Afán and demora: Hurry up and slow down

By Katie Jacoby March 2, 2017
Afán, demora, afán and demora

Afán and demora, two important extremes in Spanish.

Take some time to let Katie Jacoby give you a quick run-down on how to express the two extremes of time, afán and demora, in Colombian Spanish.

So often in life, things seem to be moving much too fast or much too slow. The world whizzes by at a breakneck pace, or at a snail’s pace. The march of time seems to progress along a continuum and today we’re going to look at the two ends of that continuum as expressed in everyday Spanish in Colombia: afán and demora.

If you took Spanish classes back home, you probably learnt that to say hurry or rush, you reach for prisa. Not so in Colombia. Here, the word you’d want to use instead is afán instead. El afán.

Siéntate y tómate un tinto conmigo, ¿o tienes afán? – Sí, qué pena. Tengo mucho afán, ya me tengo que ir.  – Sit down and have a coffee with me. Or are you in a hurry? I am, unfortunately. I’m kind of in a rush, and I have to get going.

Me gustaría que dejaras un comentario sobre mi artículo pero no hay afán, no importa cuando sea. – It would be great if you could leave a comment on my article, but there’s no rush. It can be whenever.

Ojalá pudiéramos ir al bar con ustedes, pero estamos de afán. – I wish we could go to the bar with you guys, but we have to get a move on.

¿Cuál es el afán? ¿Para qué tanto afán? – What’s the hurry? All this rushing about and for what?

“Es que voy de afán”, dicen la mayoría de conductores infractores. – “I was in a hurry,” say the majority of law-breaking drivers.

There are three ways to say that someone is in a rush in Colombia: tener afán, estar de afán, and ir de afán. You can also say estar afanado.

A common phrase using this verb is: Del afán no queda sino el cansancio. This means that when you rush about all pell-mell, all you have to show for yourself at the end is exhaustion. Haste makes waste.

The standard meaning for afán used in all countries is eagerness, thirst, anxiousness, zeal. Related to these meanings of afán is the verb afanar/afanarse, almost always heard in the phrase: No te afanes. It’s more like don’t worry; don’t stress. Don’t be anxious; don’t get worked up.

On that same note, we have the phrase: Cada día trae su propio afán. From the Bible, it means each day has worries enough of its own, so live in the present and take one day at a time.

Another common and useful phrase for doing something hastily is doing it a la carrera or a las carreras. Literally, as if you were in a race. The idea conveys throwing something together in a slapdash manner.

No hagas las cosas a la carrera porque te van a quedar mal. – Take your time when you do things, or the results will suffer.

Another useful, though less common, word in Colombia for hurry is acelere. In addition to a rush, it often refers to a hyperactive tendency to be very go-go-go, doing things at a million miles an hour. Another even more colloquial word for rush, stress, and hustle and bustle is corre corre.

¡Deja el acelere! No te va a quedar bien haciéndolo de afán. – Slow down! You won’t have good results if you do it fast and carelessly.

Fue un día de mucho corre corre, ahora a descansar bien rico. – Today was super busy, so now I’m really going to relax.

The opposite of afán is demora. A delay, holdup. The verb demorar/se means to take (a long) time to do something. It’s usually a negative idea, though it can also be used to ask or report how long something takes.

La quincena se demoró este mes en llegar. – My paycheque was late this month.

El bus está demorando más de lo normal. – The bus is taking longer than usual to get here.

La demora en el pago de este contrato es inaceptable. – The late payment for this contract is unacceptable.

Me extraña que Carlos esté demorado, él siempre es muy cumplido. – It’s weird that Carlos is taking so long; he’s usually on time.

¿Cuánto se demora reparándolo? – How long will it take him to fix it?

Voy por mi chaqueta, no me demoro nada. – I’m going to get my jacket, but I’ll be right back.

Tardar/se is a similar verb, but demorar/se is simply more common in Colombia.

Whether you go through life more like the tortoise or the hare, it’s good to know afán and demora, these very common words and phrases for how time moves around us. That you’ve picked up a newspaper and sat down to soak it in is a great indication of your ability to take your time; now to start using all this new vocabulary post-haste! Chop chop!

Katie Jacoby is a Spanish-English translator and has been in Colombia for three years. Feel free to leave her a comment or ideas for future columns on her language website,