If you were none the wiser, you could probably stare at or listen to this word all day and not come close to guessing its meaning. Bochorno. So strange, so decidedly unmellifluous, so deadpan. Thank God, then, for context. Even better, hand gestures. Although if assailed by this word on a blank page in an enclosed room you’d be hopelessly at sea, when you hear a real person say Qué bochorno in the appropriate moment you’ll intuitively grasp what it means. Why? Because they’ll do this: Grab their shirt at the neckline with two fingers and pull it out a few times, maybe accompanied by light panting. Ah, yes. You too were beginning to feel the oppressive heat, beads of sweat inconveniently accumulating on your brow. Quite right, neighbor. Qué bochorno, indeed.
Bochorno = mugginess, humidity, stifling heat. When it’s sticky, steamy, and stuffy. Heat you could cut with a knife. I think you get the (fogged-up) picture.
Like other weather expressions, you can say that hace bochorno or simply indignantly point it out with qué bochorno! The adjective form of the word is bochornoso, but it’s not used nearly as often as the noun form. Besides, it’s quite the mouthful, don’t you think? Let’s avoid those as much as we can.
It bears mentioning that bochorno can also mean shame or embarrassment (which provides us with the verb abochornar). When I first learned the word about a year and a half ago, the person pointed this out, but I think more as an interesting aside, a nerdy tidbit. From what I can gather, it’s rather old-fashioned, the sort of thing a grandparent would say or that you might read in literature. If you have grandkids and want to use this second meaning, I say go for it. Fancy yourself still youthful? Stick to humidity. Sr. Vocabat insists it’s the only way the word’s normally used round these parts.
If you’re the kind who looks for mnemonics to remember words, maybe you’ll jump on the -horno part of the word, associating the sensation with what it must feel like in an oven (though a sauna would be a bit more accurate). Whatever you do, put it away in a handy place and be ready to whip it out the next time you start to feel “hot as a mink in Africa.” (Reynolds Price)
¡Qué bochorno está haciendo! Pongamos el ventilador.
It’s so humid in here! Let’s turn on the fan.
Ayer estaba haciendo un bochorno, casi me muero del calor.
Yesterday it was so hot I almost died.
_________________________________________________ Non-natives, what’s your experience with this word? Had you heard it before? How have you heard it used? Where? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with?