Chilean Spanish for social uprisings

What is up, Gringolandia? Once again, I’m Gringo Starr and I’ll be your host. Last year there was a grand social uprising in Chile, and yours truly had the opportunity and honor of witnessing it first hand. So, I learned a lot and today I’m going to pass some of what I learned on to you. And teach you some important Chilean Spanish vocabulary for social uprisings. Let’s get after it!

Important figures for Chilean protests


Violeta Parra

Violeta Parra para chicas y chicos

Violeta Parra was a Chilean musician who composed and performed folk music, often about social issues. For an introduction to her music, check out our Violeta playlist. I discovered her, personally, when I heard a group protestors singing her songs in the street during a peaceful march through the streets of Santiago ?.

She is my all-time favorite Latin American musician and is an important part of Chilean (social uprising) history. I regret to inform you that she was prone to depression and took her own life (se suicidó) ?. . However, her spirit lives in all the Chilean who doesn’t give up against social injustice and neoliberal governments.

Quilapayún (which means “three beards” in Mapuche) it’s a Chilean folklore band. They composed one of the most known protest songs in History: “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido” (The people united will never be defeated). They also wrote the hymn for Allende’s campaign, “Venceremos” (We will defeat).

Victor Jara was a Chilean musician. He was one of thy symbols of “Nueva Canción Chilena”. He wrote songs as “Te recuerdo Amanda” (I remember you, Amanda). In his words: “The song speaks of the love of two workers, the kind you see yourself on the streets, and sometimes you don’t realize what exists inside the soul. Two workers, from any factory, in any city, anywhere in our continent”. If you don’t cry with this song, maybe you’re dead inside.

When the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet overthrows the Government of Salvador Allende, Víctor Jara was one of the victims. The dictatorship tortured and killed him.


Pin en Negro Matapacos !

Matapacos, sometimes “Negro Matapacos”, was a Chilean dog known for participating in the protests of the early 2010s in Chile (don’t believe the English Wikipedia which is full of errors). He died in 2017 but resurrected as a protest symbol in 2019, where humans rights violations by police, including sexual assaults and disproportionate use of violence against protestors were an important issue.

Besides, his name will be of interest to Spanish learners and offers an opportunity to learn about forming compound nouns in Spanish.

Compound Nouns in Spanish


Matapacos is composed of two words mata comes from matar, meaning to kill, and paco is a slang, pejorative term for a Chilean police officer (the official name is “carabineros“, which does not carry a negative connotation). Therefore,

Matapacos = Cop-killer

When forming compound nouns in Spanish, as above, you can often conjugate a verb in the third-person singular–mata is the third person singular of matar–and connect it with the plural of some noun, in this case, the plural form of paco.

Here are a few other examples:


Matafuegos = Fire-extinguisher

Again, matar is conjugated in the third person singular, and the noun fuego, meaning fire, is pluralized.

Parabrisas = Windshield

Here, the verb is parar, meaning to stop, and brisa is the noun, which means breeze.

Quitamanchas = Stain remover

Quitar means to remove or to take away, and mancha means stain.

Chilean Spanish Vocabulary: Weapons of “War”

The title of this section is a play on the fact that Chilean President at the time (and still at the moment of this publication) Sebastián Piñera, infamously said, with reference to the social movement, “Estamos en guerra…”. Of course, many people didn’t like this comment.


Chile: continúa la represión en medio del debate de un proyecto ...

Zorrillo is a slang word for the vehicle pictured above. It shoots dirty water that smells awful from the water-cannon and, as zorrillo is also the word for skunk, this is where it gets its name.

Bomba Lacrimógena

Bombas Lacrimógenas are tear gas (gas lacrimógeno) bombs. In Chile, I had the honor of tasting tear gas for the first, second, … hundredth time. I kind of miss it ?

But, in Argentina, this gas has the name “Gas Pimienta” (Pepper gas). And it’s just as spicy. And you can buy it online too, to defend yourself from sexual aggression in the street.

Escopeta antidisturbios

Escopeta Antidisturbios y otras alternativas: las armas de ...

Escopeta antidisturbios means something like anti-disturbance shotgun.


Balines are what is fired from anti-riot shotguns. There was a big controversy because a study found that the balines had a lead in the center and very little rubber, breaking all the laws and regulations about weapons. Over 200 people have eye injuries, including many people partially or totally losing vision in one or both eyes.

Toque de Queda

Miles de personas piden la paz en Quito tras el toque de queda

Toque de queda means a curfew. In 2019 in Chile, after the protests broke out, many people (but we can’t say who, if protesters or undercover agents) defaced and destroyed a lot of property, broke windows, burned buildings, uprooted streetlights, and looted shops. This led to a government-enforced curfew. Many people have to stay home (imagine this before COVID!). Anyway, because the Chilean people didn’t give up the curfew was not so successful.

Keep Studying Chilean Spanish online

Alright, Spanish lovers, I hope you enjoyed this free Chilean Spanish lesson and learned some new vocab and history. I really enjoyed my stay in Chile and the connection that the people have with their language and their social commitment.

So, if you are energized about learning Spanish and want to learn more Chilean Spanish from a native speaker from Chile, check out our main website: Because we are waiting for you!

We offer private tutoring and group classes online and we have our “Headquarters” and flagship school in Buenos Aires, if you’re doing the nomad thing. Also, you can get a free trial class with a native speaker with no obligation. And buy more lessons to take your Spanish to the next level if you love it.

Peace, Love, and Spanish!
✌️ ❤️ ??
Wander on!
Gringo Starr

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Wanderlust was my second home during my 5 months living in Buenos Aires. I got to know Argentina through this amazing school and experiences while studying with my professor, Vicky.

- Rich