Category Archives: Body

Sick as a frog’s tail (The Bogotá Post)

As we continue playing catch-up with my newspaper columns from the past few months, here’s the next installment from The Bogotá Post: being sick in (but never of!) Colombian Spanish. Much of the information can also be found in this post that I wrote in 2012. And if you don’t know what chikungunya is, look it up–I didn’t choose that sickness because it has a cool name but rather because it regularly pops up on the Colombian news (also written chicunguña).

Last week I felt a cold coming on, a friend had to cancel lunch plans because he too had come down with something, and one of my boyfriend’s cousins was also feeling under the weather. It seemed like a great excuse to write about how to talk about feeling sick in Colombian Spanish, so, from the sniffles to chikungunya, here’s how to cope, Spanish-wise.

I’m sick is Estoy enfermo (think of sending someone to the infirmary), but a very common way in Colombia to say that you’re feeling bad is Estoy maluco or Me siento maluco. The noun form of this adjective is maluquera: Tengo una maluquera also conveys that you’re feeling lousy. Tengo un malestar is more formal way of saying the same thing. Estoy indispuesto is a more formal and elegant way of saying that you’re sick and out of pocket, like saying, I’m ill. I’ve never found a convincing way of saying that someone feels sick as a dog in Colombian Spanish, but you can compare how bad you feel to what it must feel like to have the plague: Tengo una peste horrible, Tengo la peste, or Estoy apestado.

So, what do you have? A cold? The flu? Here in Colombia and in some other countries, these are treated as pretty much the same animal: la gripa. Note that it’s gripa and not gripe, as it is in most countries. So, you say Tengo gripa, or Estoy agripado, or Me dio gripa. I caught a cold. Resfriado or catarro–common words for a cold in other countries- are not words you’re likely to hear in Bogotá.


Medicines are called medicamentos far more than they’re called medicinas, and you can also say drogas or remedios. Pills are almost always called pastillas, not píldoras. You can see that pastillas is the diminutive form of pastas, so if you hear someone ask for pastas at the farmacia or droguería, there’s no need to tell them that the Italian restaurant is around the corner.

¡Que te mejores! is your standard way of telling someone to get well soon. If you know that someone was sick and you want to check in on them, you can ask them ¿Cómo sigues? or, more specifically, ¿Cómo sigues del ojo/estómago? or whatever body part was ailing them.

Losing your voice is always a pain in the neck, and economy of words becomes of the utmost priority. When this happens, you’ll say, estoy afónico. Estar ronco means that your voice is hoarse. Tener carraspera is another way of saying this, kind of like saying that you have a frog in your throat.

Speaking of frogs, there’s this great little rhyming chant in Spanish that parents say to little kids when they get a boo-boo and think that the world is going to end: Sana que sana colita de rana, si no sanas hoy sanarás mañana. Basically, get better, little frog tail, if not today, then tomorrow.

sana que sana colita de rana

What are the best local remedies to take when you get a cold in Bogotá? Their versions of chicken noodle soup include: aguapanela with lemon and cinnamon, honey with milk, and the like.

There are many old wives’ tales here that revolve around not mixing hot and cold, for fear of causing anything from a cough to crippling you permanently. Some examples are not opening the refrigerator right after coming home all hot and sweaty after exercising, or not running your hands under cold water right after ironing. You and I might roll our eyes, but Colombians take this folk wisdom extremely seriously.

People also tend to be a little OCD about cold air. Quick, quick, close that window; you’ll let el chiflón in! El chiflón being a draft that can have all kinds of pernicious effects. And don’t go from a warm inside environment to the cold outdoors unprepared, or you risk the danger of el sereno, or, a deadly chill. Very much talked about as a sort of bogeyman, the dreaded sereno is also infamous for increasing the effects of alcohol on the brain. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

May you never have the need to use any of this vocabulary, but it’s always good to have it in your back pocket just in case. Make sure you’re always properly bundled up (especially your feet), if not for your own wellbeing then at least for the sensibilities and concern of the Bogotanos around you. When in Rome…


Fit for Spanish (The Bogotá Post)

As I mentioned in the last post, I’m still happily writing a Spanish language column for The Bogotá Post, which is published about every three weeks. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share the posts that have come out since I put down my keyboard back in January and let the blog take a breath, interspersing them with new posts.

This column came out in January, I think, when we were still ringing in the new year and initiating our resolutions with vim and vigor. If you too set goals to eat healthier and get in better shape, this column will help you with the related vocabulary in Spanish. Feel free to share your progress in the comments. I’ve been working on toning my arms, and I’m also trying to make a Colombian equivalent of “an apple a day…” and eat a mango a day, or at least just increase my consumption of all the local delicious fruit in general!

Happy New Year! Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? Maybe to improve your Spanish? Maybe to lose weight? I thought we could kill two birds with one stone by talking about one goal that’s very common (losing weight), and teaching you some related useful Spanish de paso.

First of all, a goal in this context is un propósito. If your goal is to lose weight, you’d say: Mi propósito para este año es bajar de peso. If it’s to get in shape: Mi propósito para este año es ponerme en forma. Another way of saying to lose weight is adelgazar; you can see its connection to the word for thin, delgado. Use the preposition para to express a deadline: Quiero bajar cinco kilos para junio. I want to lose five kilos by June.

Maybe you just want to tone up, either in general or a certain body part. To tone is tonificar. Quiero tonificar mis brazos – I want to tone my arms. Maybe you want to eat healthy: Quiero comer sano/sanamente. To go on a diet is hacer una dieta; to tell someone that you’re on a diet, you say, Estoy a dieta.

diet and exercise

If you want to join a gym, you’ll say, Quiero entrar al gimnasio. To work out is hacer ejercicio. Want the holy grail of gym rats, a six-pack? Locally, you call that a chocolatina because it looks like a chocolate bar with its various squares. Ironic, right?

Have a spare tire around your middle? That’s a michelín; yes, just like the brand of tires. A double chin? That’s called a papada. Rolls of fat in general are called gordos. Spanish even has a word for chubby cheeks! They’re cachetes.

You may have noticed that here in Colombia the words gordo and gorda frequently don’t carry the same stigma and insult that FAT carries in other cultures. There are husbands and wives that affectionately call each other gordo and gorda, as well as women who greet their female friends by calling them gorda. It’s all about the tonito. Gordito makes the label softer, obviously, and means chubby or plump.

What are some other ways of expressing that someone is heavy? Your doctor is most likely to say something tactful and technical like Usted tiene sobrepeso or Usted está pasado de peso. If your friends notice that you’re packing a few extra pounds than usual, or if you come back from vacation with your face a little rounder, they might say that you’re repuesto or repuestico. A little stronger than that would be rellenito. Rechoncho is a harsher way of saying that someone is chunky or hefty. One very local way of saying that someone is gaining weight is se ve que se toma la sopita. You can tell they’re eating all their soup! Soups of all kinds being, of course, a classic Bogotá staple for the traditionally cold weather. People even eat soup at breakfast! Speaking of Bogotá food, once I heard an overweight person jokingly called a buñuelo con patas. A walking buñuelo.

campbell's soup

What about when someone has a killer bod? ¡Qué cuerpazo! What a great body! A macancán is a guy who’s really ripped. Acuerpado also means buff or toned (though it can also just mean large), as does musculoso. Delgado is thin, of course, and esbelta (usually for women) means slender, svelte. Flaco carries more of the connotation of skinny, sometimes being underdeveloped and unattractively thin. Not always, though: ¡Flaca, tírame un hueso! is a famously humorous piropo for women. Hey, skinny Minnie, throw me a bone!

If someone’s skin and bones, you can say that they’re puro hueso or that they parece un palillothey’re as thin as a rail, er, toothpick.

One false cognate you run into when talking about bodies is complexión. As someone once wrote, resist the urge to write “cleared up years ago!” when you see this on a form for you to fill out. No, it’s not referring to your skin complexion. Instead, complexión in Spanish refers to your build or body type.

All that really matters is that you’re happy and healthy, and we all know that thinness is not necessarily a guarantee of either. Whatever your size, hopefully 2015 will be a year of joy, success, and increased Spanish fluency!

Wink wink nudge nudge

Yesterday being Sunday, I was out walking in the Ciclovía (I want rollerblades for Christmas!), and I briefly got caught in the middle of a piropo sandwich. Behind me and to my right a little, one guy was saying to another, qué mujer más hermosa, es radiante, radiante como el sol. I cocked my face about five degrees and gave the tiniest little upward curl of the lips to show that I appreciated it. I don’t know if it’s true, but I want to be radiant!

And right then an old man who was seated on a sort of giant planter box (that separates the bike lane from the rest of the street) said to me out of nowhere, usted no me pica el ojo, que estoy comprometido ya. And then laughed at his joke/piropo. If I’d heard that a few years ago when I was a Colombian Spanish virgin, I would have thought he was saying something like, you don’t make my eye itch. So, I would have figured that to make someone’s eye itch was to seem attractive to them, to catch their eye (and pour itching powder into it), making them crazy for you. I’m no longer a Colombian Spanish spring chicken, though, so I knew that picar el ojo has nothing to do with itchiness or spiciness or any of picar‘s usual meanings. Here, as well as in a few other countries, picar el ojo means to wink at someone. Wink wink, wink wink . . . that’s it, you’re an old pro.

To wink is usually guiñar, and a wink is a guiñoWhich is how I usually hear it here, even though you could say picada de ojo. I’m not much of a winker in real life, but I’m a very prolific winker in writing. wink How else to convey your ultra-facetious and flirtatious nature? wink Fine, fine; my ultra-facetious and flirtatious nature. wink Until recently I had someone to wink all the livelong day at, and it was great. wink wink You know how they say it’s physically impossible to sneeze and keep your eyes open? It was similarly impossible for me to get a sentence out with quickly closing at least one eye. wink Happily, my winking was neither unrequited nor unrewarded. wink wink Now my writing is full of sober, grim emoticon-free sentences or, at best, just a half-hearted, staid smiley smile (frown), which is never quite as fun as when accompanied by a playful open-and-shut of the eyes. I’ve got an eye itch that needs a scratching badly! wink

I remember that in Medellín they also said matar el ojo for to wink. To kill the eye–just imagine. I’m thinking that might be overkill; a mere scratch has worked just fine for me to make my point. But if the phrase was ever apt for an individual, here he is.

If winks could kill

By the way, in case you think winking is puerile and distasteful (in a vice-presidential debate, of course) and just gives you eye wrinkles, you should know that one day when we all use Google Glass, we’re going to be winking as furiously with our eyes as people used to peck away with their thumbs on their Blackberries. For now, you take a picture by winking, but I’m sure that the wink feature will continue to be developed. So, we might as well start practicing now.

So, what the old man had said was (in, I should point out, a totally non-gross, non-dirty, non-creepy old man way) was, don’t you wink at me–I’m already taken! Wishful thinking, I mean, wishful winking, at its finest. But I was in a good mood, and he said it in a very friendly, good-natured way and the sun was beautiful and radiant, so I just smiled and went on my way wink

Quedé espeluznado

Espeluznante means hair-raising or horrifying, and it’s such a great word that if you haven’t been using it you should drop everything and start using it right now. It means something that makes your hair stand on end, something eerie, creepy, or even bloodcurdling. I can’t say something smart here about the etymology, but clearly the “pelu” of espeluznante comes from pelo. Though hair-raising is surely the translati0n that best conveys both the literal and figurative meanings of the word, I’ve never said hair-raising and I’d venture to say that not many people do. Come to think of it, nor do I ever say or write that something made my hair stand on end. (Though maybe I should.) Espeluznante, on the other hand, is fairly common.

Speaking of raising hair, I mentioned raising someone’s hackles in the last post. I was only vaguely familiar with the phrase, but I ran into it enough times while writing that I had to include it. What are hackles? If someone were to raise mine, I wouldn’t know where to look to smooth them back down again. Hackles are the hairs on the back of the neck and the back of a dog, cat, etc., which rise when the animal is angry or afraid.

Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, in a response to the latest scandal from the “competition” (both in who will be in power and who can come out with the most stomach-turning scandals) issued a statement in which he said, among other talking points, “Quedé espeluznado con el video.” Hm, I’d never thought about the fact that the verb espeluznar must exist, that by nature of its structure espeluznante has to mean que espeluzna.

hair static

The RAE gives three meanings for espeluznar.

1. To ruffle or dishevel (hair, fuzzy fabric)
2. To bristle, make stand on end (hair, feathers)
3. To scare, horrify

Though hair imagery is what comes to mind with espeluznante, it’s hard for me to make it work here. I’d probably translate it as, My blood ran cold when I saw the video. (You can also say se me heló la sangre or se me heló la piel.) Or my blood turned to ice. If we want less poetry, maybe, I was aghast. I don’t know. How to convey that sense of shock and terror in a way that’s natural? Oh, what the heck, maybe, My hair stood on end when I saw the video, is best. Or, The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. In any case, this is all hypothetical and I don’t have to translate the sentence; it’s just an excuse to share the nuances of an interesting word with you.

Ponerle a uno los pelos de punta also means to make someone’s hair stand on end, and it’s much more colloquial. I like colloquial speech, but I also love it when literary, formal, and archaic speech is briefly resuscitated in everyday life, e.g., quedé espeluznado. Absolutely the only good thing I can take away from the lousiness of Colombian politics in the past few days: when life gives me lemons, I can almost always squeeze out some linguistic lemonade to savor and share.

Not-so-happy feet

To further my goal of helping to stamp out Spanish-language ignorance, here are two common phrases that just happen to have to do with feet. And not just feet, but feet woes. Not to fear–sprinkling metaphoric mentions of blisters and calluses into your speech puts you at no risk of coming down with either of these podiatric ailments yourself.

When you talk about stepping on someone’s toes in Spanish (as in offending them), the equivalent is to step on someone’s calluses or corns. Pisar callos. As unpleasant as it is for someone to step on your toes, it has to be ten times worse for them to stomp on your corns.

Cuando se trata de innovar, no vale el consenso: hay que pisar callos.

When it comes to innovation, you won’t get anywhere with consensus: you have to step on some toes.

Llegó la hora de pisar callos y de poner al descubierto intereses oscuros.

It’s time to step on some toes and expose shady business interests.

No era mi intención pisar callos, tan solo quise serte sincera.

I never meant to step on any toes; I just wanted to be honest with you.

Feet drawings

Video de Zuluaga y el ‘hacker’ levanta ampolla

That’s a local newspaper headline from this weekend here in Colombia. Literal translation: Video of Zuluaga and the “hacker” raises a blister. Accurate translation: Uproar over video of Zuluaga and “hacker.” Or even outrage. To give you an idea, much of the country has basically been calling out, “Off with his head!” Short of that, that this miserable, mendacious, conniving toad at least recall his candidacy for the presidential elections that are next Sunday. More than just a blister, Zuluaga raised a festering, pus-filled boil.

Something that causes problems causes friction, and with enough friction you’ll get a painful blister. My experience with the phrase levantar ampolla is that it indicates an uproar, outrage, or indignation. But a quick glance around the Internet makes it seem like it can also be used for milder reactions such as annoyance, controversy, or raising people’s hackles. It also looks like it’s more typical to say levantar ampollas in many countries. To me, this phrase sounds like newspaperese: I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before in speech.

Aprovecha para recordar las ampollas que está levantando la reforma de la ley del aborto en nuestro país. 

He took advantage of the opportunity to recall the outrage that the abortion reform law is producing in our country.

Beso de dos mujeres en Mentiras perfectas levantó ampolla

Kiss between two women on Mentiras perfectas draws fire

Can you think of any other feet phrases? One day I’m probably going to learn that in Spanish it’s don’t burn your bunions, not your bridges, and I really hope there’s no disgusting phrase revolving around athlete’s foot or ingrown toenails. I’ve shared before that a foul foot odor is called pecueca in Colombian and Venezuelan Spanish. (Pecueco/a can also mean something that’s bad or lousy.)

Both Spanish and English have an endless amount of foot/pie phrases, but I can’t think of any English phrases dealing with foot problems except for foot-in-mouth disease. There’s also the litany of problems you’d be stuck with the rest of your life if you were to actually shoot yourself in the foot.