Pop culture and language: a never ending relationship

I had to work last Sunday and then continue working this week (as I took the day off after my birthday), so I have been constantly tired and wanting to go home. As I would say in Chile:

Tengo el síndrome Yuma (I have the Yuma syndrome)

Anyone who is outside Chile might not understand this and would ask me What is Yuma syndrome? Is it a bad thing? Can you transmit it? No, it is not an actual syndrome. It is just another expression to say “I want to go home” and it was coined after a popular early 90’s Brazilian telenovela aired in Chile. When Democracy came back, the strict censorship in Chile became more lenient and we managed to see more freedom on our tv screens, included more adult-themed telenovelas, like Pantanal. This was a telenovela about a woman (Yuma Marrua) raised as a feral child and who is thought to become a pantera at night. She lived in the Pantanal region of Southwest Brazil and quickly gets in conflict (and falls in love) with the local farm owner’s family son. Thing is, in the Spanish dubbing, Yuma would often say “Me quiero ir pa’ mi caaaasa” (I wanna go hooome). The phrase became popular in Chile and you would often hear her expression or hear that your colleague or friend “is feeling like Yuma”.

Pop culture does shape language and give us a plethora of expressions that people will never forget and foreigners would feel it is a good instance to learn about the culture and cultural references of the new environment and have a laugh or two. Again, in Chile, there is another expression coined after a telenovela, and this time Chilean. In 1995, there was a telenovela called Sucupira, set in a lost beach resort in Central Chile. One of the inhabitants was the local chemist who loved his wife, Olguita Marina. However, she felt trapped in that village and quite disappointed with her marriage. So, she would often pass out and about to faint, so she had to go “away” to catch some air… thing is, she left her home for days, weeks or months to party and have all the fun she could never had with her husband. So, if you are really disappointed at your current life and wanting to party wild, let your hair loose and have fun, you might be having the “Olguita Marina syndrome“. In fact, on many Facebook pages women demand for that syndrome to be covered by the national healthcare act 😉 .

There are also good examples in other cultures and languages (Thanks Polyglots group from Facebook!)

In the US (and many countries around the world), MacGyver was a popular pop culture reference due to being an adventurous man who always came up with solutions with what he had in hand… no wonder you can say in English, “oh, he MacGyver’ed a solution”. (thanks Richard). In Russia and former USSR countries, one of the most popular birthday greetings comes from the local version of Winnie the Pooh (Винни-Пух) which goes like this (thanks Tatyana):

Also, the Spanish speaking world have really interesting references. Many people say you weren’t raised speaking Spanish at home if you don’t know Chespirito and his character “El Chavo del Ocho”. He was a Mexican humorist that had a popular TV show about a working class neighbourhood in Mexico City and the leading character was “El Chavo” (The Kid in Mexican Spanish), an orphan who would often get in trouble by being naïf and silly, but he was always loved by his neighbourhood. Thanks to him, many expressions were coined and that are popular in the Spanish speaking world (thanks Hugo):

“Fue sin querer queriendo” (It wasn’t my fault)

“Tengo más hambre que el Chavo” (I’m more hungry than Chavo -since he loved to eat-)

In Spain, if you are often daydreaming or you are unrealistically optimist, you are said to live in the worlds of Yupi (estar en los mundos de Yupi), thanks to a local late-80’s show about an orange muppet who lived in a small town and was always positive about everything. In Chile, we use a similar expression, but with the brands of two sodas (Bilz y Pap) who often feature two aliens living in today’s world (Thanks Abel).

All of those expressions can spark a chuckle and deep respect from the locals, since you know well their pop culture and you are acquainted with it. Of course, I cannot finish this post with my favourite pop culture expression that was coined after a fight between an Argentinean and a Chilean reality show contestants, who after one of them found out her boyfriend cheated on her with the other, slaps her and the Argentinean contest replies by saying this “insult” (O’Higgins and San Martín would have been proud of this moment of Argentinean-Chilean unity)

¡Gorda lechona, andá a comerte los postres, gorda! (Fat pig, go eat the desserts, fatty!)

What first started as an insult, now it’s an expression to use when you are eating too much or when you eat something delicious yet that makes you fat. Don’t feel bad when your friends call you “Gordo lechón”, then, because most often, they do call themselves like that, too!

Have you got more similar expressiones coined after pop culture? Share them in the comments 😀



  1. I seriously love this post. I love how language and culture interact. The examples you’ve included are pretty awesome too!

  2. I’m so intrigued by the connection between language and pop culture. It is a never-ending relationship indeed! A beautiful and fascinating one.

    “Estar en los mundos de Yupi” is my new favourite expression! 🙂

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