chi·​cha ˈchē-chə How to pronounce chicha (audio)
variants or chica
plural chichas or chicas
: a South American and Central American beer made chiefly from fermented corn (see corn entry 1 sense 4b)

Examples of chicha in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web After a number of gourds of chicha and spoonfuls of coca, some of the men would begin to play carrizo flutes. Andrew Weil, Harper's Magazine, 13 Dec. 2023 In Chile, the traditional Latin American beverage chicha is usually fermented, alcoholic, and undistilled, made from fruit, corn, grain, or some combination of the three. Hannah Goldfield, The New Yorker, 20 May 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'chicha.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from American Spanish, of uncertain origin

Note: The earliest documentation of the word chicha is in De la natural hystoria de las Indias (Toledo, 1526) by the Spanish colonist and historiographer Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés (1478-1557; the book is also known from the verso subtitle as Sumario de la natural y general istoria de las Indias). Oviedo gives an account of the drink and its production while describing the Indigenous inhabitants of the province of Castilla del Oro, extending from the Rio Belém in present-day Panama to the Gulf of Urabá in Colombia. The language of the inhabitants Oviedo calls "la lengua de Cueva" and their domain, subdivided into many chiefdoms, "la provincia de Cueva." His account would lead one to assume that chicha is a word in this language. This cannot be confirmed, because these people, "los de la lengua de Cueva," were effectively wiped out by violence, enslavement and disease in the first half-century of conquest. The linguistic affinity of Cueva is uncertain, but it is not closely related to adjacent Chibchan languages. In a region of tropical forest that had little appeal to the colonizers, the Cueva were replaced by the Kuna (also Guna, earlier Cuna), an Indigenous people speaking a Chibchan language who immigrated from Colombia under pressure from peoples further east and south. Meanwhile the word chicha diffused widely throughout Central and South America as a Spanish name for homemade beverages, usually alcoholic and with corn as a base. Early attempts to etymologize it (as in G. Friederici's Amerikanistisches Wörterbuch and the Spanish etymological dictionary of Juan Corominas) have mistakenly assumed that Cueva and Kuna were the same language, or even that the Kuna were descendants of the Cueva. What has further confused the matter are the reports of Lionel Wafer, a British surgeon and buccaneer who lived among the Kuna in 1681 after being left behind by the crew of his ship because of an injury. Wafer acquired some knowledge of Kuna, though he admitted that "I took no care to retain any of the Indians Language," and remembered only "some few Words" (A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America [London, 1699], p. 187). In his book he refers to a mixture of corn flour and water as chicha, "which I think signifies Maiz" (p. 153); he continues: "They make a Drink also of their Maiz, which they call Chichah Co-pah; for Co-pah signifies Drink." Though "Co-pah" can be understood as the contemporary Kuna verb gobe, the Kuna word for the fermented maize drink known as chicha in Spanish is illa. If the word chicha was actually used by Wafer's Kuna interlocutors, it may have been acquired from Spanish; it is notable that the first Kuna man to aid Wafer and his compatriots had been a prisoner of the Spaniards as a child and had learned some Spanish, by means of which he communicated to Wafer. If such a scenario is not possible, Wafer's record of the word remains a puzzle.

First Known Use

1581, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of chicha was in 1581

Dictionary Entries Near chicha

Cite this Entry

“Chicha.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Feb. 2024.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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