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…

Welcome party

Someone left me a comment the other day, and a teeny-tiny mistake she made gave me the inspiration for this post. I’ve already made it known that I need requests and ideas from all of you (when you’ve written over 200 posts about the nooks and crannies of the Spanish language, the inkwell gets a little dry at times), and mistakes definitely count. Almost all of the posts are born of my own various and sundry mistakes, so I hope no one takes it personally if their own error can serve as a teaching moment for all of us.

This person greeted me by saying “¡Bienvenido!” and then went on to leave a kind and interesting comment. Now, it was fabulous to receive her warm welcome, and I don’t want to quibble . . . but that greeting needed a little tweaking. If I were Bob, “Bienvenido” would have been appropriate. If I were Bob and Jerry, “Bienvenidos” would have been correct. Were I Katie and Sally, “Bienvenidas” would have to be used. However, as I am just Katie (Katia/Vocabat), you have to greet me with “Bienvenida.” I have a feeling you’ve probably already cottoned on to the reason, but let’s go over it quickly.

Bienvenido is an adjective (and an interjection in this particular case- Welcome!), so you have to make the ending (feminine v. masculine, singular v. plural) agree with the noun/person it modifies, as you are really saying “(you are) welcome!” That’s why she should have said “¡Bienvenida!” when greeting me. When used in general, like on a sign, you’re going to see “Bienvenidos,” as the welcome is extended to everyone, i.e., both men and women.

bienvenidos sign la paz

To my surprise, bienvenir as a verb doesn’t exist in Spanish. There’s only the noun bienvenida (dar la bienvenida means to welcome someone) and the adjective bienvenido with all its gender and number derivations. Also to my surprise, I had never before realized that bienvenido is the exact same structure as in English: bien + venido = well + come.

Bienvenido isn’t solely for people; just like in English, you can welcome anything with the meaning of happily received.

Cinco hoteles en los que tu perro será bienvenido – Five hotels where your dog will be welcome

¡Cualquier sugerencia será bienvenida! – Any and all suggestions would be most welcome!

tarjetas bienvenidas

I vaguely remember picking up on this rule through observation after long assuming that “bienvenidos” is just how you say welcome. So, if you too thought welcome was bienvenidos in all cases, you’re not the only one. Thankfully, it’s a very easy mistake to fix.

Wearing out the welcome? We could always take a cue from Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web and say “Salutations!” A hale and hearty salute to all of you.


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!

July greetings

The blog was on vacation for the past several months and is now officially back, refreshed and reinvigorated. I’m still living in Bogotá, and I still have lots of ideas and words to share. Along with translating, I’ve continued writing a monthly column for The Bogotá Post, and despite the silence on the blog I have no problem regularly writing 700 or so words on whatever topic the newspaper requests. Request being the operative word, there; my inspiration has hit somewhat of a wall, and their suggestions make everything so much easier for me. So if you have a request for something you’d like me to write about here on Vocabat, be sure to let me know.

I hope everyone’s Spanish studies are going splendidly and that you’re all enjoying your summer, winter, or in-between season, whatever the case may be. ¡Chau!


When it rains, it pours (The Bogotá Post)

My latest column in The Bogotá Post came out a few weeks ago, but with 12 days spent in Nicaragua it’s just now that I have a chance to share it here. I’m posting what I wrote, and I’m including the link to TBP’s website, where you can see the column in its final format. Rain is an ever-present backdrop to this city, and you can come to love it. Especially with the trend of global warming/weirding–Bogotá’s cool, drizzly weather may be something we look back on fondly in decades to come! Enjoy it while it lasts, and use the words and expressions below to sprinkle your Spanish with fluency and colloquiality. Happy new year!

Bogotá is a fairly rainy city even at the best of times, but lately the rain has been absolutely relentless. That’s because we’re in what’s called invierno, a rainy season that’s particularly strong in November and December. In fact, some people jokingly call November lloviembre, combining noviembre and lluvia. It’s said that Eskimos have one hundred terms for snow due to its importance and ubiquity in their culture, so it’s only logical that Bogotanos would have a plethora of vocabulary for talking about rain.

When dark clouds look menacing or you can just tell that it’s going to rain, you’ll want to say Tiene ganas de llover or Quiere llover.

There are many ways to say that it’s raining hard. The most common word locally for a downpour is aguacero. More colloquially, many people call this a palo de agua. You can also say: está lloviendo a cántaros (it’s raining buckets), llueve hasta maridos (it’s raining men), or, está cayendo un diluvio (it’s flooding).

Esta tarde cayó un aguacero ni el berraco, jamás había visto semejante palo de agua.

It rained so much this afternoon–I’d never seen such a torrential downpour before.


If you get caught in the rain without an umbrella, you’re going to get soaked to the bone. The standard and most common word for this is empapado, from the verb empapar. Of course, there are also a few local ways to say that you got drenched, one of which is emparamado. You can also say, Me pegué una lavada.

Maybe it starts to sprinkle and nothing else. The word for this in Spanish is una llovizna, and informally it’s also called un espantabobos. That is, just a little drizzle to make all the silly rain-paranoid people panic. Espantaflojos and espantabrujas also exist.

No te preocupes, es solo un espantabobos.

Don’t worry; it’s just barely sprinkling.

A key rain-related word to know is escampar. It refers to when it stops raining, when it lets up. It can additionally mean to take shelter somewhere while you wait for it to stop raining, like ducking into a cafe or standing under a doorway.

Nos vamos apenas escampe.

We’ll leave as soon as it stops raining.

Vamos a escampar en ese chucito para que no nos mojemos.

Let’s go wait out the rain in that little hole in the wall so we don’t get wet.

For umbrella, you’ll hear both sombrilla and paraguas here, though sombrilla is more common. Puddles are charcos, and they are legion.

If you read my column a few weeks back, you’ll recall that a moza or mozo is the person you’re having an affair with. Well, this word makes a reappearance with rainy weather in the phrase para moza (or, para mozo). This expresses that the lousy or rainy weather just makes you want to be curled up in bed with the person you’re seeing on the side. It’s a play on words of paramoso, which means rainy.

Uy, este clima está como para moza.

This weather just puts me in the mood to snuggle with my sweetie.

Arrunchar means to cuddle, and the sight of rain always makes locals express their desire to be in bed, either watching a movie or spooning with their partner. This is called a plan arrunchis.

So, you’ve got your umbrella, check, you’ve made your plan arrunchis, check, and now you’re fitted with the vocabulary for any and every rainy situation. A hard rain’s gonna fall, and you’re going to handle it as fluently as a local.