In short – ‘Chale’ is an interjection commonly used in central Mexico to denote surprise, annoyance, or disappointment. Despite being an inoffensive word in modern Mexican Spanish, its origin actually derives from a rather dark part of history.
Fear not though, if you hear it (and you probably will if you visit Mexico City and its surrounding states), it’ll almost certainly be in an amicable manner.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty!
Uses / Meanings of ‘chale’ in Spanish
‘Chale’ was mostly considered ghetto slang a few decades ago, until TV programs – such as ‘El chavo del 8’ – popularized the word as a fun way to convey bewilderment and/or utter disappointment.
Several claim it to be a shortening of other interjections such as ‘chanfle’ or ‘charros’ combined with the pronoun ‘le’ (‘cha’ + ‘le’), a trademark of other Mexican interjections, such as ‘órale’ and ‘ándale’.
However, a quick search in the Dictionary of the Royal Academy of Spanish unearths a more sinister past … it turns out that the word ‘chales’ was a derogatory way to refer to Asian immigrants back in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Thankfully, it’s not used in this sense anymore and should never be used in such a way under any circumstance!
‘Chale’ can be used in the following ways –
- To express surprise, kinda like the English interjection ‘Wow!’
- To show disbelief about a particularly absurd or ludicrous situation
- To indicate annoyance (oftentimes followed by deep resignation)
To express surprise
It’s pretty common to hear someone utter ‘¡chale!’ when witnessing something unexpected or amazing –
Dos automóviles chocan de repente
Un transeúnte – ¡Chale! ¡Estuvo feo el madrazo!
Two cars crash unexpectedly
A passerby – Wow! That was a bad accident!
En el zoológico
Elena – ¡Mira ese orangután!
Karina – ¡Chale, está enorme!
At the zoo
Elena – Look at that orangutan!
Karina – Oh, wow! It’s huge!
To show disbelief
If a situation is too bizarre to be true, you can use ‘chale’ to let everyone know of your incredulity –
Roberto – ¿Ya viste que reprobaste el examen de mate?
Alejandro – ¡Chale! ¡No inventes! ¡Ahora sí estudié!
Roberto – You know you failed the math test?
Alejandro – What! No way! I actually studied this time!
Alguien muere en un videojuego
¡Chale, no! ¡Eso es trampa!
Someone gets killed in a videogame
Not fair! That’s cheating!
To indicate annoyance + resignation
In this form, ‘chale’ becomes a catharsis; an expression used to express emotion in the face of despair –
A alguien se le cae un elote
¡Chale, no! ¡Mi elote!
Someone drops their corn on the cob
Oh, no! Not my corn!
Alan – Fer rompió conmigo …
Rodrigo – Chale, wey, qué mal pedo…¿Quieres ir por una chela*?
Alan – Fer broke up with me …
Rodrigo – Oh no, bro, that’s awful … Wanna go get a beer?
*Erika’s top tip – ‘chela’ is Mexican slang for beer; definitely check out our article on all the different ways to say ‘beer’ in Spanish if you wanna know more.
‘Chale, wey / vato / morro’ meaning
You can use this one when addressing a friend (or maybe even a stranger) but in a very casual context.
Chale, wey, ¿eso te vas a poner para salir con tu novia?
Come on, dude, that’s what you’re gonna wear to go out with your girlfriend?
To pronounce ‘chale’ correctly, break it down into two syllables: ‘cha’ is said like ‘chah’ (as in ‘chalice’), and ‘le’ is said like ‘leh’.
/ chah leh /
Similar expressions to ‘chale‘
When expressing disappointment or incredulity, ‘no manches’ (literally ‘don’t stain it’) can be used as an alternative to ‘chale’.
¡No manches, Gabriel! ¡Dejaste el helado afuera del refri! ¿Cómo se te ocurre?
Come on, Gabriel! You left the ice cream out of the fridge! What were you thinking?
This one’s really useful if you’re in disbelief about someone’s behavior, actions, or attitude.
It’s like saying, ‘Really, dude?‘.
¿Neta, wey? ¿Otra vez perdiste las llaves?
Really, dude? You lost your keys again?
Erika’s note – ‘neta‘ is Mexican slang for ‘really‘ or ‘seriously‘, but it has some other ineresting uses too!
The origins of this word are definitely questionable, but thankfully the expression ‘chale’ has evolved into a rather innocent interjection.
You can give it a try next time you´re with Spanish-speaking friends, especially from Mexico City; they’ll surely appreciate your mastery of Mexican slang, and maybe even throw another ‘¡chale, wey!’ into the mix as a response.
In the meantime, why not mosey on down to our (pretty epic!) article on all the different colloquial expressions with ‘caer‘.