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Tico Glossary
The essentials for visitors and newcomers.


Picture by: Josoroma.

One of the tasks that await us when we visit a new country is familiarizing ourselves with the expressions and nuances of the particular language of the area and Costa Rica is no exception. The “Tico” Spanish is rich in variations and unique expressions well worth learning.

Pura Vida! (Pura = Pure  /  Vida = Life).  Together, these two words represent Costa Rica worldwide.
They are joined as an expression of the pleasure and satisfaction about life that is characteristic of Costa Rican citizens. It is equivalent to saying “Everything is great!” or “Life is so good!”. Pura Vida is used to show appreciation for life but is also used to describe positive people and nice situations. When locals are asked, “How are you?”, the most common answer will be “Puuuura Vida!”

In the process of fully speaking and understanding the “Pura Vida language”  these are other basic words that you will frequently hear:
Tico / Tica: Costa Rican.
Chunche:  Any object with a difficult or unknown name.
Macho / Macha: Light skinned person.
Brete: Work.
Varas: Excuses, pretexts.
Vacilón: Something fun or curious.
Pachuco: Vulgar language or person.
Pinche: Cheap, stingy.
Chingo: Naked, nude.
Pelón: Bald.

Asking directions
Directions in Costa Rica are pretty hard, since most of the streets are not named and most houses not numbered.   Due to this, directions are usually given using distance in meters from one point of reference to another. For instance, typical Tico directions sound something like this: 
“From the ex-Toyota Building, 150 meters South and 80 meters East, on the two floors house with  black fence in front of the mango tree. Office number 3.”
Funny, isn’t it?
A German friend always practicing his Spanish, was continually confused each time he asked for directions, because he always heard a word that he thought was “Cigarretto”.  He could not understand how this “Italian cigar” could help him find his destination. He laughed for a long time when I explained that people were actually saying, “Siga Recto”, the classical way Tico’s express,  “continue straight”.

A magical word

This diminutive of “ahora” (in English “now”) is a key word used in everyday life in Costa Rica. Curiously, it could mean “right now” or it could mean “in a moment” which could range from a few minutes to several hours later.
This is a measure of time that does not represent a strict nor quantified commitment, and in turn places no limitation on the freedom of action (or inaction) for whoever promises “to do it ahorita”.  For this reason, when you are told “I’ll get there ahorita” or “I’ll send it ahorita”, it’s always prudent to clarify: Ahorita…right now?  Or…ahorita later?

Some very common expressions:
Upeehh: Expression used to call when you arrive to a place (if no one has noticed yet) or when you are outside someone’s house.
Por dicha:  Luckily.
¿Al chile?: Really?
¿Le cuadra?: Do you like it?
¡Sóquele!:  Hurry up!
¡Jue'puña!:  Similar to “Good grief!”
No sia tonto mae!: No way! That’s incredible
Andar salado:  Without any luck.
Hablar pajas: Only making trite remarks.
Ser care'barro: Being shameless, barefaced.
Ponerse chiva:  To get angry.
Jugar de vivo: To act arrogant, to show off.
Hacerse el maje: To avoid responsibility.

Tico Verbs
There are several “new verbs” to be learned in Costa Rica even by those who are already fluent in Spanish.

Socar : Could mean ‘to tighten up’ or ‘to hurry up’, depending on context.
Estrilar: To complain, to yell.
Chinear: To spoil someone, to treat lovingly or well.
Estripar: To squeeze, press or compress.
Pringar: To splash, sprinkle or stain something.
Rulear: To sleep
Jamar : To eat
Trolear: To walk
Bretear: To work
Chanear: To fix or improve the appearance of something.

Talking about drinks.
Name of the national distilled liquor. Guaro is also used to talk about any other beverage containing alcohol.
Una fría: A cold beer.
Estar tapis: To be drunk.
Goma:  Hangover.

About food.
Typical Costa Rican dish consisting
of rice, beans, meat, salad and fried plantain.
Gallito: Light meal made with tortilla, salad and meat.
Bocas: Hors d’oeuvres that accompany alcoholic drinks.
Olla de carne: Traditional meat and vegetable soup.
Soda: A humble restaurant


And now, go straight to our second version of the Tico Glossary







Visit our latest issue on virtual paper
…or see previous issues in our virtual kiosk
utopia magazine and travel guide

What else would you like to see in Utopia Magazine? 

Things to do in Costa Rica

Golf in Guanacaste 

Tico Glossary Catalinas island 

Barra Honda Caves

Rincón de la Vieja

Diving in Guanacaste


Marina Papagayo Medical tourism

What does Pura Vida means? 

MAPS Ecology   Culture   

Hotels in Costa Rica Birds

watching guide MarineTurtles 

Playas del Coco NationalParks 

Transportation guide 

Humpback Whales 


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