Guatemalan Spanish Book Alert

New book helps foreigners learn the nuances of Guatemalan Spanish.

Do you remember the first time you visited Guatemala? Even if you had just a basic knowledge of Spanish, you may have felt overwhelmed—especially when bombarded with all the words, phrases and sayings typical of Guatemalan Spanish. If so, a new book offers practical help.

“Guatemalan Spanish: Speak like a Native!” offers an in-depth look at 200 of the most common expressions and teaches you some history and culture along the way. As such, it is not a basic Spanish manual; rather, it focuses on making your Spanish, however much you may know, more Guatemalan.

Here’s a sample of five colorful terms to get you started:

Guatemalan-Spanish-coverDos que tres
This, of course, literally means two to three. Don’t be surprised if one day you ask a local how he’s doing and his response is: “Dos que tres.” You might mentally reach for your calculator, but stop! But there is no math involved in this one. It merely means “so, so.”
“¿Cómo está tu abuelito?” “Dos que tres.”
Translation: “How’s your grandpa doing?”
“He’s getting by.”

Ever heard of rubbernecking delays? That’s what happens when, because of perhaps a simple fender bender, the flow of traffic comes nearly to a halt, just so all the curious can get a gander at what happened. If you are a rubbernecker or a buttinsky, don’t be surprised if in Guatemala you are described as “shute,” which essentially means nosy, prying or snoopy, and not of the Charlie Brown variety! Originally, shute was used to designate a stinger, such as those used by bees and wasps to pierce our skin. The nosy person similarly sticks his nose in where it doesn’t belong and causes great figurative pain.
“A nuestro vicepresidente le encanta recibir palo. Al menos esa es la lectura que yo le doy el querer sacar la cara para comunicar el aumento de salarios en un momento más impertinente que una suegra shute en la luna de miel.” Translation: “Our vice president loves to get beat up. At least that’s what I read into the fact that he shows his face to communicate a salary increase at a moment more awkward than having a nosy mother-in-law along for the honeymoon.” Yikes!

Echarse un cuaje:
The verb cuajar means to coagulate, or to solidify. When we sleep, an observer may see that our body does something similar. We curl up as we find a comfortable position. So when a local “se echa un cuaje,” it means he is taking a nap.
“Voy a echarme un cuaje, mientras el bebé está durmiendo.”
Translation: “I’m going to take a nap while the baby sleeps.”

Echar los perros:
This literally means to sick your dog on someone. Of course, every hunter values his hounds. Their acute sense of smell makes them ideal companions on the hunt. But when a Guatemalan sicks his dogs on someone, he is on a different sort of hunt: one of love. This idiom means to date.
“Camilo le está echando los perros a María.” Translation: “Camilo is dating María.” Hopefully, Camilo isn’t barking up the wrong tree!

¿Cómo te quedó el ojo?
Word for word, this means, how is your eye doing now? Of course, that makes no sense in English. Real meaning? This is classic trash talk, Guatemalan style. Imagine the scene: You are in a tight soccer game. Finally, you break through the defense and score the game-winning goal! To top things off, you say, “¿Cómo te quedó el ojo?” to the goalie. It’s like boasting in English: “Look who’s laughing now!” Or perhaps: “How do you like them apples?” Or even: “Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.”

What is the benefit of making your Spanish more Guatemalan? Remember that the locals adore their words and sayings. When you learn to speak like they do, you will go from being an outsider to one of the family. So be a little shute about that new vocabulary! Maybe one day you’ll even be able to ask a surprised listener, ¿Cómo te quedó el ojo?

Lee Jamison is the author of  “Guatemalan Spanish: Speak like a Native!” available on both in print and Kindle editions. He operates, which offers insights into country-specific Spanish.

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