By Scott McGee. Photo by Israel Martinez
If you are trying to learn the formal brand of Spanish appropriate for business and polite dinner conversations, “chimba” certainly won’t help. In fact, many Business English courses here in Medellin won’t even bother to translate it. However, down a few beers with a young executive from that same Business English course and you will soon find that the word “chimba” is an integral part of Paisa culture.
So what is chimba? In the literal sense, it is an explicative that carries a vulgar anatomic connotation. In the practical sense, chimba is used to indicate positive qualities in a person, place, thing, or situation, but in a hearty “fucking cool!” way. For example, one might sit atop Las Palmas Avenue looking out across all of Medellin and say, “Look at that incredible view, es una chimba!” Another example: your favorite song comes on the radio, and you say, “Que chimba esta cancion!” or, “This song is so fucking good!”
Chimba used alone is akin to “awesome”, but awesome with a punch. For example, last week I saw a drunken man in the rain shouting to no one in particular at the top of his lungs, “CHIMBA!” This is like being really drunk, and lacking the brain capacity to say anything other than a joyous “Fuck Yeah!
By dropping it at concerts and in interviews, Medellin’s own rock star Juanes played a big role in popularizing the now ubiquitous usage of chimba. As fun and cool as it is to say however, chimba should not be used in all situations as it carries the “bad word” connotation. For instance, if you are offered a highly sought after job during an interview and reply, “I totally accept… Chimba!”, that job offer might suddenly be rescinded.
There is a way to make chimba even more expressive – a variant of the word so powerful that it is reserved only for the truly incredible. A brand-new sports car, the definitive party of the year, or an all-access VIP pass to a show, these are examples of “rechimba”. It’s like chimba, but more.
For the advanced linguist, it is possible to negate chimba with the phrase “ni chimba”. This is like saying “absolutely not”, or more appropriately, “Fuck No!” Use this when your inebriated friend says he is ok to drive home after downing 8 beers; that’s a good time to say “ni chimba”.
Whatever chimba variant you come across, note that it is always said with flair – a passion and sprit of gusto that is, well, chimba!
This article originally appeared in issue #6 (Feb/Mar 2010) of The Arepa Magazine.
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