‘Chale’ – A Deep Dive into Mexican Slang

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 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 a chilled, friendly sense.

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty!

Full explanation + examples galore

‘Chale’ was mostly considered ghetto slang a few decades ago, until TV programs – such as ‘El chavo del 8’ – popularized it 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!

 Anyway, ‘chale’ can be used in the following ways –

  • To express surprise OR disbelief, kinda like the English interjection ‘Wow!’

  • To indicate annoyance (oftentimes followed by deep resignation)

To express surprise OR disbelief

It’s pretty common to hear someone blurt out ‘¡chale!’ when faced with something shocking, unexpected, or downright astonishing!

A man saying "¡Chale! ¡Estuvo feo el madrazo!" and two totalled cars behind him

Dos automóviles chocan de repente

Un transeúnte – ¡Chale! ¡Estuvo feo el madrazo!

Two cars crash unexpectedly

A passerby – Wow! That was a bad accident!

Alguien muere en un videojuego

¡Chale, no! ¡Eso es trampa!

Someone gets killed in a videogame

Not fair! That’s cheating!

A man playing video games and saying "¡Chale, no! ¡Eso es trampa!"

To indicate annoyance + resignation

In this form, ‘chale’ becomes a catharsis; an expression used to express emotion in the face of despair!

It’s used a bit like the English ‘darn‘ or ‘damn‘!

A woman who's dropped her corn on the cob; she's saying "¡Chale, no! ¡Mi elote!"

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?

Rupert’s pro tip – ‘WEY, means ‘dude‘ or ‘bro‘ in Mexican Spanish so don’t be surprised if you hear it being tacked on to the end of ‘chale‘.

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"

How to say it properly!

To pronounce ‘chale’ correctly, it’s easiest to break it down into two syllables: ‘cha’ is said like ‘chah’ (as in ‘chalice’), and ‘le’ is said like ‘leh’.

/ chah leh /

Similar words/phrases (yippee!)

No manches

When expressing disappointment or incredulity, ‘NO MANCHES’ (literally ‘don’t stain it’) can be used as an alternative to ‘chale’.

A KO'd wrestler saying "no manches"

¡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?

¿Neta, wey?

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?

Rupert’s pro tip – ‘NETA’ is an EXTREMELY popular Mexican slang word for ‘really‘ or ‘seriously‘, but it has some other interesting uses too!

Before you go …

Before you head off back to the realm of Google (or Bing for literally about 0.5% of you!), why not check out some more Mexican slang 😉

Personally, I’d recommend our ARTICLE ON ‘NO MANCHES’ … in fact, I’d probably say that it’s even more popular than ‘chale‘!

¡Nos vemos!

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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