Sometimes I use Google Translate to look up Spanish words I don’t know, to double check Spanish I do know, or just to play around. Sometimes I type “Caliche” words into Google Translate to see what it manages to come up with, if anything at all.

“Caliche” (ka-lee-chay), is the type of Spanish spoken in El Salvador and other parts of Central America. They have a lot of unique words and phrases, many of which come from Nawat, (a language of indigenous peoples in the region before the arrival of the Spaniards.)

Being married to a Salvadoran, and immersed in the Caliche of my suegra, has really influenced my Spanish, sometimes more than I realize. Last year we were riding the Metro in D.C. and a woman, who turned out to be Peruvian, was holding a baby. She seemed friendly enough, and the baby was too cute, so I couldn’t resist asking to hold her – there was only one problem. The Peruvian woman didn’t understand my Spanish! At first I thought maybe I just wasn’t speaking clearly, that my accent was too gringa – so I repeated myself carefully.

“Podría chinear tu bebé?”

She still didn’t understand me. Why is that? Because I had mistakenly used a Caliche word. “Chinear” in El Salvador means “to hold in the arms.” (By the way, Suegra jumped in and repeated my request, making a rocking movement with her arms and the woman allowed me to hold the baby.)

A lot of the words I’ve learned over the years, I just file away as “new vocabulary,” not knowing whether they are Spanish or Caliche. This doesn’t become a problem until I speak to those from outside Central America.

The newest word to give me trouble is “cipote.” I use “cipote,” (see-po-tay) quite often. My kids respond to it just as they would their legal names. This word simply means “little boy/kid/niño.” (A girl could be called a “cipota,” (see-po-tah). But what happens when I ask Google Translate what it means?

I was really shocked that Google Translate could be so way off – but after a search around the internet, I found out that “cipote” in some other countries really does have a vulgar meaning.

Now I am imaging all the times I called out to my kids in public, “Cipote! Vengasé ya!” – and I’m wondering how many non-Caliche Spanish speakers misunderstood me.


Caliche vocabulary
“Caliche” by Code Blue – A song in Caliche (strong language)
Humorous video about Caliche – by Koki y Sus Bayuncos


  1. roflmao….I never knew that about ‘cipote’

    I’ll have to get you a copy of a book I got in El Salvador. “Diccionario Guanaco” it has all the caliche in there.

    Our spanish is rather interesting because of the mix of Nahuatl. Many of the names of cities/places in El Salvador come from Nahuatl, but nobody thinks about it. The funny thing is that for us, it is natural to pronounce the words.

    I’ve heard that many Spaniards have a real hard time with some of the words as their tongues aren’t accustomed to making the sounds. Thus the deformation of some words. For example, the original name of Guatemala is Goathemala, but the Spaniards couldn’t pronounce that properly.

    • I asked Suegra to bring me a Caliche dictionary. We’ll see if she’s able to find one. (Any book stores you especially like in San Salvador or Chalate that have these types of books so she knows where to go in the future?)

      The names of cities in El Salvador and Guatemala are one of my very favorite things. I didn’t really realize the words come from Nahuatl but that makes sense. Thanks for the language/history lesson. You always have something bien chévere to contribute to the conversation!

    • Cipote means “pirulín/palomita” jajaja Funny, thanks for letting me know!
      Let me tell you.. I had the “adventure” of working with a group of people from various Latin countries (Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba and Puerto Rico) It was a lot of fun, while during lunch time, we talked about whatever and somebody would say a word that nobody understood. We would laugh and then run to the dictionary to “verify” whether if it was a “real” word.
      Not too long ago, during a business meeting somebody asked me for a minuta! Minuta in my world is an ice-cone! WTH!!! They were talking about a summary, not an ice-cone!!!

      • A flavored ice-cone is exactly what I thought of when I saw “minuta” … but it means summary?? Okay, filing that away just in case. LOL. I can imagine a Salvadoran working in an office, the boss asks for a “minuta”, and the poor guanaca runs out to find an ice cream man. jajaja!

    • Goathemala!!!! Me recuerda a la ciudad donde vive Batman!!!Interesante “fact”. Tantas veces que he ido a Goathemala sin tener una idea! Aunque me parece raro eso de GOATH, no suena muy Nahuatl!
      Y en cuanto a los nombred de los pueblos… me encanta cuando un gringo los quiere pronunciar :Tepezcuelhoyo, Echatetalco jajajaja, just kidding!

      • Give me a list of Guatemalan and Salvadoran cities and I will try to pronounce them on video for your amusement – without cheating and asking Carlos! lol

  2. jajajajajaja. If someone was in the office with me know they would swear I am crazy for busting out laughing. Thank you for the language lesson.

    • LOL. I only recently found out that “caliche” is a word used for sedimentary rock. I sense an interesting story behind how Salvadoran slang came to be called “caliche”! … If we can’t find out, we’ll have to make something up.

      I’m going to say that non-Salvadoran Spanish speakers claimed Salvadorans are so difficult to understand, that they might as well be talking with a mouthful of “caliche” – LOL.

  3. It is the same in Mexico, we speak very chilango, often words and their meanings are completely different than they would be elsewhere even within Mexico.

    I would be cautious of trusting Google translate. It is way, way off a lot of the time. You could try something like will give you definitions from many dialects, familiar and colloquial uses.

    In el DF, cipote es un baboso, una pinga, o algo enorme, muy grande.

    • Graciela – I agree that Google translate is not very dependable but it’s better than some of the others. I’ll check out – thanks!

      Thanks for the chilango definition of “cipote”. Wow, a lot of people must think Salvadorans aren’t very nice to their children. LOL. Another Salvadoran word, “bicho/a” (boy/girl), is really vulgar in other countries, too!

  4. oh no!

    My sister calls her kids affectionate British slang words sometimes. One day, my husband said in hushed tones that he was surprised she’d call her daughter that word, so I looked it up, and sure enough, it is a slang for penis!

    Funny how these innocent mistakes can be misunderstood.

  5. I agree with @graciela, Tracy! Knowing you, I think you’ll get a kick out of

    It’s what I use all the time – and I translate for a living – so you’ll surely find whatever word you’re looking for and, if not, you can always ask in their forums!!

    This is, by far, one of my favorite subjects…

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