Of all the many Colombian slang terms explained on this blog, one of the trickier terms to get your head round is “berraco” (sometimes also spelt “verraco”). It is extremely easy to get confused with this one.
Technically, a “berraco” is a sort of pig, but if you hear this word in Colombia, it is almost certainly not being used to refer to the animal. But it is not always an easy matter to figure out what the word is being used to mean.
A Colombian could quite feasibly say “berraco” (or one its variants like berraquera, emberracarse or berracamente) in five consecutive sentences to mean five entirely different things. Trying to decipher these as a language learner is a sure fire way to get yourself confused. And fast.
To save you some of these headaches, I’ve produced a quick gringo survival guide to the most common contexts in which the word is heard. At least now you’ll have a fighting chance of understanding what is being said.
When talking about people, “ser berraco” is a high complimentary way to describe someone intelligent or exceptionally able. There is little better way to congratulate a Colombian on achieving something very difficult than saying: “¡Usted sí es un berraco!”. This is perhaps the equivalent of the English phrases: “Wow, you’re a genius!” or “You’re a total legend!” etc.
The personal quality which has led them to achieve such lofty heights may separately be referred to as “berraquera”. In this context, the phrase “¡Qué berraquera!” means something akin to “How amazingly clever of you!”.
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In other circumstances, describing someone as “berraco” can mean not that they are clever but that they are angry. This would be the case when the term is preceded by the verb “estar”.
So, the meaning of “Él está bien berraco hoy” would be something like “He’s really angry / in a foul mood today” (not “He is exceptionally able today”). In this same line, the verb “emberracarse” is a way of saying “to get angry”, while “estar emberracado/a” means “to be angry”.
When applied not to people, but instead to situations and tasks, “berraco” means “very difficult”. For example, “Uy esto está muy berraco hermano” is a way to say “Jesus man, this is really tough!”. Another popular phrase meaning roughly the same thing is “¡Qué cosa tan berraca!” (“What a difficult / tricky thing”).
For (Large) Quantities
Another use of “berraco”, and “berracamente”, is as synonyms for “a great deal” or “a large amount”. For example, a sign over a little shop might read: “Berracamente orgulloso de ser colombiano” (“Incredibly proud to be Colombian”). Alternatively, a friend preparing for an exam might say: “Me toca leer como un berraco” (“I’ve got to read an absolute ton”).
In this same vein, the uniquely Colombian idiomatic phrase “…más que un berraco” means “a great deal”, as in “Él estaba gritando más que un berraco” (“He was shouting a hell of a lot”). Finally, “ni por el berraco” means “(absolutely) no way” e.g. “¡Ni por el berraco voy a ir allá!” (“No way in hell I’m going there!”).
Given the numerous different meanings of this term, you will no doubt see why it is one of Colombian Spanish’s hardest terms (and this list is by no means exhaustive). Hearing it used frequently in context is probably the only way to understand its true versatility.
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Colombian Slang Basics #2: The Meaning of “Vaina”
When it comes to Colombian slang, oftentimes there is no one definitive translation of a given term that will fit all situations and all contexts. Confusingly enough, the meaning of many of these words shifts about a lot depending on the situation in which they’re used. This is true of “vaina”; a highly versatile and multipurpose Colombian slang word that is generally held up as the most widely used and most typical of all “colombianismos”.
Colombian expressions explained: ‘Pelar el cobre’
Inspired by a recent reader query, I thought I’d add some new posts explaining more advanced local expressions, which you may come across after talking with Colombians for a longer period. One is “pelar el cobre” or “mostrar el cobre“, which is broadly similar in meaning to the English “to show one’s true colours”.