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I'm having trouble translating the expression pechofrío (pecho frío, ‘cold chest’) from Spanish—specially Argentinian Spanish, I don't know if it's used in other countries. It means:

s. masc. Persona sin sangre, que no muestra interés, brío ni entusiasmo en las situaciones en las que se requiere. Proviene de pecho + frío, por la idea de que esas personas no tienen el ardor en el pecho propio del entusiasmo. Ej.: Muchos tachan a Messi de pechofrío.

n. masc. A person ‘without blood’ who doesn't show any interest, brio or enthusiasm in situations where they are required. The word comes from ‘cold’ + ‘chest’ due to the belief that these individuals don't feel any ardor on their chest characteristic of enthusiasm. E.g.: A lot of people brand Messi as a ‘coldchest’?

The expression was used mainly in football contexts, but nowadays, people tend to use it in every informal situation—for someone who performs poorly in any kind of activity because can't engage enough.

I only found fainthearted (and could also consider coward depending on the context); but as I looked some examples I found these kind of terms are rather formal. Is this true? I'm looking for an idiomatic or slang expression that would suit in a (very) informal situation. With this sense, if I'm angry because a fellow are just not putting all the effort they should then I would say in Spanish: ‘¡No seas pechofrío!’. But if for example I complained ‘Don't be a fainthearted!’, would this sound too prude? Would my listener laugh and not take me seriously, thinking that I'm not ‘streetwise’? Is there some good idiomatic expression or word I could say in these kind of situations? What do you think about it?

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  • 3
    Cold fish? . . .
    – Xanne
    Sep 23, 2023 at 3:05
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    'Get in the game!' is what you say when someone is not in it to win it (or not in the zone). You got ta move it, move it. Hustle! Hustle! Step it up! (There's a lot of yelling.) Basically, their 'heart's not in it' and they're 'phoning it in.' Bjorn Borg was The Ice Man, but it worked for him. Too many options… Sep 23, 2023 at 9:24
  • 4
    I understand pechofrio as describing someone who doesn't show emotional engagement, not a coward. There is nothing in the definition you provided to suggest a lack of courage, is that really part of the meaning you are looking for?
    – terdon
    Sep 23, 2023 at 10:12
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    “His heart’s not in it.”
    – Davislor
    Sep 23, 2023 at 16:48
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    Just to reiterate some of the comments, because I don't think it has penetrated: from the definition you've provided, "fainthearted", "gutless", "coward(ly)" and their ilk are entirely on the wrong planet. They all imply "a failure to act caused by fear", which is not at all what pechofrío means, as far as I can tell.
    – Marthaª
    Sep 25, 2023 at 18:14

15 Answers 15

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If you want a slang expression for someone that is not putting in the required effort, or showing very little interest, I would say a good one is "half-ass." Please note this is considered vulgar in professional settings.

From Merriam-Webster's Dictionary:

slang, often vulgar: to do (something) poorly due to lack of care or effort

In moments where you see your son half-assing something, it's important to call him out to ensure he's putting forth his best effort. —Chris Illuminati

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    And we have a winner! This is perfect beacuse it can be used as a verb, too. We also can say ‘pecho frío’ or ‘pecheARLA’ which is the correspondent verb. Hope one day the dictionaries add these entries as new words. And that's all for now, guys. Soon I will come back with another (original) word for translation
    – tac
    Sep 27, 2023 at 2:31
  • Glad I was able to help!
    – DanM87
    Sep 28, 2023 at 0:26
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The expression in your Spanish definition, "persona sin sangre" also exists in English as "bloodless"

bloodless adj.

  1. Deficient in or lacking blood.

  2. Pale and anemic in color: smiled with bloodless lips.

  3. Achieved without bloodshed: a bloodless coup.

  4. Lacking vivacity or spirit: a long, bloodless speech.

  5. Devoid of human emotion or feeling: charts of bloodless economic indicators.

I think this corresponds closely to the Spanish usage.

Another possibility would be the more clinical synonym, "anemic"

Lacking vitality; listless and weak: an anemic attempt to hit the baseball; an anemic economic recovery.

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    +1. Now that I know the comment about Messi was made when he was blamed for losing the Copa América twice. I think your answer is the right one.
    – TimR
    Sep 23, 2023 at 22:15
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    While these words are very near the Spanish term in both meaning and the metaphor they use to get there, I think this answer would be much improved if it noted that bloodless and anemic are both at least a bit on the uncommon side, somewhat higher register, and almost always describe an action or event rather than a person. The quoted use in the question suggests to me that pechofrío is more common and slangy, and (I think?) the description is applied to a person rather than any action he undertook or his overall performance in one event. (Though I might be mistaken about the last.)
    – KRyan
    Sep 26, 2023 at 1:57
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Maybe "apathetic" or "detached" or "half-hearted".

M-W apathetic
affected by, characterized by, or displaying apathy : having or showing little or no interest, concern, or emotion

M-W half-hearted
lacking heart, spirit, or interest

Your own suggestion, "fainthearted", suggests a persistent condition of the person it's applied to, and it could be considered insulting.

"Half-hearted" would characterize a person's present state.

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  • Useful, but do this kind of terms are used as slangs or as informal words?
    – tac
    Sep 23, 2023 at 18:38
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    @tac – No: apathetic, detached, and half-hearted are all quite formal.
    – Vectornaut
    Sep 24, 2023 at 1:07
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Variants of "has no heart for/in it" would capture the sense of this better than existing answers IMO; e.g. "Messi is a great technician, but does not have his heart in the game"

This is not exactly what I'd call 'slangy', but fairly informal I think; the idiom is certainly well established:

"It is senseless to pay to educate a fool, since he has no heart for learning." -- Proverbs 17:16

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  • This is perhaps more common with the heart as the grammatical subject: “Messi is a great technician, but his heart isn’t in the game,” or often just “…his heart isn’t in it.” (Here it doesn’t need a specific previously mentioned referent.)
    – PLL
    Sep 26, 2023 at 9:53
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Another option is going through the motions. Normally it is used for a particular person doing a particular thing, eg Merriam Webster gives

"to do something without making much effort to do it well", eg

He claimed that he was looking for a job, but he was really just going through the motions.

But you can also use it more broadly to refer to a person who "just goes through the motions" about life in general, for example Cambridge gives the example sentence

After his wife died, he went through the motions of living without really feeling anything

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Such a person could be a "wet blanket":

A person who takes the fun out of a situation or activity, as by pessimism, demands, dullness, etc.

They might also be described as a "cold fish", as also noted in a comment:

A heartless individual; a person lacking empathy and emotion.

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I might say this the other way around, as “Get your head in the game!”, which tells someone to pay attention to what they’re doing and involve themselves in it.

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..because he is a coward or just can't engage enough.

Sounds like a wimp (informal)

a person who is not strong, brave, or confident:

I'm afraid I'm a wimp when it comes to climbing up ladders.

So, don't be a wimp!

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  • Quite a synonym of "chicken". Slang for coward, it has a lot of other meanings.
    – Graffito
    Sep 23, 2023 at 8:00
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    +1 Wimp covers everything mentioned in the question. Although, I feel like the similar slang word wuss is better and I've explained in detail in my answer.
    – ermanen
    Sep 25, 2023 at 7:50
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Since you're asking for slang, I'd suggest casual (or even filthy/f**king casual). Similar to your expression which arose in footballing contexts, this expression arose in gaming contexts. It means someone who only casually plays something - they don't really have any skin in the game, they're just in it for light fun and don't take it seriously. It is perhaps most famous in the meme "Parry this you filthy casual".

I think this expression is only about 10-15 years old, and being such a new term, I couldn't find better links than Urban Dictionary or Know your meme to back this up.

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The answer is simply

gutless

When you render from Spanish, especially if talking about football!, you can use a lot of brio.

Gutless bastard!

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Such a person is said "to have ice in their veins".

With respect to "E.g.: A lot of people brand Messi as a ‘coldchest’?" , Messi is regarded as one of the all-time great players, so the expression would appear to have nothing to do with performing poorly.

Such people turn in "clinical" performances, their perfection the result of thousands of hours of practice honing their skills. More the stereotype of the fox than the stereotype of the lion. Though I should add that lions get a bum rap in that regard. As a pride, they often turn in clinical performances, bringing down large prey such as water buffalos by virtue of their teamwork.

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  • Was in the time he performed poorly with the national team, specially when he lost two consecutive Copa América (2015 and 2016)
    – tac
    Sep 23, 2023 at 20:57
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    I don't think this is a good translation. I don't know anything about Messi but in, say, a basketball context, someone having ice in their veins means they don't crack under pressure. EG, if Steph Curry hits a three to tie the game with a second left, you might say he has ice in his veins. I'd guess it comes from being cold-blooded, as in cold-blooded assassin or something.
    – Thierry
    Sep 23, 2023 at 23:31
  • @Thierry I agree with you and commented to that effect on the answer given by bjmc who suggested bloodless. FWIW, Messi is considered one of the greatest players of all time. But once I was told by OP that the "cold-chested" comment was made about Messi when he had low popularity in Argentina, I realized that "ice in his veins" was not an apt translation, although it is a good description of Messi's play under pressure. Harassed by three defenders he could still emerge to score a goal or make a beautiful assist.
    – TimR
    Sep 24, 2023 at 9:48
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I don't care what you think it means, the explicitly rare example of some people calling Messi, one of the most succesful players in the world right now, a pecho frio, simply doesn't fit the definitio. Or your translation is too literal. Get a better dictionary!

This could mean that there is a rare usage, which may be original.

It is best translated cold blooded (killer) or cold hearted:

[Example] *He appears at first as a cold-hearted and seemingly unapproachable person,

An even stronger statement beyond unapproachable would be untouchable, which is ambiguous: "If you describe someone, especially a sports player or entertainer, as untouchable, you are emphasizing that they are better than anyone else in what they do." (collinsdictionary.com)

Notice that "untouchable" can have an almost opposite meaning.


In general, metaphors of the heart and chest are quite interesting and prominent across the world languages, frequently in a religious sense because the vital forces are a mystery (cp. psyche).

In that case one could also translate zeal and quite ambiguously zealous or zealless, because somebody who "spends a lot of time or energy in supporting something that they believe in very strongly" (Collins: zealous) pays little attention to anything else. Indeed, pecador "sinner" is from L. pecco "sin" rather than pecto "chest; figurative heart, soul".


More over, Sp. pegador "fighter" appears to be related to pecho in Galician "bolt, peg", adj. "closed" (ie. pegged). The further etymologies appear implausible. See also pico-, Ita. piccolo.

Second, brio is probably borrowed from Celtic "strength", ultimately of uncertain origin (cp. Brittania). It is not impossible that it became vexilated with frio, L. frigus "cold".

That said, one might freely translate pecho frio as a stiff stick.

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This reminded me of the Super Bowl ad for Snickers in 2010...

"You're playing like Betty White out there...!"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5syJjBQ_k6o

About as idiomatic as you can get, and seems to convey the right sentiment in the right context that the OP is looking for.

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  • Just for your information, "idiomatic" here normally refers to being a common part of everyday speech / standard usage for a particular time and place. Rather than "being an idiom". So "playing like Betty White", isn't really idiomatic even if it is a (kind of) idiom Sep 25, 2023 at 1:41
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What about "spoilsport"?

M-W gives:

one who spoils the sport or pleasure of others

Oh, don't be a spoilsport. Let them try it.

Dad's a spoilsport. He won't let us play football.

Be prepared to be labelled humourless, difficult, a spoilsport, and a ruiner of parties, meetings, dinners, and picnics. —Natalie Gil, refinery29.com, 11 July 2023

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Wuss could be a rough equivalent in slang, as you've mentioned that pechofrío is a common slang word and its usage has extended to every informal setting to define someone who performs poorly. You've also mentioned that it is used in the ubiquitous expression ‘¡No seas pechofrío!' - 'Don't be a < something >!' as well.

Don't be a wuss!

Merriam-Webster definition of wuss:

informal : a weak, cowardly, or ineffectual person : WIMP
Don't be such a wuss.
acted like a total wuss

Wuss appears to be originated in campus slang and the first citation in OED is in sports context also:

1976 Come on you wuss, hit a basket..! John's a wuss.
Campus Slang (University North Carolina, Chapel Hill) (typescript) November 6

I've found a very good explanation of pecho frío (which is considered an insult) in an article by Wilson Liévano in Remezcla :

A pecho frío (a term that literally means ‘cold-chested’) is a player who doesn’t have the passion to face the challenge of a big game and underperforms when needed the most. It’s where lack of heart meets choking on the field, with a touch of cowardice. The phrase is so offensive, that when the fans started to chant it to Racing Club’s coach Eduardo “Chacho” Coudet (formerly a player) at a game in 2015, he turned around and replied, “Cuckold, maybe. But pecho frío, NO.” His response became so popular that one fan tattooed the phrase on his arm.

Thus, it is perhaps not possible to find an exact equivalent of pechofrío as it covers various senses. Choker is an option in sports context also per the explanation above, though it doesn't have all the elements of pechofrío:

In sports, choking is the failure of a person, or persons, to act or behave as anticipated or expected. This can occur in a game or tournament that they are strongly favoured to win, or in an instance where they have a large lead that they squander in the late stages of the event. It can also refer to repeated failures in the same event, or simply imply an unexpected failure when the event is more important than usual. - Wikipedia

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  • It looks like many have missed the point of the question and my answer. The question is detailed and my answer covers everything mentioned. It is not just about the title, and pechofrío is not only used in sports context per the OP, and it is a common slang word. Plus, the OP mentioned that it is ubiquitously used as "Don't be a pechofrío". The only other answer that understood the assignment is wimp but I've explained why wuss is better above.
    – ermanen
    Sep 25, 2023 at 3:23
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    I would think in football (soccer) a wuss would be a player who was too scared or too emotional to take a penalty in the closing minutes of extra time or in a Champions League final and delegated it to a team mate. This doesn't match Messi's talent and temperament. Messi wouldn't be or play as a wuss for the entire duration of a match. A normally great player who gives a lacklustre or uninspired performance in a make-or-break game could be accused of failing to deliver.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 26, 2023 at 7:24
  • Pechofrio was not only used for Messi though. It is an insult and it was an unfortunate usage for Messi when people got really angry at his poor performance. The slang word is commonly used in Argentinian Spanish. The OP has mentioned that the usage has extended to every informal setting to define someone performing poorly. Wuss could have different senses (but it is also like an amalgamation of senses like pechofrio); however, it is ubiquitous like pechofrio and it can be used as "Don't be (such) a wuss", plus there are examples in sports. Perhaps, there is no exact equivalent.
    – ermanen
    Sep 26, 2023 at 7:35
  • A wuss is someone who is scared, from the same M&W link there is this example of usage, football related too– it can be galling to watch grown men pretend to be hurt. It's one thing to embellish a penalty, and another to act as though you are in pain when you are not. Maybe there are places where toughness is not a virtue and lying is not a vice, but, wherever you are, being a wuss is being a wuss.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 26, 2023 at 8:55
  • Wuss has the elements of emotional weakness and cowardice. You can just use it meaning "coward" meaning "someone scared", yes; but not always. Pechofrio has the elements of cowardice also. "Don't be a wuss" and even "Don't be a coward" can have the right effect in the context; and it wouldn't just simply mean someone who is scared. I'm just considering everything mentioned in the question. I could just give general words like "unenthusiastic" or "spiritless" too; but they don't fit all criteria. Also, I've mentioned as a "rough" equivalent and provided some further explanation at the end.
    – ermanen
    Sep 26, 2023 at 9:23

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