Welcome to the second installment of a category of posts I do called Learn Spanish for Real: Spanish Slang, Colloquialisms, 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. The words in question, “carajo”, is a light Spanish curseword currently in use in most parts of the Spanish-speaking world.
Today’s Word: “Carajo”
This is a clip from one of my most-recommended movies for Spanish students to learn conversational 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 Spanish with slang galore as well as quite a few Spanish curse words. It’s called Maria Full of Grace and is available very cheaply from Amazon on DVD. Additionally, I have a list of sites where you can watch Spanish videos with Spanish subtitles, including several such shows on Netflix (probably the best source of such videos now, them and YouTube). Also, if you’re particularly interested in learning Colombian Spanish, I strongly recommend you check out a podcast called Español en 3000 – it’s excellent and focuses mainly on Colombian Spanish.
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 berraco/berraca 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).
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?
Well, 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 curse words, I promise!), check out the links below to additional resources and related articles (on my site and others).
Additional Resources and Further Reading
A great way to learn to speak and understand modern, everyday Spanish is through Spanish-language popular media such as movies, TV shows, books, etc., but the problem is that people just don’t know how plus there are some tools that can help you do it much more effeciently, here are two things I strongly recommend that address both those problems:
1. Yabla. This is a service that collects popular media in various languages and then integrates it into their custom online software platform that’s specifically designed to help students learn the language being spoken in the videos. Spanish is their biggest language that they have the most videos and material for. The videos can be searched and sorted by topic, length, difficulty, and dialect, then once you select one you’ll have verbatim Spanish subtitles and an English translation, both of which you can selectively turn on and off. Clicking any Spanish word in the subtitles pulls up its definition in the dictionary to the right of the video and automatically adds it to your flash cards. Every video has quizzes of varying difficulty where certain Spanish words in the subtitles are blanked out and you have to fill them in while listening to the video. You can also pause and play the video back at ¼, ½, ¾ etc. speed. This is such an excellent service and it’s super cheap at only $9.99 per month, plus you get a free trial without even needing to sign up (just check out the “free videos” they offer as samples) and they do offer special discounts for teachers and organizations. Check out their site here, or go to my review of Yabla here for lots more information including many screenshots of the software in use so you can see how it works.
2. The Telenovela Method. This is a book I wrote which is currently in its second edition and teaches people how to do the method that I used to get conversationally fluent in Spanish in six months, which is to use popular Spanish-language media. There’s a method to doing this in that you can’t just sit there passively and somehow absorb the language (of course that doesn’t work) but instead you must study the material: I tell you how to do that. I’ll show you how to learn the vocabulary and grammar painlessly by using stuff that you find interesting and entertaining (pick anything you want, whatever show, series, movie, or book that interests you). It’s called the “Telenovela Method” not because telenovelas (Spanish soap operas) are preferred but because that’s what I started out with ten years ago and learned Spanish from myself. Please check it out here on Amazon, it’s currently got 19 reviews, of which 18 are 5-star and 1 is a 4-star rating.
As I mentioned, I have a whole category of blog posts, which this article is part of, that teach you general conversational Spanish, focusing on slang, expressions, colloquialisms, and profanity called: Learn Spanish for Real: Spanish Slang, Colloquialisms, and Curse Words.
There are two excellent Spanish-slang references/dictionaries I can recommend you: Urban Dictionary (yes really – it’s a bit informal but I’ve found it’s more likely to have whatever Spanish slang word I’m trying to look up than any other single source) and Así Hablamos, a user-generated source of Latin American slang and colloquial speech.
Interested in Colombian Spanish, specifically?
Again, I really recommend you consider subscribing to the podcast Español en 3000 (this link goes to my review of them, or you can just go straight to their site here if you prefer).
Check out the series of posts I did on it based on the time I was in Colombia (3 months in total in 2018, split between Bogotá, Medellín, and Cartagena):
I learned to speak conversational Spanish in six months using TV shows, movies, and even comics: I then wrote a book on how you can, too
I have a whole method and a book I wrote about it called The Telenovela Method where I teach you how to learn Spanish from popular media like TV shows, movies, music, books, etc. that you can all find online for free. It was the #1 new release in the Spanish Language Instruction section on Amazon for nearly a month after it came out and currently has 17 reviews there with a 4.9/5 stars average. It’s available for $7.99-$9.99 for the e-book version depending on who you buy it from (Kindle version on Amazon is now $7.99) and $16.99 for the paperback (occasionally a bit cheaper, again, depending on who you buy it from).
It’s currently available in both e-book and paperback from:
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