One of my favorite jokes as a 7 year old was from Blanca Nieves y los Siete Enanitos. (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.)
The dwarf in the play said, “the stepmother isn’t pretty and she isn’t ugly.”
That’s pretty funny when you are 7 years old. I still don’t mind the joke 40 years later.
Spanish has a similar double usage of one of its common words.
If you ask an amigo, “¿Cómo estás?” (How are you?)
You’ll most likely understand this reply:
Estoy bien, gracias. (I am well, thanks.)
That’s the old textbook Spanish lesson 101 right there
But what if your amigo said,
“Estoy bien mal.”
If you translate that literally you end up with, “I am well bad”???
That makes no sense.
Here’s what’s going on. Your amigo just told you, “I am pretty bad” or “I am pretty sick.”
Yes, like the dwarf joking about la madrastra de Blanca Nieves (Snow White’s stepmother) being pretty ugly, bien, like pretty, has two meanings.
Bien most commonly means well but it also means pretty, very or quite.
Estoy bien mal, means I am quite/very/pretty sick.
Here are some more examples in which bien can mean quite/very/pretty.
El Coyote canta bien mal pero me gusta su música.
El Coyote sings pretty badly but I like his music
Voy a llegar bien tarde.
I am going to (arrive) be quite late.
Esta guitarra tiene un sonido bien Español.
This guitar has a very Spanish sound
La cerveza está bien fría.
The beer is very cold.
By the way, this is not slang. It’s even in el Diccionario de la Lengua Española de la Real Academia Española. (Spanish Language Dictionary of the Royal Spanish academy.)
Bien is just one of many common Spanish words that have extra meanings. These secondary meanings are so common that Spanish Ear Training Master Classes #2, #3, and #4 are dedicated to that very tema (subject).
A propósito (by the way) Spanish Ear Training is for students who already speak at least a little Spanish. If you’re not yet speaking some Spanish already Spanish Ear Training is probably not for you yet.
Instead click below to find the right path for you to speak Spanish bien pronto (very soon).