Apodos en Paradise

Andy Pruter

Andy is the owner operator of the tour outfitter Everyday Adventures.  You may reach him at


I’ve always thought Ticos had an amazing talent for twisting Spanish into phrases hewn from both wit and humor.  Nicknames too!  They have the best nicknames.  Like Gato or Gata, or Gatilla.  It’ll drive you up a wall trying to figure out why so many folks carry that nickname prefix to their regular names, like Puerto He-Mayonnaise’s own Gato Williams.  Turns out it’s not for their feline qualities but for having blue or green or otherwise light-colored eyes.  Another popular device for nicknames revolves around the slang word for leg, pataPierna is leg.  Pata is an animal’s leg.  So there is Pata de Lora (walks like a parrot; bow-legged), Pata de Oso (predator) Pata de Palo (one-legged man, peg-leg) Pata de Conejo (horn-dog), Pata de Sapo (it’s complicated) and for that matter a crowbar for some reason is called a pata de chancho.

It’s here that my article should include a precious gem of an example of what I speak, but after 23 years of living on the Osa, my Spanish is so embarrassingly poor I am ashamed to try.  I imagine they have a nickname for linguistic vacuums like me, but my Spanish is so bad, I wouldn’t know it (Editor’s Note:  that would be Tataretas, Loco Andy).  Which brings me to my own first nickname . . . Yigüirro.

Cutting my chops on the hardscrabble streets of Porto Hell Menace in the early nineties, I did my best to be a positive influence within the community and upon its impressionable youth (at least during the day, as I often went off the rails as night fell).  Fresh out of the US Forest Service, I used my background in wildlife biology to volunteer at the Escuela across from the plaza showing students skulls, bones and feathers and explaining the nuances of tropical biology and conservation.  Well, one of my drinking buddies was Luis Arias, the jefe of the Carate colectivo.  We’d drink pedo de chancho (mountain guaro) behind closed doors of the old Mini Tigre or rum and cokes next door at the Carolina when IT was the epicenter of PJ (no slight to the fabled Crow’s Nest).  When Luis began calling me Yigüirro I was honored to be nicknamed for CR’s national bird (the Clay-Colored Thrush, Turdus grayi) and rainy season harbinger and began strutting around PJ like a cock o’ the rock, clueless over the snickering and head shaking.  Years later, after he couldn’t take my naïveté any longer, another friend informed me I was being called gay.  Apparently, butterflies and birds (national symbol or not), associate you with preferring men. I’m not sure why bats and insects are excluded. Gay women are named after a particular baked good but that’s another story.  I immediately began calling Luis Cuyeo, the Tico name for the Common Pauraque (Caprimulgus albicollis Gmelin) however with little effect.  I am the yigüirro to a select few of the old crowd and my predilection to women won’t change that.

Another nickname of mine I still hear shouted out at festivals and bull fights is, Matamono, not to be confused with local notable characters Matagato and Matapeón.  Those who know me are aware of my conviction towards the well-being of wildlife.  I might capture and display snakes at my home but never for longer than a month and certainly shorter if I don’t have their required food available.  So, the uninitiated take umbrage at my “monkey killer” moniker.  Here’s the story.   Returning from a tour and driving passed the old Melina plantations by Sombrero, we spotted a Capuchin running across the road in front of us.  Odd, I thought.  And it did so with an unusually clumsy gait.  So, we stopped the car. I got out and found said monkey in a very sad state of decline.  Labored breathing, open sores, torn lips, bad dentition . . . this little dude was messed up badly!  Looking for something to end the suffering became easier when a truck belonging to Osa Agg stopped to see what the fuss was about.  Surely these gold miners would be in possession of a firearm, right?  Surprisingly, everyone left their guns at home worrying Obama would take them away.  However, the tell-tale “schwing” of a machete coming out of its scabbard gave me hope.  Yes indeed, a bona fide 36″ Wilkinson-edged blade was handed to me in order to dispatch our unfortunate phylogenetic cousin.  Not one to shy away from an audience, I said some light-hearted prayers for the dying, licked my thumb and drew it along the length of the blade, took aim at its parasite-infested neck and whacked its head off.  For me, it was an act of compassion but to the crew of oreros it was the day I became Matamono.


Other nations tend to have pseudonyms based on a deviation of the original name or thing.  Aussies are great at this and I often stop my good mate, Moyk (I’ll get to that), in the middle of a story to clarify what the hell it was he just said.  In fact, years back, I hosted a “What the Fuck is Moyk Saying?” party at Martina’s bar using vernacular such as “eskie,” “musos” and “seppos.”  Eskie is an ice chest because they are cold, like the cold-dwelling Eskimo people that lend it the name.  Muso is short for musician (pretty straight forward).  Seppos is my favorite and is what gringos are called down under. Because Yanks rhymes with tanks.  And, apparently, Australia has septic tanks.  Well, in order to give the nation responsible for Donald Trump a little dig, we Americans became Seppos, or septic tanks.  Now, I realize this nickname has nothing to do with DT and was probably given to us when fighting side by side in WWll so don’t get all bent if you’re a Donald supporter.

So, Mike became Moyk because when he was introducing himself to the management at Lapa Rios years back, this is what they heard. “El gusto es mío. Mi nombre es Moyk.”  The stunned look on the faces repeating, “Moyk?” cracked me up so from that point on, all I ever called him was Moyk.  Which works because there might be other Mikes around, but we never confuse them.  His wife and daughter call him Moyk. He’s Moyk.

Ticos prefer to create nicknames based on the ridiculously rich flora and fauna in which they live.  So when my friend, Thornton (aka Thorny) came to visit, I set out explaining what thorny means in English using examples from rose bushes to citrus trees.  But when walking through PJ one day in the midst of describing Thorny’s nickname, I spied a pejibaye palm tree and used it as an example.  My Tico bro couldn’t care less if he was named Spike, Prick or Ouch because from that instant on he became, Pejibaye.  He’s been off the radar over 15 years now but I bet if he magically appeared on the main drag downtown, there would be shouts of “Pejibayeeeee.”

One of the classics is Perejil.  Parsley . . .  Years ago when my wife, Terry, used to walk the hill behind our place with her friend, Katie, they would stop in at Katie’s place of employ, Lapa Rios, for a glass of water and a chat.  Now, I don’t know if this guy, Perejil, was on staff when Moyk got his nickname, but finally the girls had to ask why he was referred to as such.  One of the women working there described the unfortunate lad like a sprig of parsley you push to the side of your plate so you can focus on the main course.  Harsh?  Perhaps.  But poetic nevertheless in its resolute clarity.

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