When a Panamanian says: “Nos salió la bruja,” he is literally stating: “The witch appeared to me.” Of course, witches never bear good news. So this idiomatic expression means that something went south, or went wrong. One headline reported: “Les salió la bruja a ladrones de gasolinera.” Translation: “Everything went wrong for gasoline station robbers.”

The translation of the above tweet is: “Things went south for a thief in Penonomé.” Yikes!

Here’s another example from the Panamanian daily La Estrella de Panamá: “Al que le salió la bruja es al diputado Mario Lázarus, quien atropelló a una menor que murió y él, siendo médico, se dio a la fuga.” Translation: “The one who had a really bad day was congressman Mario Lázarus, who ran over a minor who died, and despite being a doctor, he fled the scene.”

Which witch is which?

As the above example illustrates, bruja takes on different meanings in Panamanian Spanish depending on the context. If someone lives in a barriada bruja, he is in a slum. If he’s in a casa bruja, it is a shack. In such circumstances, it is possible that the occupants are using luz bruja, that is, they are illegally connected to the electrical grid.