What Does "Pura Vida" Mean?

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Sometimes a phrase embeds itself in a culture and becomes a catchphrase that transcends its literal meaning. The phrase, "pura vida," which literally means "pure life," embedded itself in Costa Rica and became a way to describe any person or thing in a positive way.

1 Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a tropical country in Central America that borders both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It is bordered on the north by Nicaragua and the south by Panama. Its beaches, mountains, tropical forests, friendliness and stable political system have made it a tourist destination.

2 A Mexican Movie

In 1956 a Mexican movie, entitled "Pura Vida," captured people's imagination in Costa Rica. Locals thought the phrase captured their idyllic lifestyle. They began to enthusiastically use it to express positive feelings about anyone or anything. By the 1970s it had become so common it was considered the unofficial national motto.

3 Linguistic Export

Catchphrases come and go, but they rarely become common beyond the borders of the cultures from which they originate. The phrase "pura vida" has seeped into common use in the western United States and through much of Central America as a simple, succinct way to describe a person or place that is a simple joy.

Joe McElroy has been writing on politics and culture since 1983. His articles have appeared in a diverse array of publications, including the "Chicago Daily Observer" and "Immaculata" magazine. McElroy works occasionally as a strategic consultant to federal candidates. He majored in American history at Northwestern University.