Being Sick in Colombian Spanish

I kind of dropped off the map there for the last two weeks, I know. Bad blogger. Bad, bad blogger. I’m rapping my knuckles as we speak. I have a legitimate excuse for the second week, though. I’ve been bedridden, guardando cama. That’s right—your favorite blogger has been sick for going on a week now. No matter what I do, I just can’t shake it off. It’s the pits. I’ve read a lot, though, (not in Spanish, but books about Latin America) and have watched a lot of Yo Soy Betty La Fea episodes, so it hasn’t been a complete waste. I also had the misfortune to get sick a few times in Colombia and even played nurse a time or two, so I was able to pick up lots of vocabulary for maladies and general malaise. Here’s some of what has stuck with me. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but maybe you’ll find some of it useful the next time you’re feeling under the weather in a Spanish-speaking land.

To start out, let me say that I have never encountered a compelling and natural equivalent for to be as sick as a dog. If you know one, ¡me dices!

The flu (what I have) is gripe. La gripe. In Colombia, though, they say gripa. Also, it’s used in a very ample way to cover much more than just the flu. I found that people described mere colds as gripa as well. Complain about not feeling well and people will ask, ¿Tienes gripa? ¿Te dio gripa? Always. Yes, I think that technically resfriado, and even catarro exist, but in my experience these are the exceptionally infrequent exceptions, not the rule. All I ever heard was gripa this, gripa that.

If you don’t feel good, you can say Me siento maluco/a. A very useful word that really deserves its own post, no doubt, but in this case, you’re just saying that you feel lousy.

In addition to enfermo/a, another very useful word for sick is indispuesto/a.

I went to Colombia thinking that the standard word for pill was píldora. Nope. It’s pastilla. You’ll hear it all the time. I remember that once I also heard someone say pepitas for pills. OK, whatever floats your boat. Just don’t say píldoras.

And I thought that medicine was medicina. How young and naïve I was then! A real babe in arms when it came to Spanish. Medicina is usually used to talk about the study of medicine. You’d say, Estudié medicina. When talking about medications to help you get better, you say medicamentos. I still accidentally say medicina instead sometimes, and it’s not the end of the world or anything, but you’re much more likely to hear un medicamento.

If you know someone’s sick and then want to check in on them to see how they’re holding up, you ask, ¿Cómo sigues?

Want to tell someone to get well soon? ¡Que te mejores pronto!

When you’re finally better, you can say, Estoy aliviado/a. Although, in my case, it’s an “if,” not a “when.” This thing is showing no signs of abating. Bleh.

The verb for to get better is mejorarse; in addition to empeorar, another useful verb for to get worse is agravarse.

I knew the word ronco/a for hoarse, but one word I learned down there after hearing it a few times was estar afónico/a. This is for when you lose your voice. Also, tener carraspera. I currently sound like a seal who’s been run over. Just ask my roommate.

In English, when you’re sick, everyone gets on your case about drinking a lot of fluids. In Spanish, though, they tell you to drink lots of líquidos. Same difference, I guess. I’ve given a few vueltas to the whole matter, though, and concluded: isn’t it all highly redundant? What else would I drink? What else could I drink? I think it’s sufficient to just remind someone to drink a lot. But, ahem, not that kind of drinking.

OK, one last thing. This isn’t so much about being sick as getting hurt. You say this to little kids . . . obviously. You rub or kiss their little boo-boo and lovingly say in a sing-song voice, Sana que sana colita de rana, si no sanas hoy sanarás mañana.

Well, what have I forgotten? I hope to never have occasion to write about this topic again, so speak now if I’m missing some really good sick vocabulary in Spanish. I hope you never have to use any of it, pero por si las moscas . . .

_________________________________________________ Non-natives, what’s your experience with these phrases? Had you heard them before? How have you heard them used? Where? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with? 

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10 responses to “Being Sick in Colombian Spanish

  1. So interesting! I can’t wait to share this with students. We just learned about medical things.

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  2. I’m glad you found it handy and timely!

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  3. We all missed the sarcastic humour found in all your posts on Spanish. In the spirit of the post: ¡Que te mejores pronto!

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  4. I planned to write “¡Que te mejores pronto!”, but it was already taken. So… ♬ Sana que sana colita de rana, si no sanas hoy sanarás mañana. ♬

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  5. I’ll add two more expressions. They are common among “paisas”:

    ¡Estoy más maluco que tajada de mierda!
    ¡Estoy más maluco que un bollo!

    The first one is more “grosera” but we used them, specially among close friends and family. A “bollo” is a “caca”, a stool.

    Please don’t ban me from your blog :)

    P.D.: Katie, tomá mucho liquido y aguapanelita caliente con limón por las noches :D

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    • Jaja… pues, me enseñaste lo de más maluco que un bollo en una entrada, pero no lo encontré en internet, además no sabía qué era un bollo. Hasta ahora me desayuno… fuchiiiii. Guácala! Pero bueno, de todas maneras ahora conozco dos frases más para usar cuando me enferme en Medellín :)

      Acá no tengo aguapanela! Hm, a ver si se puede conseguir. Seguro que sí, voy a averiguar.

      Excluirte del blog? Jamás!

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  6. Pingback: Griping About La Gripe « redanglespanish

  7. Pingback: Sick as a frog’s tail (The Bogotá Post) | Vocabat

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