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¡Qué oso! – Slang from Bogota

A favourite phrase of residents of Colombia’s capital
Written by Peter

As far as possible, on this blog I try to examine slang phrases which are used in the whole of Colombia. However, some expressions are so essential for anyone staying in a given city or area, that it’d be remiss of me not to explain these too.

This is most definitely the case for the phrase “¡qué oso!” in Bogota. Talk to residents of Colombia’s capital and not more than a couple of minutes will go by before you hear it.

The English equivalent would be something like “how embarrassing!”, though the literal translation is “what a bear!” (don’t ask me why, but misuse of animal names seems to be popular feature of Colombian slang).

¡Qué oso!” is basically the capital’s version of the standard Spanish phrases “¡qué vergüenza!” or “¡qué pena!”. If you already know how to use these expressions, then just substitute in the odd “¡qué oso!” here and there, and you’re away.

But, anyway, let’s look at a few sample sentences to get a better flavour for it’s use in context:

“¡Qué oso!”: example sentences

To start off, an imaginary scenario. Say your friend has got a little drunk the previous night and proceeded to embarrass himself in front of a big group of people. Rubbish for him, certainly, but for you it presents the perfect opportunity to show off your knowledge of the local lingo.


Qué oso la otra noche cuando se emborrachó Felipe y se puso a pelear con todo el mundo

Translation: “It was so embarrassing the other night when Felipe got really drunk and started fighting with everyone”.

Rather than continue with these made up phrases of mine, though, how about we look at some real life examples of when native speakers use the expression?

First up, this tweet:

“When I take a bath, I always carry a suicide note just in case I slip and die. How embarrassing it’d be for people to know I’d died by being an idiot”.

And this one:

Meaning: “Women who write ‘I love my hair’ at the bottom of their photos, when they’re wearing more extensions than a Christmas tree [referring to the extension cord for the lights, presumably]. How embarrassing”.

Next, this magazine headline about a TV contestant on an X-Factor style reality show, whose audition featured a quite exceptionally poor Shakira impersonation:

The headline reads: “How embarrassing! This Shakira impersonator made a fool out of himself on TV”.

Hacer el oso

The above examples are all of pretty informal use, but don’t feel you should reserve this phrase exclusively for such occasions. Indeed, even heavyweight journalists sometimes sneak it into serious articles.

Usually, this comes in the slightly more respectable expression “hacer el oso”, which is like “hacer el ridículo”, or “to make a fool out of yourself”.

Check out, for example, this newspaper headline describing a minor wardrobe malfunction suffered by Colombia’s president during some pomp and ceremony with the Spanish royals:

The title translates as: “When [former president] Uribe made a fool of himself with the Spanish royal family”.

Likewise, the following byline recently appeared in an article about the shortcomings of Colombia’s justice system, published by the prestigious local news magazine Semana:

In English, that would read: “At this point, the public shame of being arrested in a fashionable restaurant is the only effective form of justice that’s left”.

The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed how “oso” is used in isolation here just to mean “embarrassment” or “humiliation”.

There’s apparently no need for the word always to be accompanied by “qué…” or “hacer el…“, making it applicable in many more situations.

Have a play around with it yourself, but remember that “¡qué oso!” and it’s variants are not really heard much in the country, outside the capital. Travel much farther afield however, to Mexico, and you’ll start to come across it once again.

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