Muchos toquis, pocos indios

12 September 2008
8:29 PM

While I was working in a meals-on-wheels kitchen in Santiago, one of my compatriots Ramón took to teaching me every expression in the Chilean dictionary. Pretty much every day I’d be stirring a pot, Ramón would explain to me what it meant to derretir los helados (for example), and one of the half-dozen women around would shout at him, “Oye Ramón, behave yourself—he doesn’t need to know those things!” It happened like clockwork.

Probably the phrase we used most often, however, was “muchos toquis, pocos indios.” Toqui entered Spanish from the Mapuche language. The Mapuche were people indigenous to south and central Chile, and it refers to the chief or head of a group. Here indios best means tribesmen or workers. When we combine the elements, the saying is “too many chiefs, not enough workers,” a riff on too many cooks spoil the broth.

I was delighted the other day when my mom showed me a Chilean wine she found in Costco (of all places) called El Toqui. The symbol matches the meaning of the word I just described:

Bottle of El Toqui Carmenere wine

This El Toqui wine might introduce some confusion into the phrase, though: now having too much toqui could mean something completely different….

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