13 Quechua Words You Probably Already Know!

The Dora the Explorer live action movie is almost here

Photo: Unsplash/@gagan_1

Photo: Unsplash/@gagan_1

The Dora the Explorer live action movie is almost here. Dora and the Lost City of Gold, starring our favorite Latinx adventurer, is set to be released on July 31. We recently learned that in the film, Dora speaks some Quechua, so we wanted to celebrate by sharing some words from the widely spoken indigenous language in South America.

Believe it or not, you probably know more Quechua than you think. There are a few Spanish words that we speak that are either direct Quechua words or have been changed a bit from the language, usually in terms of spelling. Even some words in English are Quechua words. Unfortunately, we aren’t taught the origins and the culture(s) behind them. But that’s part of the work we do here at HipLatina —highlight the indigenous, give them the credit they deserve, and share this important part of Latinx culture and identity. We know you are curious to know what indigenous words you already know, so let’s get started!


We’ve all heard of the word “poncho.” It’s a thick blanket-like woolen fabric, with a hole where the head goes through. Originating in the Andean region of what is now Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile, the garment is meant to keep the wearer warm. The word is linked to the Quechua punchu, and the Chilean Mapuche or Mapudungun/Araucanian pontro and/or ponthro, meaning “woolen,” or “woolen fabric.”


Beef jerky doesn’t seem like something connected to Latinx culture and history, but it is. The word jerky actually comes from the Quechua ch’arki/charki/charqui, which means “dried meat or flesh,” and/or “sun and/or air-dried strips of meat.”


You know llamas as those adorable South American domesticated animals who make photobomb photos at Machu Picchu. You can also see them in other parts of their native countries — Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Ecuador. It is no surprise, then, that the name of the llama comes from Quechua. The vicuña/vicuna is another similar animal whose name is a Quechua word; this word is also used in English and Spanish to describe it.


Cura means “priest” or “cure” in Spanish. The word comes from the Quechua word kuraq or kuraka, meaning “superior,” or “principal,” used to describe the leader of a community. They had religious authority and were the mediators between the spiritual world and the human one. So, it makes sense that the Quechua gave this name to priests who work in the same capacity.



A carpa is a tent. The word, part of the Spanish language, originated from the Quechua language. In Quechua, the word is written as karpa.


If you speak Spanish and have eaten potatoes, you’ve probably said the word “papa” an endless number of times. But did you know the word is Quechua? It makes sense, once you learn that potatoes were first cultivated in Peru and a part of Bolivia up to 10,000 years ago.


The animal known as a puma, is also called a mountain lion, cougar, jaguar, or panther. Puma came from the Quechua word, which means “the fur or pelt of a cougar.”


We mentioned how llama and vicuna are words used in Quechua, Spanish, and English to describe specific camelids native to South America. But there is also the alpaca; the word for this creature is Quechua in origin as well.


The next indigenous word you may already know, and say, is “choclo.” The Quechua term is used to describe large-kernel corn, also called Cuzco corn or Peruvian corn (in Spanish, it can also be used to describe corn in general). The original, Quechua spelling is choccllo or choklo; the literal translation is “fresh maize,” and/or “tender corn.”


In Spanish, a “cancha” is a court or field on which sports such as soccer are played. The word came from the indigenous Quechua language, and is used in Spanish all the time in the sports world, and in everyday life. “Cancha” is also used to describe toasted corn in Peru.


Some of you might think of the 1990s Jim Carrey movie Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls when seeing or hearing the word “guano.” The word is actually from Quechua — wanu — and means “sea bird droppings.” These droppings are commonly used as fertilizer.



Two words that rhyme comes from the Quechua language, and are a part of Spanish. The first is gaucho, which describes the skilled horsemen, or cowboys of Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. The second is caucho, which means “rubber,” or “rubber tree.”


The song “El Condor Pasa” is considered to be Peru’s second national anthem. The word “condor,” as you may know, describes birds (specifically, types of vultures), and is a term used in both Spanish and English. But did you know it comes from the Quechua word “kuntur?”

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American Indian indigenous language Quechua Quechua words Quechua words in Spanish south america
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