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American Dictionary

There is a persistent myth which says that, save Brazil and a few indigenous communities, Latin America speaks a singular, uniform language. In fact, the Castilian Spanish carried over by explorers, colonialists, missionaries, and migrant workers throughout the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries was diverse in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. Independence struggles, 20th century nationalism, and contemporary influxes of Italian, Japanese, Arab, Chinese, Jewish, and German immigrants further individuated each country's own variety of what was once “Cervantes’ language.”

Furthermore, Latin Americans are as unified in their love of idiomatic and colloquial speech as they are divided over what those slang words and expressions should refer to. In Mexico, ask for cajeta and you're in for a lovely treat. In Argentina and Uruguay you'll likely get a slap in the face. Inversely, pendejo is a harmless word in Argentina, referring to a young kid who knows no better. But in Mexico the word could potentially evoke a fist fight.

Blogging, more often than not, is a vernacular literature and, as such, regional expressions sometimes act as a dividing wall between what would otherwise be an international (or at least continental) audience.

María Pastora, a Chilean blogger and OhmyNews citizen reporter, has long been aware that not all of her readers understood the local slang words, or “modismos,” that would often pepper her blog posts.

Quizás algunos conocían un blog que creé llamado Diccionario Chilensis, donde enlazaba el significado de aquellas palabras que los extranjeros no entenderían.

Maybe some of you are familiar with a blog I created called Chilenese Dicionary, where I linked to the meanings of those words that foreigners wouldn't understand.

The lexicon in blog format served as a useful resource for non-native Chileans wanting to learn local words and expressions without being overwhelmed all at once. But why limit the concept to just Chilean speech?

Un buen día mi amigo Bruno Ortiz me pregunta si puede replicar la idea, pero para palabras de origen peruano… y automáticamente pensé: ¿por qué no hacer un diccionario conjunto?

La idea piloto se llamó Diccionario Chilensis-Peruanus, pero después yo seguí con mis ideas locas y le propuse de que sumáramos a otros latinoamericanos con esta motivación: Fernando Marino-Aguirre (Argentina), Erich Moncada y María José “Pepé” Enríquez (ambos de México). Hay otra persona que está por entrar, de Perú y esperamos que de otros países quieran cooperar con esta idea descabellada.

One day my friend Bruno Ortiz asked me if he could replicate the idea, but with words of Peruvian origin … and automatically I thought, why not make a dictionary together?

The pilot idea was called Chilenese-Peruanuse Dictionary, but afterwards I continued with my crazy idea and proposed to him that we get other Latin Americans to join the initiative: Fernando Marino-Aguirre (Argentina), Erich Moncada and María José “Pepé” Enríquez (both from México). There is another person who is about to enlist, from Peru, and we hope that other countries will want to cooperate on this crazy idea.

Since Pastora's introductory post, Brazilian cyber-journalist and lecturer Ana María Brambilla has also joined the team.

The project gained an unexpected boost when it was mentioned by A-list blogger José Luis Orihuela (ES) in eCuaderno. Orihuela also reminds (ES) readers of Jergas de Habla Hispana, a database of Spanish slang maintained by Roxana Fitch. Jergas de Habla Hispana appears to be a more thorough resource while Diccionario Americano would likely appeal to readers hoping to learn just a few words each day.


Already, readers can easily observe the Wikipedia-like, decentralized nature of the dictionary. For example, Thomas celebrated the launch of Diccionario Americano with a copy-and-pasted meditation on the word huevón (ES):

Huevón

Con todo el respeto que me merece la honorable blogósfera pero… es imprescindible explicar esta palabra. Aunque ya no suena tan grosera ni “fuerte” (impactante), es considerada aún una mala palabra en Chile, aunque se está masificando (incluso en la televisión). Correspondería al “boludo” de Argentina o al “wey” de México, palabras que también, de a poco, están dejando de ser groserías. Supongo que es de público conocimiento el origen de esta palabra, es decir, que a los testículos se les llama huevos… y de ahí sacamos las conclusiones (Dios mío, soy muy cartucha, me complico entera jajajaja). En Chile se suele pronunciar como “hueón”, sin pronunciar la V… los chilenos obviamos ciertas letras, a veces. También en la transcripción coloquial se escribe como “weón”.

Huevón

With all my respect to the honorable blogosphere, it is essential to explain this word. Although it no longer sounds so vulgar nor “strong” (shocking), it's still considered a bad word in Chile, even though it's heard everywhere (including television). It would correspond to the word “boludo” from Argentina or to “wey” from Mexico, words that also, recently, are no longer swear words. I suppose that the origin of the word is already public knowledge; that is to say that testicles are called “huevos” (eggs) and from there we'll draw our conclusions. (My God, I am so prude and make things complicated hahaha). In Chile it's just pronounced as “hueón”, without pronouncing the ‘v’ … we Chileans leave out certain letters at times. Also, in colloquial transcription, it's written sometimes like “weón”.

Maria Pastora then left a comment on Thomas’ post thanking him for reminding her of the Chilean phrase “él es un huevas,” which was subsequently added to the definition on Diccionario Americano:

Leyendo un comentario en la Bitácora de Thomas caí en cuenta de que no había mencionado que también existe la expresión “ser un huevas”, mal pronunciado por los chilenos como “hue’as”, “hueas” o “weas” y que es ser una persona medio estúpida. Y, por supuesto, hacer huevadas (hueadas o weás) es hacer estupideces.

Reading a comment on Thomas’ blog, I realized that I had not mentioned that the expression “ser un huevas” also exists, pronounced poorly by Chileans as “hue'as,” “hueas” or “weas” and that is to be a somewhat stupid person. And, of course, “hacer huevadas” (hueadas or weas) is to do foolish things.

Most posts/definitions also attract comments that challenge or add to the meaning of each word. Bruno, for example, clarifies (ES) that in Peru the “condition of huevón” is ahuevado.

Why not learn a few new words today? Find out what a “king kong” is in Peru or how a sopaipilla can make a rainy day more bearable in Chile.

3 comments

  • Wow that is great. My goal is to learn chilean spanish, because my dad is from there.

  • If the country is big enough as to have varius regions, regional expressions also increase, sometimes making funny the conversations with people of other cities of the same country. People born and grown in Iquitos does not speak as one born in Lima, or Piura or Cuzco. All of them have their own local slang words, and their own entonation (dejo) at speaking. Try this: ¿Ya vuelta estas queriendo sheretear a las huambrillas, buchisapillo?

  • Very interesting. I´m from Tucuman, Nw Argentina. I suggest you, for taking a real class of Argentinian language, to visit this website http://www.agoratv.com. There rovinces spanish. NArciso

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