‘Chafa’ – Meaning / In English

Picture this: you’re in Mexico and you and your friend are dying to see your favorite band in concert. Tickets go on sale, but when you finally manage to log into the app, you discover that they’ve already sold out.

Your friend lets out a heartfelt ‘¡qué chafa!’ and you guess he’s just as disappointed as you, but you’re not quite sure what exactly chafa means …

In short – ‘chafa’ is a colloquial word – mostly used in Mexico – to refer to something of poor quality or ‘fake’, but it also has a variety of other connotations.




Uses / Meanings of ‘chafa

Chafa’ can be used in the following ways –

  • To refer to something of poor quality

  • As a synonym of ‘fake’ or ‘knock-off’

  • As a synonym of ‘cheap’

  • As a synonym of ‘bummer’


To refer to something of poor quality

As I mentioned before, this is one of the most popular meanings of ‘chafa’ in Mexican slang, and it’s thought to be related to the English word ‘chaff’ (i.e., a ‘worthless thing’).

‘Chafa’ can be used to describe (yep, it’s an adjective!) anything of bad quality or just something that doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to!

Carlos – Los celulares de ahora son muy chafas.

Nina – ¡Claro que no! ¿Por qué piensas eso?

Carlos – ¡Se rompen demasiado rápido!



Carlos – Cell phones are so rubbish nowadays.

Nina – Of course they’re not! Why do you think that?

Carlos – They break way too quickly!

Erika’s note – Mexico isn’t the only country in which people use the word ‘chafa’! In most Central America countries, it’s used to refer (in a derogatory way) to ‘a member of the army’, and in Nicaragua it’s a synonym of a ‘joke’ or ‘lie’.


As a synonym of ‘fake’ or ‘knock-off

‘Chafa’ is also used to describe a knock-off/ something fake (think those Ray-Ban sunglasses you bought in Thailand last year!).

Leo – ¿Qué onda con los precios de esas bolsas? ¿Cómo es posible que estén tan baratas?

Karen – Wey…¿qué no ves que son chafas?



Leo – What’s up with the prices of those bags? How come they’re so cheap?

Karen – Dude … can’t you see that they’re knock-offs?


Estos tenis son originales, pero parecen chafas. No vuelvo a comprar esta marca.

These sneakers are original, but they look fake. I’ll never buy this brand again.

As a synonym of ‘cheap

Similarly, ‘chafa’ is used as a synonym of ‘second-rate’, ‘trashy’ and the likes –

Solo pude conseguir los asientos más chafas. El resto estaba vendido.

I was only able to get the cheapest seats. The rest were sold out.

Ely – ¿De verdad compraste ese vestido en la paca*?

Mia – ¡Sí! Hay cosas chafas, pero también puedes encontrar ropa linda.



Ely – Did you really get that dress at the flea market?

Mia – Yup! There are tacky things, but you can also find cute stuff.

*Erika’s note –ropa de paca’ is basically second-hand gear that gets sent down to Mexico in HUGE bundles from the U.S.; it’s normally sold in dedicated ‘tianguis’ or ‘flea markets’.


As a synonym of ‘bummer

Finally, you can also use ‘chafa’ as a synonym of ‘bummer’, ‘lame’, ‘boring’, ‘dull’ and the likes.

In this sense, you’ll mostly hear it in the phrase ‘qué chafa’, which means something along the lines of ‘what a bummer’.

¡Qué chafa! ¡Cancelaron la fiesta!

What a bummer! The party got canceled!


Miriam – ¿Qué tal estuvieron tus vacaciones?

Leandro – Estuvieron súper chafas. Era temporada de huracanes y nos la vivimos encerrados en el hotel.



Miriam – How was your vacation?

Leandro – It was super lame. It was hurricane season, and we spent the whole time locked up in the hotel.


By the way, if you wanna top up on your Mexican slang, you NEED to check out our “Master Guide” … it’s everything you need to know all in one place 👇🌵🇲🇽

Erika pointing to the word "Mexican Slang Master Guide"



Chafa’ pronunciation

To pronounce ‘chafa’ just say ‘cha’ like ‘chah’ and ‘fa’ like ‘fah’!

/ chah-fah /


Similar words / expressions to ‘chafa

Chafear

‘Chafa’ is such a popular term in Mexico that it quickly evolved into a verb: ‘chafear’ (not to be confused with ‘chafar’, meaning ‘to flatten’ or ‘to smash’).

It basically means ‘to lose quality’, ‘to break down’ or ‘to stop working’

Ay, mi compu ya chafeó. La voy a tener que arreglar.

Oh, my computer has stopped working. I’m gonna have to fix it.

Pal perro

This one’s an abbreviation of ‘para el perro’, which means ‘for the dog’ in English.

Food ‘for the dog’ used to be leftovers or very low-quality meat, so this phrase is used to refer to things of very poor quality or just a generally bad situation.

Qué desperdicio de tiempo. Esa obra de teatro está pal perro.

What a waste of time. This play is truly awful.

Chambón

Just like ‘chafa’, ‘chambón’ can also be a synonym of ‘crappy’, although it’s mostly used by older generations!

Qué celular tan chambón. Lo compré hace un mes y ya no le sirve la batería.

What a crappy cell phone. I bought it a month ago and the battery’s already dead.

Erika’s note – does ‘chambón’ sounds oddly familiar? Well, it actually comes from the word ‘chamba’, a Mexican slang term meaning ‘work’ / ‘job’.


Final thoughts

The next time you think something is lousy or just a bit of a letdown, feel free to let out a sincere ‘¡qué chafa!’ and surprise your Mexican friends in the process.

Interested in learning more amazing Mexican slang? Then head on over to our article on the meaning of ‘caguama’! Spoiler: it’s not a turtle, as a quick search in the dictionary might suggest.

¡Hasta pronto!

Rupert's lived in Mexico for nearly a decade and has been working as a Spanish teacher for even longer (over 10 years now, wow!). He specializes in simple (yet effective) explanations and is a veritable grammar-whizz.

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