a shack but refers to someone’s home or casa. For example, vamos a jalar a la choza (let’s go home). Chante is also slang for home.
Chunche: Is an all-purpose word that can refer to almost any thing or object.
Cuidado pierde: This expression is really popular nowadays and means “you can’t go wrong,” “can’t miss,” or “you can’t lose.”
Mae: Means “guy,” “man,” “buddy,” or “dude.” Some women also refer to each other by this term, una mae. Hacerse el mae means “to play dumb” or “to turn a blind eye.” Mae or maje can also means stupid or dumb, so be careful how you use this word.
Mejenga: Is an informal or “pick up” game of soccer (fútbol) among friends.
Pura vida: Is the de-facto national motto that reflects the country’s incredible lifestyle.
Solo bueno: Means “only good” and also reflects life in Costa Rica.
Tico/a: Is another name for a person from Costa Rica or a Costa Rican (costarricense). Since Costa Ricans frequently use the diminutives ico/ica to the end of words as suffixes, the term tico evolved to refer to the locals.
Tuanis: Means “good” or “cool” and is used at times like the expression, “pura vida.” It isn’t derived from the English phrase “too nice,” as many believe.
Una teja: Is slang for 100 colones (the official currency). It is also synonymous with the distance of one block, or 100 meters. Finally, there is a daily newspaper called La Teja. Originally it cost 100 colones, giving it its name. As of May 2019, the newspaper costs 250 colones (two and one-half tejas).
Vara: Is a “thing” and similar in meaning to chunche. It may also used in many other ways such as “Qué es la vara?’” which means “What’s up?” or “What’s the deal?” The world can also be used to indicate a joke: Son varas, mae means “just kidding, man.”
Costa Rican expression of the week
de Bagaces a Liberia is a phrase that basically means to be lazy. Perezoso/a or ocioso/a are more commonly used to describe a lazy or idle person.
Christopher Howard has been conducting monthly relocation/retirement tours to Costa Rica for over 30 years. See www.liveincostarica.com. He is also the author of the one- of-a-kind bestselling, “Guide to Costa Rican Spanish,” that may be purchased through amazon.com