Got a Mexican amigo? Sat through a spicy Mexican movie? No matter what your interaction with Mexico was, it’s nearly impossible that you never ran past one of these “-le” words. They use them, especially órale, like punctuation in Mexican street speech, and for a mighty good reason. Don’t dismiss them as slang or vernacular. No, these are legitimate Spanish words that just happen to be done to a cliché in Mexico. Master these and you take a giant leap toward sounding like a Chicano. Okay, hyperbole aside, these are super-fun words to learn and can come in quite handy in a casual conversation. Let’s explore them one at a time.
Órale, the Illegitimate Child of Ahora
That’s right, the word derives from ahora. At least that’s what the Mexican Language Academy argues. The story is that ahora (now), with time and for reasons unknown, lost its initial “-a” and got slapped with a “-le” to become órale. The “-le” in this case might look like a pronoun but it isn’t. Actually, it’s nothing – just sitting there with no purpose whatsoever. Why? Like I said, I don’t know, nor should it matter. Other than Mexico, you’ll also frequently hear órale in the streets of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. That makes it all the more useful, doesn’t it?
Órale as an Interjection
Órale is a surprisingly versatile word and has a whole range of meanings driven by context. Long story short, the word is an interjection or expression of surprise. That’s one of its most common uses. It’s like wow or oh my god. Shocked, surprised, startled – órale covers them all.
Won a lottery? ¡Órale! Caught a rare Pokémon®? ¡Órale! Got a text saying your girlfriend dumped you for your boss? ¡Órale! Órale just works. All you need is an element of surprise. Or shock. Feel free to use the word with carefree abandon and I promise nobody will crucify you. Of course, there’s a bit of nuance to it but that’s the kind of stuff you learn on the street, not in a book.
Órale for Some Action
Another very common usage is to exhort some action, like let’s go, hurry up, or come on. Going out this evening but your novia taking forever to gussy up? ¡Órale! Got a huge bag of lethargy for a friend and you must drag him out of bed for a weekend trip? ¡Órale! The word is your friend whenever you must pump in some fresh adrenaline into someone reluctant to move.
Isn’t this the Swiss Army knife of Mexican Spanish? One word and already so many applications! If you ask me, it’s already a good return on investment. But we’re not done yet.
Órale When You Must Nod
Another use of this word is as an expression of affirmation or agreement – think situations involving fine, okay, alright, etc. Check out Amores Perros, a staple for Mexican Cinema aficionados, and notice how Jarocho uses the word in this context all the time.
So go ahead, make órale your go-to yes-word for any occasion that warrants one. In fact, you wouldn’t go wrong if you even used it synonymously with sí, but I wouldn’t go overboard. Remember, nuance.
Greet with an Órale
Itching for more? You can also use órale as a standalone greeting, much like what’s up in English! So next time your Mexican amigo says “¿órale vato?”, read it as “what’s up man?” The vato in this expression is the northern Mexican slang for man. The famous Mexican-American funny-man, Gabriel Iglesias, loves to assert his Mexican roots by frequently using órale during his performances. And for the voyeurs among you, there’s Óoorale!, the raunchy gossip-cum-porn magazine sold all over Mexico for twelve pesitos.
Now Round It All up in Your Head
The easiest way to remember this word in all its contexts would be to remember whoa, the coverall term for everything órale stands for. So basically, whatever you can do with whoa in English you can do with órale in Spanish. Let some examples drive home this word for you:
- ¡Órale güey! (What’s up, dude?)
- Órale, nos vemos a las nueve (Fine, let’s meet up at nine).
- ¡Órale que no tenemos todo el día! (Hurry up, we don’t have all day!)
- ¡Órale, es un cuerpo! (Whoa, she’s hot!)
- ¡Órale, órale! Déjala en paz, panzón! (Whoa, whoa! Leave her alone, you fatso!)
- Órale pues (Yeah right / alright then). This one can have sarcastic undertones depending on the mood, something like yeah whatever.
To help memory if you’re into wrestling (I’m not), think of Konnan (also went by names like Conan the Barbarian, El Centurión, K-Dogg, and even Mexican Hulk Hogan), the famous Cuban wrestler from the days of nWo (New World Order). If you were into him, you’d remember how he repeatedly chanted órale to rile up his audience at every fight.
Arriba, Arriba! Ándale, Ándale!
Sounds familiar? If so, go get yourself a cookie because Speedy Gonzales loves you too. If not, go look up this guy. He’s Mexico’s very own Tom, as in the Tom-and-Jerry Tom. While the rest of the world has Tom and Jerry, Mexico has Speedy (the fastest mouse in Mexico) and Sylvester (his tuxedo buddy). Yes, we’re talking Looney Tunes! If the show has taught us one thing, it’s this word. Ándale features as the most prominent cheer throughout the show as the lesser mice cry their lungs out to pump up Speedy during one of his chase sequences. This cheer literally defines the show – to the extent that Speedy Gonzales has come to be associated with ándale throughout Mexico.
Ándale as the Lesser Órale
Just as órale, ándale can pull a wide range of interpretations, perhaps more so that the former. You can use the word to express encouragement (as they do with Speedy), disappointment, surprise, agreement, and everything in between. Suffice it to say that you can plug in ándale almost everywhere you can órale. In fact, when you wanna say “hurry up,” ándale serves you a tad better than órale. On the other hand, surprises tend to do better with órale than with ándale.
When with pues, the usage is more or less similar to that of órale. Both ándale pues and órale pues can be interpreted as well then, and often come toward the end of a conversation to signify a mutual agreement. Ándale pues can also signify a stronger affirmation than órale pues. How much stronger? Only personal experience can tell. This would be like saying, “I totally agree,” in English.
Ándale pues can also be used as “I told you so.” It’s like your mom kept asking you to study but you wouldn’t listen; so the next day you come home all grumpy after flunking that test at school and your mom welcomes you with a “See what happened? Told you so!” Ideally, if she were speaking Spanish, she’d go, “¿Ves? ¡Te lo dije!” But if she were Mexican, she’d rather “¡Ándale! ¡Te lo dije!”
Check out some examples:
- Ándale, vamos al cine (Alright, let’s go to the movies).
- ¡Ándale, necesitamos irnos! (Hurry up! We have to leave!)
- ¡Ándale, no eres gorda! (C’mon, you’re not fat!)
Híjole, Éjele, Újule – The List Is Long
Mexicans are a creative bunch, especially when it comes to slanging up their Spanish. Just when you thought ándale and órale were enough to get you into the Chilangolandía inner-circle, here comes a whole family of off-the-grid “-le” words you won’t even find in a standard Spanish dictionary. The emotions and nuances these words convey are hard to convey using standard words as prescribed by the purists – or at least painfully bland, if not hard. Let’s see how many of those we can figure out today.
Híjole, Éjele, and Újule
- híjole: The closest equivalent in English would be jeez or yikes. Or damn. Or shit. Or wow. Depending on the tone, mood, and context. The word expresses everything from surprise to frustration and from shock to desperation. To be safe, just use it for yikes and damn and you’re gold.
- éjele: This one’s like when you catch someone with their pants down. Yeah, if you need a word to express the exact emotion when you catch someone in the middle of a very embarrassing act and a whoa just isn’t enough, this is the word you need. Gotta commend the specificity of some words!
- újule: This one doesn’t sound peppy and that’s because it isn’t. You use újule as an expression of dismay or disappointment and generally introduces a bad news. Think of it as a sad ohhh.
A Few Other Wackier Ones
- épale: This one loosely maps to damn or wow in English. This way the word doesn’t seem much different from its other cousins we just met above. But unlike híjole, épale can also serve as an imperative and when it does, it translates into stop, in the sense of forbidding someone from doing something.
- école: Does it faintly sound like exactly to you? If it does, you’ll easily remember the word because école does indeed mean exactly when used as an expression of vehement agreement. Think of course or totally and you’re thinking école.
- quihúbole: Qué hubo is an extremely common Mexican greeting among friends and it often pairs with compadre or carnal depending on how close you are to your friend. Literally, this means what’s up or what’s going on. This is the question they often render as quihúbole in very informal settings. What a lazy bunch.
- úchale: Úchale is újule on steroids. While újule expresses disappointment, úchale goes a step further and expresses disgust and pronounced displeasure as well. How’s that for variety?
So you see, occasion notwithstanding, there’s almost always a “-le” word lying around – as if made right for the moment! Mexico wouldn’t sound the same without them. That being said, one must note that most of these words only enjoy currency in the deep boonies of Mexico and would sound quite funny elsewhere the exceptions, of course, being híjole, ándale, and órale.