Matador Network

18 awesome Uruguayan expressions to know before you go

Photo: Jimmy Baikovicius

URUGUAYANS HAVE A VASTLY DIFFERENT SPANISH from the Spanish used in other Latin American countries or in Spain. Uruguayan-isms can be hard to understand to the untrained ear. As a half-Uruguayan, half-American living in Madrid, Spain, I was often questioned and made fun of for using Uruguayan idioms. Spanish waitresses refused to give me change when I asked for plata. They laughed and said “Why not ask for gold?”

Read on for the most useful, awesome, Uruguayan phrases. For even more inspiration check out the Twitter feed dedicated to Uruguayan idioms, Uruguayismos.

1. Vos, Che, Bo, To

All of these words mean “you”. They are quite informal but commonly used. Che, Bo and To can also be used to call someone’s attention, as in, “Hey, you!” You can still say tu or usted but they aren’t as common in Uruguay and generally seen as too formal.

2. Garra Charrua

This phrase is often chanted at futbol matches. It means “to prevail in the face of certain death”. It pays homage to the native Uruguayan tribe, the Charruas, who defeated the Spanish and refused to convert to Catholicism.

3. Cerrá y vamos

Uruguayans don’t say “Let’s go!” They say, “Close the door and let’s go!”

4. Pobrecito

This literally translates as, “Oh, you poor little thing.” If you’re over the age of 12 and someone says this to you, they are probably mocking whatever is ailing you. But if you are a child and your abuela says this to you, then she is seriously concerned about your well-being.

5. Ni muy muy, ni tan tan

This phrase is used when something isn’t so great, but isn’t so bad, which can be the Uruguayans take on most things.

6. Es lo que hay

This expression means “it is what it is”, but also is a term of encouragement that there is nothing better than what you already have.

7. Salud, dinero, amor, y tiempo para disfrutarlo

This is the blessing my father says every time we drink wine — and we drink a lot of wine. I love this phrase so much I am seriously considering getting it tattooed permanently on my body. The sweet saying translates to “Health, wealth, love and the time to enjoy it.”

8. Paz y bien

This phrase is often written on various religious establishments in Uruguay and is a gentle reminder that everyone should be “peaceful and good”.

9. ¿Cómo no?

If you ask an Uruguayan if they want to do something. they’ll likely respond with,“Why not?” It is a rhetorical question and they mean “yes, I’d like to do whatever it is you are suggesting”.

10. Feo, Loco, Gordo

“Fat, Crazy, Ugly”. Do not be alarmed if someone calls you one of these words in a casual conversation. They’re terms of endearment in Uruguay. You’d only call your closest friends an ugly, crazy, fat man. If you make a fuss and say it offends you then you’ll just be hearing more of it. You’ve been warned!

11. Ta or Da

These simply mean “ok.” They can be used interchangeably.

12. Pizza a Caballo

This literally translates to “horse pizza” but don’t worry, no manes were hurt in the making of this delicious traditional Uruguayan dish. Caballo, in this sense, means “on top of.” Pizza a Caballo is a thick square pizza with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese with a thick slice of fainá (fried chickpeas) placed on top. Do as the Uruguayans do and sprinkle white pepper over the dish.

13. Plata

As aforementioned, in Uruguay, plata refers to money, not silver.

14. Frutilla

Good luck getting strawberries if you order fresas. The local term for the fruit is frutilla.

15. Manteca

Do you prefer butter to oil for dipping your bread? No judgments here, but don’t order mantequilla — instead ask for manteca.

16. Soy Celeste, soy celeste, celeste soy yo

Another futbol chant, but what else do you expect from a country that lives for soccer? Celeste is the nickname for the international team, which has won several titles, including the first-ever World Cup in 1930. Celeste means “sky blue” which is the color on the Uruguayan flag, and the national kit.

17. Matear

If you only remember one Uruguayan-ism from this list, make it this one. Uruguayans take their mate tea very seriously. If you are invited to partake in mate-drinking, matear, never decline. Mate is always carried around in massive thermoses so that the tea can be shared with friends. A great souvenir from Uruguay is a traditional mate gourd cup and silver straw spoon.

18. Chau

Many Italians have immigrated to Uruguay over the years, which is why the typical Uruguayan farewell is a version of the Italian word, “ciao.”