Pero, ¿cómo así?

Today we begin with the big cheese, the top dog, the big kahuna of Spanish language authority: the RAE. That’s the REAL ACADEMIA ESPAÑOLA to you. I can’t imagine that I’ve come under their notice, but if they were to get wind of what we’re doing here at Vocabat, I can’t imagine they’d be amused.

This . . . blogger fulana de tal! She has some nerve! The gumption! Teaching Spanish, as if she knew anything about the subject, as if she had any academic formation to speak of! Why, I bet she probably couldn’t explain esdrújulas if her sorry credentialless life depended on it! She thinks she’s so cool, using her little slang and her cute little expressions, thinking she’s the cat’s meow just because she has a good accent and has learned a lot of colloquialisms. Well, call us old-fashioned, pedantic, priggish, fusty, stodgy quacks, but we are not impressed! Seems like one should have to pass some kind of examination before they just start a blog and start running off at the mouth about Cervantes’ language! If only people knew how Colombian her Spanish really sounds! And, suffice it to say, we find it absolutely abhorrent that she compiles the claptrap from TWITTER of all godforsaken places and then uses it as a pedagogical resource! A pox on her! A pox on her entire blog! We condemn it in all of its puerile, lowbrow entirety!

Or, who knows? Maybe they’d find me cute. We’ll probably never know, will we? Their loss. I am quite the charmer.

Anyway, despite their imaginary grievances with me, I have chosen to kowtow to their authority and introduce today’s phrase with their explanation of it. Even we upstarts defer to their expertise sometimes. To wit:

¿cómo así?

expr. Denota extrañeza o admiración, y se emplea para pedir explicación de algo que no se esperaba o no parecía natural.

(Denotes surprise or amazement and is employed to ask for an explanation of something that was not expected or that seemed odd.)

To witty: This is an extremely useful phrase that means What do you mean? What do I mean? What do you mean what do I mean? It’s simple! Let’s look at some examples taken from real conversations of mine.


Katie: vas a tener tiempo y energía para ser sociable en estos meses? o el internado te va a acaparar todo eso? (Are you going to have the time and energy to be social in the coming months? Or is your internship going to take up all your time and energy?)

Diego: cómo así? (What do you mean?)

Katie: ah, pues, vas a poder divertirte? o vas a estar súper embolatado con el internado? (Oh, well, are you going to be able to have fun? Or are you going to be super busy with your internship?)


Daniel: Es imposible que Katie cometa ese error dos veces. (It’s not possible for Katie to make that mistake twice.)

Katie: Cómo así que dos veces? (What do you mean, twice?)

Sebastián: Ayy, pero cóomooo asiiiií?!! Eso es muy colombiano! (Oh, what do you meeeeeean??? That’s so Colombian!)

Katie: Cómo así que muy colombiano? Yo no creo! (So Colombian? How so? I don’t think so!)

Sebastián: Como lo escribí, sí . . . Con esa entonación especial que hacen ellos, la encuentro divertida . . . La frase por supuesto que no es exclusiva de Colombia, sólo hacía notar en la forma de decirla (The way I wrote it, yes . . . with that special intonation that they use. I think it’s funny. Of course, the phrase isn’t exclusive to Colombia, it just stood out in that way of saying it.)

Get it? Got it? Good! It is pretty straightforward, after all. You say it when you didn’t quite understand what the person was saying to you or asking you. Or when what they said seemed off to you. It’s not that you didn’t hear them; you just didn’t quite get what they were driving at. You’re asking for clarification.

But it’s also used to ask, How can that be? Or even, why?

Katie: Sí, perdiste inglés. Sacaste 5,8 en el examen. (Yes, you failed English. You got a 5.8 on the exam.)

Estudiante: No, cómo así? Ana me había dicho que perdí matemáticas y biología, y ahorita que miré el papel me salió que inglés también y no sé! (No, how can that be? Ana told me that I failed math and biology, and just now when I looked at the paper I saw that English, too! I don’t know!)

Necesitamos hablar urgentemente. Ay, pero, ¿cómo así? ¿Todo está bien?

We have to talk urgently. Oh, what’s wrong? Why’s that? Is everything all right?

It’s like saying, Y eso, ¿por qué? ¿Qué pasó? ¿Qué sucedió? Just . . . differently.

I blithely assumed that everyone and their mother used this phrase, but a quick look online makes it seem like Colombians are especially known for their penchant of using it all the time. On one forum, someone even pulled a few lines from the uber-iconic Colombian TV show Betty la fea to demonstrate its usage.

Every day I learn that I’m a little more Colombian than I realized. Pero bueno. ¿Qué tiene de malo eso? ¡Nada!

Also, if we’re going strictly by English pronunciation, I am Colombian. I was born in Columbia, South Carolina, after all. Soy columbiana y cada vez más colombiana. ¡Juepa je!

_________________________________________________ Non-natives, what’s your experience with this phrase? 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? 


14 responses to “Pero, ¿cómo así?

  1. Nice post, as usual.

    Oddly enough, I’ve been working in your hometown for over two years now. Talk about coincidence.


  2. Sip, bastante colombiana la frase. Yo no la usaría :P


  3. I love sticking it to the man….even if they don’t know they are being stuck. Anyway, great post! I get to take whatever spanish I like and I like that one. So it is now going to become apart of my Spanish


  4. Hola querida…como asi? que es eso de lo de la RAE?
    (by the way, “como asi?” I translate it as “how come?” that we say here in Jersey) jajaja maybe estoy super perdida pero es lo que me parece mas cercano…y como decimos los peruanos, chaucito…


    • Ah, es que estoy loca! No me hagas caso.

      Hm, I don’t think I would choose “How come?” as the best translation of Cómo así? I mean, sometimes it fits. I tried to touch on its uses in the blog, but it is kind of hard to explain!

      Como decimos en Colombia, chaus o chaolín :)


  5. Nunca en la vida había oido es frasesilla.. lo lamento, chica, pero esto es muy colombiano: you’ve got to go back to Columbia! :P

    *¿Y eso?
    *¿Cómo creés?
    *Son las que predominan por encima de toodas las otras expresiones. Conozco otras coloquiales, pero no, no más no quedan sin un buen de contexto.
    También está el famosísimo y burlado (de mi probre amigo se burlaron todos los otros latinoamericanos cuando lo oyeron):
    ¿Mande usted? (Come again?)
    O simplemente ¿Mande?
    Sí, las ataduras de la colonia, al menos en el lenguaje, y obviamente en un montonal de cosas, se ven todavía.

    ¿Cómo así que dos veces? = ¿Cómo que dos veces?

    Si analizo el último ejemplo, me suena a que los meshicas heredaron una forma de hablar más directa en éste caso particular :)

    Saludos, interesntísimo post.



    • Qué interesante. Gracias! Bueno, no me molesta para nada hablar a la colombiana (es más, es mi deseo), pero sí deseo evitar generalizar y decir que ciertas cosas son estándares si realmente se usan solo en ese país tan querido :)

      Sí, también se dice “Y eso?” muy seguido.


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