Welcome to the second installment of Learn Spanish for Real: Slang, Expressions, and Curse Words!  This post will be a sort of continuation on the first one in that we’ll be examining the same sentence from the same video, but a different word.

Today’s Word: “Carajo”

This is a clip from one of my most-recommended movies for Spanish students to learn Spanish from because not only does it have excellent subtitles in both Spanish and English (the Spanish ones are word-for-word and the English ones are a solid translation of the Spanish that you can use for reference when learning it) but it’s also a very good movie that gives you a great deal of insight into certain parts of Colombian culture and teaches you a ton of their colloquial language with slang galore as well as quite a few curse words. It’s called Maria Full of Grace and is available very cheaply from Amazon on DVD.

Now, I would like to provide you some context so you can understand the scene, the conversation, how the word is being used, and why:

In this particular scene our protagonist, Maria, has just quit her job at the flower factory because her boss had repeatedly refused her requests to go to the bathroom because she was sick to her stomach (she’s pregnant but doesn’t know it yet) which then resulted in her throwing up all over the flowers which he made her clean up despite knowing that they were ruined and would have to be thrown out (he told her this then told her to clean them off anyway).

Shortly after this we come to the scene you see above where she’s at a party with her friends, drinking and dancing, and one of her friends is telling the rest what happened and that Maria got fed up with her boss and quit. Her boyfriend then proposes a toast (“brindis” means “toast”, from “Esto se merece un brindis” which means “This calls for a toast”) and says

“Porque es una berraca, carajo.”

Which could best be translated as, “Because she’s a badass, damnit.” (what does “berraca” mean? see my post on it here!)

Now, “carajo” is a fairly common curseword throughout the Spanish-speaking world.  It’s in common use in all Spanish-speaking countries (including Spain) to the best of my knowledge, however the severity of it varies from one country/region to another and even from one social group or class to another.  Generally it’s not thought of as being too strong anymore, particularly in Spain where it’s also a slang term for “penis”.  It could usually be considered a rough equivalent to the English “damn”, “damnit”, or “hell” depending on how it’s used (see examples below).

Important (and quick) side note!

If you’re reading this you’re probably learning Spanish at a beginner or intermediate level, and if so could I recommend you quickly check out a site called Yabla? They teach you Spanish using videos made by and for natives (e.g. TV shows, movies, YouTube videos, cartoons, news and documentaries originally made in Spanish-speaking countries for native speakers) coupled with a set of tools specifically designed for that purpose which are integrated into the video player:

  • Verbatim subtitles in Spanish shown at the same time as English subtitles (you can turn either or both on or off)
  • An integrated dictionary and flashcard system that both automatically looks up a word in the subtitles when you click on it as well as adds it to your flashcards for later review
  • Exercises and quizzes about what you just watched that make you apply the new Spanish you just learned.

Check it out here (discounts for educators and institutions, by the way, I know a lot of you are teachers) or read my full review if you’d like more information (and screenshots of the system) first. Back to the article…

Some common phrases you may hear using the word “carajo” and their rough English equivalent:

  • “¡Carajo!” – “Damnit!”
  • “¿Qué carajo?” – “What the hell?!”
  • “¡Vete al carajo!” – ” Go to hell!”
  • “¡[any statement], carajo!” “[any statement], damnit!” (this is how it’s being used in the example phrase above)
  • “¿Qué carajo es esto?” – “What the hell is this?”
  • “No veo/escucho un carajo.” – “I didn’t see/hear a damned thing.”
  • “¿En qué carajo estabas pensando…?” – “What the hell were you thinking…?”
  • “No me importa un carajo.” – “I don’t give a damn.”

What does “carajo” literally mean?  What did it come from?

el carajoWell, originally it referred to the crow’s nest on a Spanish galleon.  Now, this was one of the least desirable posts on the ship because sailors would tend to get very sea sick up there due to the ships movements being amplified at the top of the mast (basic physics: mast acts as a lever arm, any movement at its base translates into faster movement over a greater distance at its tip).  Nobody wanted to go to the carajo.

Consequently it was frequently used as punishment: sailors would be “sent to the carajo”, they’d be told to “go to the carajo” (“¡Vete al carajo!”), hence the origin of the phrase “Vete al carajo” meaning something like “Go to hell”.  This in combination with the fact that “carajo” (the place and the word) just took on a very negative connotation in general led to it evolving into a sort of general purpose curseword like our “damn” or “hell”.

I hope you found this interesting and useful, and remember, if you’d like to learn more everyday colloquial Spanish (not just cursewords, I promise!), I’ve written a book on how to do just that by using modern popular Spanish media like movies, TV shows, music, comics, and more called: The Telenovela Method – you can buy it directly through my site or on Amazon (it’s had great reviews!), the link above will tell you how.

Oh, and don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact me with any questions!



The previous edition of Learn Spanish for Real was (if you’re interested)…

Learn Spanish for Real #1: “Berraco / Berraca”, from Colombia! | Slang, Expressions, and Curse Words

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