Category Archives: Health

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.

sick

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…

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!