In which we talk about the prison that is Canada.
Every country has its stereotypes. Italians gesticulate in punctuated motions, the French crinkle their noses at unappealing food, Brazilians are down for a party at any time. Americans? Well, we all know what we’re guilty of.
But what about the Canadians? They have that cute-as-a-button tag question, “eh?” They have a few culinary treats, like timbits (thought I understand these are coming to NY somewhere, if they’re not already there), beaver tails instead of fried dough, nanaimo bars, poutine. These things we all know.
What you might not know is what Canada means in coa, or Chilean jail slang, Canada is slang for the bighouse. Voy pa’ Canadá, is code for “a la cana” where cana is slang for jail. I’ve just consulted my very knowledgeable friend RAE, (who you can talk to, too, here), and have found out that it’s not just Chile, it’s also said in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay.
That’s a whole lot of people headed to Canada. Which is funny, because you’d think that if they were getting sent “down the river” they’d be heading to the south, not up north. Of course, cana as jail has nothing to to with Canada and its (yay) mostly liberal sentencing policies. Cana has morphed into its closest word, just missing canal and canary by a few letters. Whew.
Cana also means lots of other things, like the sparkly white hairs that sprout out of a previously dark head of hair, something we don’t see much of here in Chile, where most people either don’t go grey or put a weird reddish rinse in their hair that shimmers in the sunlight. Of which we still have precious little, as we’re on the cusp of spring, but not quite there yet.
Which reminds me, we survived August! This is a big thing in Chile, to say that you’ve survived August. So maybe you could do a little dance or something, to celebrate. Of course, we also use the expression “mas seco que el mes de septiembre” (drier than the month of September), and it’s looking like rain. So like everything I say, take that with a grain of salt. Which you should not put in your tea, no matter how much it looks like sugar. Not that I know anyone who’s ever done that.
nterestingly, during the military dictatorship in Chile, many coa terms (many borrowed from Argentine lunfardo) made their way into popular usage. People likely to end up in jail (just about anyone) were coached by those who had already been inside (and made it out again) in coa so that they would appear to be more experienced jailbirds and not so easily tagged as potential victims of all the nasty things which go on in jails. So the vocabulary went back and forth from jail to street and into popular usage.
You can also 'tirar una canita al aire' (have a fling) which, despite all my canas, I seldom do!