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SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Spanish Expression of the Day: ‘Hacerse el sueco’

If a Spanish person says you’re ‘acting Swedish’, what do they mean?

abba spanish expression hacerse el sueco
Were legendary Swedish pop group ABBA every guilty of 'hacerse el sueco'? Photo: Roger Turesson/AFP

The Spanish expression hacerse el sueco means to play dumb or feign ignorance, but any Swedish readers should hold off from writing a stern letter of complaint to the Spanish embassy in Stockholm until they’ve read this article, at least.

That’s because sueco, which can mean “Swedish”, also refers to a type of shoe: the clog. 

In fact, nowadays it’s written with z rather than a s – zueco – originating from the Latin word ‘soccus’.

These clunky wooden shoes were once worn by theatre comedians that performed during Roman times, and they’ve also been widely used for centuries in rural communities of northern Spain.

Spanish lexicographers such as José María Iribarren believe that the expression hacerse el sueco refers to the clog and not the Swedish people, as the shoes are associated with clumsiness. The Spanish word zoquete, which means dimwitted, also originates from ‘soccus’. So the expression would be ‘acting like a clog’ rather that ‘acting like a Swede’.

But then there are some who believe that the expression does refer to Swedish people, as there’s another expression with the same meaning, which is hacer alguien oídos de mercader (‘to do merchant ears’).

Therefore, there’s a theory that Swedish merchants arriving at ports in Spain either didn’t understand or pretended not to know what their Spanish counterparts were saying in order to get a better deal.

Whatever the true origins of this expression (the clog theory is more widely supported), if someone is pretending not to understand, deliberately avoids answering a question by changing the subject, doesn’t come to work to later claim they thought it was a public holiday, or acts as if they haven’t seen you in the street and walks past, they’re haciéndose el sueco. A similar expression is hacerse el loco, to ‘pretend to be crazy’.

There’s also the saying hacer oídos sordos, but this applies more to turning a deaf ear to something that’s been heard, whereas hacerse el sueco can refer to all kinds of ways someone is playing dumb or falsely claiming ignorance.

Hacerse el sueco and these other related expressions are not too colloquial and can be used in all social settings, but obviously keep in mind that you’re accusing a person of playing dumb.

Examples:

¡No te hagas el sueco! Sabes perfectamente a qué me refiero.

Don’t play dumb! You know exactly what I’m talking about.

¿Has visto como ha pasado de nosotros y se ha hecho el sueco? Estábamos justo al lado de él.

Did you see how he ignored us and feigned ignorance? We were right next to him.

Te estás haciendo el sueco, te he envíado diez mensajes y no me has respondido porque no te daba la gana.

You’re playing dumb, I’ve sent you ten messages and you didn’t reply to me because you couldn’t be bothered.

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For members

SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Spanish Word of the Day: ‘Chachi’

Who would’ve thought that there’s a word used all the time in Spain that has something to do with Winston Churchill? Or so the story goes. 

Spanish Word of the Day: 'Chachi'

Chachi is a colloquial way to express approval for something or someone, in the sense of it/them being cool, awesome or great.

It’s mainly a word used by young people in Spain, so saying it to your bank manager or boss may raise an eyebrow or two, but it’s in no way derogatory or rude.

There’s even the expression ¡Chachi piruli Juan Pelotilla! that was popularised by a 90s’ kids show on TV called Telebuten, but it’s now a rather outdated way of saying ‘cool’ in Spanish. 

Chachi is certainly a rather bizarre sounding word and Spain’s Royal Academy actually has it recorded as deriving from chanchi (which nobody uses).

Linguists are not 100 percent certain about the origin of the word but there are two very interesting theories. 

The first is that chachi was first coined in the southern coastal city of Cádiz during World War II, at a time where hunger among locals and contraband at the port were both rife.

Smuggled goods from nearby Gibraltar were considered of the utmost quality as they came from the United Kingdom, and the story goes that Gaditanos (the name for people from Cádiz) referred to these bootlegged products as ‘charchil’, in reference to UK Prime Minister at the time Winston Churchill.

Over time, charchil became chachi, a slang word which (if the story is true) came to mean ‘cool’ across Spain.

Other philologists believe that chachi comes from Caló, the language spoken by Spain’s native gipsy or Roma population. 

Chachipé or chachipen reportedly means ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ in this language spoken by 60,000 people across the Iberian Peninsula.

This could’ve been shortened to chachi and gone from being used like chachi que sí/claro que sí (of course) to chachi to mean ‘cool’.

Whichever theory is true, chachi is a great word to add to your arsenal of Spanish vocab. 

There’s also the Spanish word guay, which has a very similar meaning to chachi; we reviewed it here.

Examples: 

Carlos es un tío chachi. 

Carlos is a cool guy.

¡Pásalo chachi!

Have a great time!

La verdad es que es juego de mesa muy chachi.

The truth is it’s a very cool board game.

¡Qué chachi! Van a hacer un concierto en la plaza.

How cool! They’re going to hold a concert in the square.

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