Not too Shabby: Chilenismos of Quality

“Poor quality” has never been easier to say.  Chileans have various incredibly common words to describe things that are shoddy, sub-par, or of inferior quality.  And frankly, after a trip to the registro civil, you’ll understand why.


Something that is irreparably poor quality.  When a situation is flat-out sucky, penca is the most commonly used description.  This has long been one of my favorite chilenismos (as demonstrated in the stories here).  Careful, in true Chilean form, this word can also mean a certain male organ.


Chinese knock offs and professors who watch Naruto instead of teaching their classes are things that first come to mind with the word chanta.


A perfect word for overpriced knock offs is mula.  These are objects that scream YOU GOT SWINDLED.  That mula dress you bought yesterday cost you seventy bucks, and it’s already falling apart, for example.

charcha chilenismosCharcha:

Purely poor quality.  Something that’s really cheap and probably breaks really easily.  For example, according to Edwin, my father-in-law always buys charcha tools that break after one or two uses.  (When asked how to describe Miley Cyrus, I would say charcha, among other things.)  It comes from an indigenous word that means “deficient.”


Consider that this word comes from the verb “scratch”… and then imagine the dirtiest, scratchiest, shabbiest thing you can.  That’s rasca.  Like a mangy mutt.  Look up the meaning of “mange” and you’ll get it.


Peliento is like rasca, but it’s a little sadder.  Like, if you see a street dog that on top of being mangy is limping and listless, that’s kind of like peliento.  It comes from a word meaning vagabond.


Something that’s ghetto, but not in a good way.  It could be something so flashy it’s tacky or looks like bad taste.  It could be the duct tape holding together the frame of your car.  It could be the insanely loud reggaeton music shaking your neighbor’s house.  But mostly, it’s a kind of person, according to wikipedia, an “urban youth of low socioeconomic background.”

And finally, a word to describe something of excellent quality:


A big old sirloin steak… that is the definition of top-notch for many people.  For example:

¿Has leído el blog de la pelirroja peligrosa?  Es filete.

Keep in mind that puro filete is something you might hear as a piropo… because seeing women as a piece of meat is always a flattering thing.

Still looking for more words?  Look up some of these: punga, cuma, picante.


Our Idea of a Good Time

(Or what I did this weekend in Viña del Mar)
by Charles, Emily, and Gabrielle


  1. Go to bus station with Emily.  Wait for Charles to charge his phone.
  2. Arrive in Viña del Mar with neither the directions to or address of our hostel. (Thanks, CG)
  3. Wander around and search for hostel for three hours
    • Pet cats and dogsnothing says lost gringos like eating peanut butter with a knife
    • Stop on a bench and eat peanut butter out of the jar with a knife
  4. Leave hostel. (after we found it.  And were taken to another room because they didn’t have a key to the first…)
  5. Look for food.  Stop at a promising place called “Jerusalem.”
  6. GELATO!
  7. Stop by a storefront to watch synchronized swimming on one of the tvs they were selling.
  8. It’s 5 pm. Discuss possibilities for the night:
    • More gelato… later.
    • Watch a movie
    • Sleep
    • Note: Charles did not bring Bananagrams.  Not an option.
  9. Go to the Pacific Ocean.  Try to get splashed by huge storm waves.
  10. The rain commences.
  11. Hit up the grocery store.  Sing along to Tracy Chapman in candy aisle.
  12. Watch a movie about blind children.  Which was amazing.
  13. Oh no! It’s only 9PM (not even dinner time).  No self-respecting college-student would go home at this hour.
  14. Charles gets a haircut.
    • Emily and Gabrielle consider finding a children’s bookstore
  15. Search for restaurant. Objective: camp for a while, eat food, get warm.
  16. Stop at random excuse for a restaurant.  Eat  pizza, empanadas, coffee, and tea.
    • Toast with said drinks to our health and the prevention of colds.
  17. Return to hostel, soaked.  Toss pants in dryer.Still soaked
  18. Charles “makes friends” by sharing manjar candy.
    • He gets bonus points for wearing long johns while doing so.
  19. Climb in bed with Emily and listen to Charles’ fifteen-minute long* “ghost story” without plot, conflict, resolution, or irrational fear.

* I fell asleep for about five minutes of it.  Emily says it was closer to twenty.


  1. Wake up.
    • Wake up again.
    • Smother Charles with pillows.
    • Put on wet sneakers.  Good thing it’s still raining.
  2. Eat breakfast.
  3. Decide to search for a rock between Reñaca and Concón from which you can see sea lions.
  4. Hop on bus.
  5. Hop off bus in generic residential area.  Move toward ocean.WHERE ARE WE?!?
    1. Good thing there’s a sidewalk.  And clear skies… oh, wait.
  6.  Fail to find sea lions.
  7. Collect sea glass and seashells.
  8.  Eat at a fancy restaurant.  Make sure to be underdressed and soaked.
  9. Catch a bus back to Viña.  Glimpse sea lions from the road.
  10. Head home.  We couldn’t stay another day; wouldn’t want to miss church!
  11. Watch the sky slowly clear as we walk to the bus station.
  12. See how Viña looks when the sun is out through the bus windows as we drive away.

So now you know how to be cool.  Go forth and spread the coolness.