In the series of posts I’ve added on Colombian slang basics, we’ve looked at a few of the essential terms you can’t do without when interacting with locals.
Inspired by a recent reader query, I thought I’d also begin to add some new posts explaining more advanced local expressions, which you may come across after talking with Colombians for a longer period.
We’ll start here with the saying: “pelar el cobre” or “mostrar el cobre” (lit. “to show copper”), which is broadly similar in meaning to the English “to show your true colours” or “to reveal yourself for who you really are”.
The saying, I assume, is a metaphor dreamt up by those who have had their fingers burned after buying jewellery and other decorative items that were supposedly made of precious metals.
While you may buy an item that looks like its crafted out of brilliant gold, over time, this beautiful top layer gradually peels away, revealing the ugly truth below. Your once treasured ‘gold’ item is actually nothing more than a big hunk of cheap copper (“cobre“).
This could be why the expression “pelar el cobre“, when applied to people, is always negative. It describes someone who has presented themselves in one light, only to later reveal by their actions that their character is disappointingly different.
‘Pelar el cobre’ in context
Such explanations of word usage always become clearer after a few examples, so here’s a selection I’ve drawn from the Colombian press.
The first comes from an article about Sebastián Viera; the much-loved player for the local football (soccer) Atlético Junior squad.
After a series of reports and rumours about the player appeared in the newspapers, he had a small outburst at a press conference, accusing local journalists, in no uncertain-terms, of a lack of professionalism.
Opining on the player’s apparent disrespect for Colombia’s press, this journalist says:
Por muy ‘ángel’ que consideren a Sebastián Viera…debe respetar a periodistas…¿Se cree intocable? ¿O ya comenzó a pelar el cobre?
Meaning: “As much of an ‘angel’ as Sebastián Viera is considered to be…[he] has to respect journalists. Does he think he’s untouchable? Or is he now just starting to show his true colours?”.
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Outside of the beautiful game, the expression “pelar el cobre” is very often seen in reference to politics – an altogether dirtier sport. Candidates for political office who once appeared shiny and perfect, later reveal the less attractive sides of their character and ambition once in power.
In this piece, for instance, which criticises the newly appointed mayor of Cartagena for reportedly blaming a subordinate for a recent screw up, the journalist writes:
usted ‘peló el cobre’ demostrando inmadurez en medio de su primera crisis
Roughly meaning, “you showed your true colours, demonstrating a lack of maturity in the middle of your first crisis”.
In another quote, this time from the website of the Democratic Pole party, a blogger writes:
Por muchos motivos se “pela el cobre”, pero en política el principal es el oportunismo
Translation: “There are many reasons to ‘show one’s true colours’, but the main one in politics is opportunism”.
In fact, it doesn’t take much effort to find stories accusing pretty much all of the country’s main political figures (e.g. current President Santos and his predecessor, Uribe) of “revealing their true selves” – with all the negativity that goes along with it.
There’s plenty of disappointment and cynicism in the world of Colombian politics it seems.