Nearly all Spanish-speaking countries have their own words and phrases used unique to their own country. Costa Rica is no different in this regard, and has their own set of words and phrases used often. If you do not understand these key words/phrases, you will probably miss a lot of the Spanish around you. Since, in most cases, it is obvious international students are not Tico, most locals do not use these phrases with foreigners. Nonetheless, it is a great way to understand what is being said around you. Not to mention, adding one of these (with care, as explained below) into your daily Spanish conversations may pleasantly surprise the Tico you are talking to!
This list is no way all of the Tico phrases, but this is a start! I learned these from my Spanish class and from my host family! Beside the meaning in English, I added in what way they should be used.
Guabero/Lechero– a person with luck (used as a noun)
Sapo- someone with a big mouth (used as a noun)
Ir a pata- to go by foot (used as a verb)
Güila- used for child or girlfriend (used as a noun)
Hablar paja- to speak without sense, or to speak “bull” (used as a verb)
Limpio- to not have money (used as an adjective)
Papudo- a person (usually man) who is rich (used as a noun)
Al chile- “are you serious?” (used as an interjection)
Taco- fear (used as a noun)
Birra- beer (used as a noun)
Jumarse- the state of being drunk (used as an adjective)
Roco- an old person (used as a noun)
Harina- money (used as a noun)
Un queque- very easy (used as an adjective)
Yodo- coffee (used as a noun)
Chante/Choza- home (used as a noun)
Jupa-la cabeza (used as a noun)
Rulear- to sleep (used as a verb)
Qué torta- “what a problem/mess!” (used as a phrase)
Qué dicha- “How nice/that is great!” (used as a phrase)
It is important that you do not use these words with everyone you speak to (besides qué torta/dicha/un queque) because they are, for the most part, informal. None of these words are the equivalent to “bad” words in English, such as the F word or anything close, but these words are considered slang. Unless you are extremely comfortable with someone older than you or have built up trust with a Tico older than you, use these words with care. A good place to use these phrases is with young people and teenagers. When I first learned these, I doubted I would hear them being used/be able to recognize them, but I hear Ticos and Ticas using them all of the time! When I was working on homework in a computer lab at Veritas one evening, I overheard a few Ticos having a conversation, and heard them use many of these! They are definitely common!
A Costa Rican musician, Gonin, created a song explaining a lot of Tico expressions and phrases! The title is “Hablo como Tico”. Most of the phrases I wrote on are mentioned in the song, and there are a lot more I did not touch on that Gonin explains! Enjoy!