San Juan Slang

San Juan Slang

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Even travelers who are fluent in Spanish often find themselves scratching their heads when confronted with San Juan slang. Because of Puerto Rico's complicated history as a Spanish colony and, later, as a U.S. commonwealth, numerous historical and cultural influences have shaped the local lingo in San Juan.

San Juan slang is primarily a hybrid of Spanish and American English. Here are ten San Juan slang terms and phrases you're likely to encounter during your visit to the island.

1. ATH

"ATH" (pronounced "Ah-Tay-Ah-Chay") is San Juan slang for an ATM machine. Just as ATM means "Automated Teller Machine" in English, ATH actually has a meaning in Spanish: "A Todas Horas," or "At All Hours." If you see "ATH" on the door of a business, it means the establishment accepts debit cards as a form of payment.

2. Boricua

"Boricua" means "Puerto Rican," and the word is derived from "Boriken" (also spelled "Borinquen"), the name that the indigenous Taínos gave to the island now known as Puerto Rico. The word is pervasive in the local language of San Juan and throughout the island; even the national anthem is "La Borinqueña."

3. China

No, San Juaneros probably aren't talking about the Asian country when they use the word "china" (pronounced "chee-nah"). "China" is the local expression for "orange," as in the fruit. Want an orange juice? Ask for a "jugo china." "Naranja," which you learned in your high school Spanish class, only refers to the color orange, not the fruit... at least in San Juan slang. Explanations for the existence of "china" vary, but the most accepted version attributes the word to Chinese indentured servants, who perhaps brought oranges to the Spanish-speaking Caribbean after the abolition of slavery.

4. Parkin'

This bit of San Juan lingo is easy to figure out. Add a "g" and you get "parking." Pronounced with a long "i" ("par-keen"), "parkin" has come to replace the formal Spanish word, "estacionamiento" in San Juan local language. "Parkin,'" by the way, is pretty hard to come by in Puerto Rico's capital city. San Juaneros love their cars and "parkin'" is limited.

5. Wiken

Like "parkin'," "wiken" is a word that has been adapted from American English and inflected with some Puerto Rican flavor. "Wiken" (pronounced "wee-ken") means "weekend," and has essentially put the formal and more cumbersome "fin de semana" out of existence in San Juan. Even the local newspaper, El Nuevo Dia, has a section called "Wiken."

6. Pa'ya

Lots of Spanish words in San Juan lingo have been condensed in a kind of verbal shorthand. "Pa'ya" is one example: it's a version of "para allá," or "over there." This phrase is so common in the local lingo that one of Puerto Rico's most celebrated chefs, Wilo Benet, even named one of his restaurants Paya.

7. Brutal

Literally translated, "brutal" means the same in Spanish as it does in English. In San Juan slang, however, "brutal" (pronounced "brew-tahl," with emphasis on the second syllable) means "incredible." Think of it as San Juan's version of the American slang term "sick." A party, a meal, a sunset... they can all be "brutal" in San Juan lingo! If the experience you're describing was exceptionally cool, then add the word "bien" in front of "brutal." Something that's "bien brutal" is off the charts.

8. Wepa!/Vaya!

"Wepa" and "vaya" are both used as exclamations. Each can be used in a variety of contexts, though generally for positive or celebratory occasions. If you found "parkin" during the "wiken" in San Juan, for example, "Wepa!" or "Vaya!" would be the perfect response. The words can also be used in not so positive situations. Say you're in a restaurant and a server drops a dish, breaking it. Someone might shout "Wepa!" to break the tension. Both words are best said with maximum enthusiasm.

9. Hanguear

Yet another of the slang terms appropriated from English and given a Spanish twist, "hanguear" (also spelled "janguear") is San Juan local lingo for "hanging out." The noun form is "jangueo," the place where you "hanguear."

10. Una fria

Literally "a cold one," "una fria" refers to a really cold beer. San Juan's local brew is Medalla, but Heineken and Corona are also very popular here... all "bien friiiiaa," of course. Show how expert you are with San Juan slang; ask for "una fria" instead of "una cerveza."
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