Tuesday, May 25, 2021

8 Canarian expressions you may not know

The old Estación de Guaguas (Bus Station) in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife
Juan Manuel Parra from Puerto de la Cruz, Spain, CC BY-SA 2.0

If you're familiar with the Spanish spoken in the Canary Islands, you'll know that it's not like the Spanish spoken in mainland Spain - in much the same way as Britain and the United States are "countries divided by a common language". Less so these days, but there are still different uses of vocabulary or expressions that have grown up in each place. That's part of the beauty of living languages. Anyway, even having spoken Canario now for almost 30 years, there were still some here that I hadn't heard or didn't fully understand: 

1. Chacho

The multipurpose Canarian word par excellence. Defining it is as simple as threading a needle with your eyes closed. Shortening the word "muchacho" (boy/lad/youngster), is usually associated with the expression of surprise or call for attention, but the truth is that "chacho" is like a paintbrush: the limit is not in the tool, but in your creativity and talent to use it to express what you feel. From the soft "chacho ..." that one lets out when a friend leaves her boyfriend, to the popular "chacho, chacho, chacho ..." that one lets out when seeing what the apartment looks like the morning after a party, passing to the "Chaaaacho!" that you let out when you find a fine on the car, or the mythical submachine gun of “CHACHO! CHACHO! CHACHO CHACHO CHAAAACHO !!!" that you recite at the top of your lungs when a car driven by a useless person knocks your motorcycle to the ground when reversing to park. Discover your preferred use by using it in different contexts.

2. Guagua (Bus)

The look of the outsider when he hears this word is never indifferent. "What is a guagua?" they ask surprised, trying to imagine the mystical animal that the native islanders have named after the four winds. The aura of mystery fades when discovering that it is a simple, everyday bus, but it's curious how outsiders still don't believe that this is the official name we give to buses in the Canary Islands, not merely a colloquial expression.

3. Se me fue el baifo (My kid escaped)

A poetic reference to the baby goat, baifo, which could easily become lost if the shepherd was not attentive to the flock. An ancestral expression, with its livestock roots, that portrays that mental lapse that we all suffer at some time in which our mind, well, isn't there. Losing attention, forgetting what one wanted to express or saying something unintentionally can all be situations in which this expression can come to shine. 

4. Agüita

The Canarians fondness for using diminutive words is well known, as in this case. Imagine that you're in the water on a surfboard and suddenly on the horizon, you see a terrifying wall of water for which you were not prepared, approaching at a speed greater than you're capable of in reaching the shore. A perfect occasion to use this expression, whose meaning does not necessarily have to be linked to an aquatic situation, which we mainly use to show concern, astonishment or excitement. "Agüita", like many Canarian expressions, takes on its meaning depending on the context and reason for which it is used.

5. Fos, chos, ños

Yes, they are words, I swear. "FOS" is a expression of disgust against bad smells that can assault our delicate noses. "CHOS" and "ÑOS" are idioms with similar characteristics, although the first fits more with the expression of unexpected surprise and the second as a manifestation of being impressed. Chos, how difficult this is to explain. ños, I've written two pages already.

6. Oss

Canarians see too many people wasting saliva when they're happy about something. Why say things like "Hey man, you don't know how glad I am that they have raised your salary, they have valued your continuous effort, you deserve it, keep it up because you're going to go far and I'll always be there to support you because I love you ..." when you can just hug, take a breath and yell "OSSSSSSS ??". This Canarian expression encompasses all the emotion that one can feel for something that brings us joy or excites us in any way.

7. Bajar pa abajo (Go down downwards)

I know what you're thinking, this phrase is a bit redundant. But it's that in some things Canarians are perfectionists and what is wrong with making things clear? It is one thing to tell Lucia to go down and another to tell her where she has to go. In this case, downwards. She knows where that is.

8. Ya el conejo me enriscó la perra (The rabbit curled up the bitch)

This one I've never heard of, much less used. Its origin, according to Luis Rivero, comes from “… when the rabbit, fleeing from the [hunting] pack, goes up steep places that are difficult to access, it can be dangerous for the dogs. On occasions - we presume - there will have been some setback in the course of the chase, in which the rabbit in its hasty flight has endangered the dog. When someone is going to attack or offend another, but encounters a setback and becomes cowed and chastened by the retribution he receives”.

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