Machu Picchu in Peru

From Chamba to Causa: Exploring The World of Peruvian Slang

Leonor Garcia Published on October 19, 2023

¡Habla, causa! (Hi, buddy!). The world of Peruvian slang is full of color and variety. It’s considered one of the most picturesque slang out of the South American region. We can say that words in Peruvian slang become an art form, due to their creativity. In this article, I’ll show you the lexicon of everyday Peruvian expressions, uncovering the most common slang phrases in Peru. Fun fact: many of them relate to food! Join me and let’s discover how to add a unique flavor to daily life in this diverse and fascinating country.

Why Learn Peruvian Slang?

When you learn Peruvian slang terms, you get to the heart and soul of Peru. Peru is not just famous for its delicious food, and breathtaking landscapes like Machu Picchu, the beautiful city of Arequipa, or the Amazon rainforest, it’s also well-known for its vibrant culture that truly makes it special. So, how can Peruvian slang be helpful if you’re planning a trip to Peru? Well, it’s definitely the best way to connect with Peruvians on a whole new level.

Machu Picchu in Peru

Peruvian slang, (called jerga by the locals), has indigenous, African, Spanish, and Asian influences, all blended together over centuries. Learning these words and phrases isn’t just about fitting in. It’s about experiencing Peru in its most direct and authentic form. Whether you’re a traveler, a language enthusiast, or just eager to connect with your Peruvian causas (friends), diving into Peruvian slang is the deepest way that you can find to connect with the country. It’s like joining a special club where every word is a secret handshake that brings you closer to the Peruvian heart. So, don’t be shy – embrace Peruvian slang and get ready for a wild, exciting, and awesome linguistic adventure!

Common Peruvian Slang Words

1. Jato

This is one of the most common slang words that you can find around. Jato means casa (house) and we use it all the time. Sometimes, we even forget that the word casa exists! For example when you invite your friends over, or when you plan to go to someone’s house, jato is the word. It’s similar to when you say “my place” in English.  Let’s see how to use jato in sentences:

Examples:

  • ¡Vamos a mi jato! / (Let’s go to my house!) 
  • ¿La fiesta será en la jato de Luis? / (Will the party be at Luis’ house?)
  • Mi mamá está en mi jato, vayamos a un restaurante. / (My mother is at my house, let’s go to a restaurant).

2. Pata

Pata is a versatile word in Peruvian slang and has many meanings. It’s used to refer to a man (any man), or to one of our friends. It’s another essential word you might find while navigating Peru. We use it so much, that sometimes we don’t even notice when we’re saying it. When used as “friend,” it has different “levels.”  We use pata to talk about a friend, but for very close friends, we say pataza. It doesn’t replace the term best friend, but it’s almost there. 

Examples:

  • Mira a ese pata que está caminando a tu costado. / (Look at that man walking next to you.)
  • ¿Recuerdas a Jorge? ¡Éramos patazas de niños! / (Remember Jorge? We were close close buddies as kids!)
  • Carlos es mi pata, solo que aún no converso con él. / (Carlos is my friend, it’s just that I haven’t talked to him yet.)

3. Jama/Jamear

Jama means comida (food) and jamear means comer (eat). We use jama as a noun and jamear as a verb. Peru is a country with a big focus on food, so food vocabulary is all over the place. You might even hear different terms depending on the parts of the country where you live. But, jama and jamear are both used by everybody. Let’s see how to apply jama and jamear in context:

Examples:

  • ¡No te comas mi jama! Es la que está dentro del microondas. / (Don’t eat my food! It’s the one that’s inside the microwave.)
  • Tengo que ir a jamear con mi mamá. ¿Te parece si te llamo más tarde? / (I have to go to eat with my mother. Is it ok if I call you later?)
  • No me gusta esa jama, pero igual la debo comer. / (I don’t like that food, but I have to eat it anyway.)

4. Chamba

In Peru there’s no trabajo (work), there’s chamba. We use chamba to talk about our jobs. There’s no difference if we’re talking about our workplace, job, or about work. It’s a very common and everyday word. It doesn’t mean that we forgot about the word trabajo but we tend to use chamba a lot. Here are some examples of how we use “Chamba”:

Examples:

  • Tengo que ir a mi chamba más temprano hoy para avanzar pendientes. / (I have to go to work earlier today to catch up on tasks.)
  • Tengo muchísima chamba por hacer. Te llamo mañana por favor. / (I have so much work to do. I’ll call you tomorrow please.)
  • Mi chamba es ser profesora. ¡La disfruto mucho! / (My job is to be a teacher. I really enjoy it!)

5. Chévere

This slang word is not just Peruvian. It’s also popular in other countries throughout the South American Continent like Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. Chévere means “cool” or “something good.” It has a very positive meaning, and since we tend to be positive people, we say it every day. Take a look at some examples in context:

Examples:

  • ¡Qué película tan chévere! Me encantaría volverla a ver. / (What a cool movie! I’d love to watch it again.)
  • ¡Chévere! Te veo mañana. / (Good! See you tomorrow.)
  • ¡Qué chévere la pasamos ayer en el concierto! / (We had a great time at the concert yesterday!)
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6. ¡Qué palta!

Palta means avocado, and “¡Qué palta!” means, “That’s so embarrassing!” It can also be translated as something that is very “cringe.” This means that it involves embarrassment for yourself, or for others. As I mentioned before, we Peruvians love food, so this is one of our favorite slang words. I personally use it 10 or 15 times a day! If you’re going through an awkward moment, “¡Qué palta!” can be used to relieve the tension. Let’s see how we use “¡Qué palta!” in context:

Examples:

  • ¡Qué palta! Me olvidé toda mi presentación durante la conferencia. / (How embarrassing! I forgot my whole presentation during the conference.)
  • Oye, no seas palta. Ya deja de hacer eso, qué vergüenza. / (Hey, don’t be cringe. Stop doing that, it’s embarrassing.)
  • Ayer pasé un momento recontra palta. Me caí en frente de todos mis amigos. / (Yesterday, I went through a really embarrassing moment. I fell in front of all my friends.)

7. Estoy Aguja

No more money in your bank accounts? Empty wallet? Well, let me tell you that you’re aguja. Aguja literally means needle, and while there’s no direct relation between a needle and an empty wallet, we use it because of the gesture we make by putting our index finger to our neck. It resembles a feeling of pressure because of the absence of money. I know, it still doesn’t make much sense but we are not always very logical when it comes to slang words. Here are some examples of this funny and common phrase:

  • No puedo ir al cine mañana. ¡Estoy aguja! / (I can’t go to the movies tomorrow. I don’t have money!)
  • ¿Vamos a la fiesta de José? ¿O estás aguja? / (Let’s go to Jose’s party? Or you don’t have money?)
  • Quisiera comprarme ese pan con pollo pero estoy aguja. / (I’d like to buy that chicken sandwich, but I don’t have money.)

8. ¡Oe!

Oe means “hey.” It’s our friendly way to say hi to our friends. In a Peruvian conversation between two friends, you’d probably hear “Oe” more than 10 times. It’s extremely common and can be used in various contexts, sometimes even when there’s no apparent need for a “hey!” It’s very informal, of course, and definitely not something you’d say to your mom. Let’s look at some examples:

Examples:

  • ¡Oe! ¿Hiciste la tarea de matemáticas? / (Hey! Did you do the math homework?)
  • Oe, nos vamos a reunir en mi casa. Vienes a las 10:00 pm. / (Hey, we’re meeting at my house. Come at 10:00 pm.)
  • Oe, ya no vayas a clases porque se cancelaron. / (Hey, don’t go to class anymore because it’s canceled.)

9. ¡Qué piña!

Piña means pineapple (Yes, more food words), and “¡Qué piña!” means “What bad luck!” This is another foodie term that we incorporate into our everyday vocabulary. While there’s no direct connection between a pineapple and bad luck, you can use it when something bad happens to you. It may not have a particularly positive meaning, but it’s a linguistic tool we use to navigate conversations and add a touch of understanding. Let’s check this phrase in context:

Examples:

  • ¡Qué piña eres! Te olvidaste el cuaderno en tu casa. / (What bad luck! You forgot your notebook at home.)
  • Soy tan piña, que estoy seguro que no estoy en la lista de invitados. / (I have such a bad luck, that I’m sure that I’m not in the guests list.)
  • ¡Qué piña! Me caí justo antes de llegar a la entrevista. / (How unfortunate! I fell just before arriving for the interview.)

10. ¡Habla, causa!

Ok, it’s time for one of the most important phrases of Peruvian Slang! Habla means hola, and causa means friend (it’s almost the same as pata). “¡Habla, causa!” is the queen phrase of Peruvian Slang. You can hear “¡Habla, causa!” in every corner! We use it to say hi, to call a friend, to chat, for phone conversations, or even just for no reason. This phrase is one of the oldest on this list, and it deserves special recognition. Let’s see some examples:

Examples:

  • ¡Habla, causa! ¿Cómo vas? / (Hey, buddy! How are you doing?)
  • ¡Habla, causa! Vas a la fiesta de Mariela? / (Hi, buddy! Are you going to Mariela’s party?)
  • ¡Habla, causa! ¿Qué pasó con tu carro? / (Hey, friend! What happened to your car?)

Tips for Learning Peruvian Slang

Discovering Peruvian slang can be an exciting, funny, and enjoyable aspect of learning the Spanish language. While formal courses and textbooks are helpful, learning slang calls for a more immersive and fun approach. You have the option to locate a language exchange partner or conversational companion who can provide you with slang expressions. Another option is to chat with native speakers, face-to-face or through online language exchange platforms like Tandem. It not only helps you practice slang in real context but also lets you appreciate its cultural richness.

For a more relaxed and entertaining learning experience, try watching Peruvian TV shows, movies, or online content. There are many options around like “Al Fondo Hay Sitio” which is a very popular Peruvian show that uses a lot of Peruvian Slang in their dialogues or movies like “Soltera Codiciada” which you can find on Netflix. These sources expose you to colloquial language, local accents, and genuine scenarios. Reading Peruvian blogs, forums, or social media posts is another great way to get a sense of how slang is used in everyday online communication.  

Final Thoughts

For sure, Peruvian slang is like a tasty meal (literally!). It adds fun, flavor, and character to everyday conversations, making them interesting, lively, and engaging. From the warm and friendly “Pata” to the amusing “¡Qué piña!” each term brings a unique flavor to communication in Peru. While slang words might not always be logical, it’s a reflection of the country’s culture, history, and the warm-hearted spirit of its people. 

So, as you embark on your journey to master Peruvian slang, remember that it’s more than just words; it’s a strong bond with the heart and soul of Peru. Enjoy, explore, and let the colorful lexicon of Peruvian slang be your passport to a deeper understanding of this beautiful and fascinating country.

Leonor Garcia

Leonor García is a Peruvian ESL teacher with a bachelor's degree from Universidad Nacional Federico Villarreal. She is fluent in Spanish and English and is currently learning Portuguese. She is passionate about cultural exchange and using languages to drive globalization. Through her writing and teaching, Leonor aims to help people achieve their language learning goals. Connect with Leonor on LinkedIn.

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