Language teachers love to get their students to speak 100% technically pure Spanish, just like a textbook. Yet, when you get to Colombia and start speaking to the locals, you'll quickly realize that nobody uses the language exactly like the rules say they should.
Every social situation and conversation is instead littered with Colombian slang phrases, idioms and expressions. Few follow the Spanish rules and regulations set out by the powers that be, but they are some of the most entertaining parts of the local language. Master them and you'll immediately have found a surefire way to crack into local social circles.
Here's a selection of some of our favorites of the local and international slang used in Colombia - just don't tell your teacher where you learnt them....
Colombian Slang Greetings
The first bits of Colombian slang you'll need are those which crop up when greeting your new Colombian buddies so this is a logical place for us to start too.
Follow your Spanish textbook and you might think the only way to say hello to people in Colombia would be to say "¡Hola! ¿Cómo estás?" ("hello! how are you?"). But when you get to the country and start interacting with people, you'll realize that this is only one of hundreds of greetings that Colombians use.
In fact, this textbook Spanish phrase is probably heard only on a minority of occasions when two locals meet (in informal situations, that is). Instead, people tend to go for one of the following, all of which mean something along the lines of “what’s up?” or “how’s it going?”:
Want to speak Spanish with Colombians as naturally as you'd chat in English with your friends back home? Well, you'll need to learn a load of local slang and expressions first.
Thisshows you the fun stuff that your textbook missed.
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¿Qué más (pues)?
¿Bien o qué?
¿Bien o no?
A couple of other phrases are not used as the first greeting, but often turn up very shortly afterwards. These are:
¿Y usted/vos qué? - which is used after someone you know has already asked how you are. It's like saying "And how are things with you?".
¿Qué has hecho? – Many of the above greetings can be followed with this phrase, meaning something along the lines of 'what have you been up to?'.
Slang Terms for People
Similarly, when you get to talk about people (as many do when greeting), you need not restrict yourself to dictionary words like "señor", "señorita", "amigo" etc. Instead, try some of the local variants listed below:
Hermano – as in other Latin countries, the word brother is also sometimes used to address friends.
Man – The word used to refer to a guy, dude or bloke, generally not one that is well known to you. Used in a similar way to the word tipo in other Latin countries.
Mono/a – Outside of Colombia, mono is the word for monkey or ape. In Colombia a mico is a monkey, while mono/a is used to refer to someone who is ‘blonde’. The definition of blonde is very broad, and includes anyone whose hair would be considered elsewhere to be fair or even light brown.
M’ijo / m’ija – a contraction of the phrase ‘my boy’ or ‘my girl’, this is occasionally used in greetings between friends e.g. ¿Q’ubo m’ijo?. It is also used in situations of mock reproach e.g. ¡siga soñando m’ijo! – dream on my boy! Verbs in sentences containing this phrase are almost always conjugated in the usted form.
Parce or parcero – one of the most commonly used ways to say friend, mate or buddy. Frequently placed at the end of the greetings above e.g. ¿qué más parce? ¿Bien o no?
Pelado/a – The past participle of the verb ‘to peel’ can, somewhat bizarrely, also refer to a (generally young) person e.g. ese pelado es bien alto – that guy is really tall. It applies as much to a friend you are addressing directly (e.g. ¿qué más pelado?) as to someone you are only referring to in conversation, as in the first example.
Vieja – The female equivalent of 'man', as above. While not exactly offensive, it is not 100% respectful either (roughly equivalent to referring to a woman as a ‘chick’, or a ‘bird’ in British English) and is not appropriate to use in formal contexts.
Social Spanish and Slang
Dañaparche – Parche is a social activity with friends (see below), so a dañaparche is a spoilsport, someone who ruins an event or activity. It is almost identical in meaning to an aguafiestas, the term used in more international / neutral Spanish.
Finca – If you are ever invited to a party outside of the city, the chances are it will be held in a finca (the English definition would be roughly 'country house' or 'farm house'). Fincas located in tierra caliente (warm areas) almost always have swimming pools, while those in tierra fria (cold areas) are more like a traditional farm house.
Finde – A contraction of the phrase fin de semana (weekend).
Guaro – Shorthand for aguardiente, an aniseed flavored spirit which is widely drunk in Colombia. Aguardiente is consumed in straight shots by the young and old alike.
Guayabo / enguayabado – The after effect of drinking too much guaro. Guayabo is the noun, hangover, while estar enguayabado means to be hung over.
Parche – This word, whose literal definition would be 'patch', is used to describe a group of friends or any type of social outing or event involving them. So someone may ask ¿vamos para la playa este finde? and a good Colombian response would be hágale, a mí me encanta este tipo de parche. At the other end of the spectrum, estar desparchado means that your social calendar is very empty, and generally implies that you are feeling down as a result.
Pola – another word for a beer. There is also an alcoholic soda on sale in the country called Cola y Pola; a bizarre mixture of beer with a cola drink.
Rumba – Rumba is technically a sort of music/dance, but it is overwhelmingly used to describe partying, going out, or a generally animated environment involving dancing and drinking. It can also be made into a verb rumbear. Using the Spanish verb salir, to go out, does not convey to the same degree as in the English that you went out to party. To avoid any doubt it may be better to say salimos a rumbear, we went out to party / we went partying.
Set Phrases and Expressions
Dar papaya – To dar papaya is to expose yourself to unnecessary risk, or ‘to be asking for it’. So someone who gets robbed of their expensive jewelry while walking on their own in a rough neighborhood at night, is said to have been dando papaya.
Darse picos – An expression meaning to kiss someone. Generally used to describe the first hook-ups between people e.g. imagináte que Juan y Julia se dieron picos el sábado en la finca – would you believe it that Juan and Julia made out on Saturday.
Echar los perros – This phrase, literally translating as throwing dogs, means to come on to someone.
Estar aburrido/a – In most countries estar aburrido is used to say that you are bored with or about something. In Colombia the common usage is much closer to being sad, upset or depressed about something e.g. Alejandra está muy aburrida en estos días por que terminó con el novio – Alejandra is really down at the moment because she broke up with her boyfriend.
Estar amañado / amañarse – Proud Colombians regularly ask foreign tourists as one of the first questions ¿estás amañado aquí?, meaning something like are you happy here / do you feel settled and at home here? Responding that you are will always be well received.
Estar buena – A, not entirely respectful, way to say a woman is good looking. You are most likely to hear this used between a group of male friends e.g. ay parce esa vieja está muy buena – mate, that girl’s really hot. It is not wise to say this to a woman directly. Estar bueno can be used in much the same way to describe attractive men.
Estar mamado/a – To be utterly exhausted, either physically or mentally e.g. estoy mamado de este trabajo ya – I’m fed up with this job already.
Estar tragado/a de alguien – This phrase means to be really into someone, or to fall for someone e.g. A Carolina no le interesa salir con nadie en este momento porque está muy tragada del ex novio todavía – Carolina isn’t interested in going out with anyone at the moment because she’s still really into her ex.
Hacer una vaca – This phrase, whose literally definition would be 'to make a cow’, is actually a financial term used in much the same way as ‘kitty’, ‘to have a whip round’, or ‘to chip in’ is in English. Thus hagamos una vaca para pagar el ron means that everyone needs to put some cash in to buy some rum.
¡Oigan a este/a! - A jovial, but not entirely polite, phrase literally translating as "listen to this guy". It is used to express disagreement (and mock offence) to something someone has just said e.g. 1. Tú siempre llegas tarde al trabajo ¿no? 2. ¡Oigan a este! Yo siempre llego a las 8.30 en punto m'ijo - 1. You always get to work late don't you? 2. Listen to this one! I'm always here at 8.30 on the dot my boy!
Parar bolas - Means to pay attention to something or someone e.g. yo te lo dije, pero no me paraste bolas - I told you, but you didn't listen to me.
Poner / montar los cachos – Literally ‘to put on horns’, this (all too frequently heard) expression is used to describe someone cheating on their partner. Juan le puse los cachos a Diana y ella está súper aburrida por eso – Juan cheated on Diana and she’s really down about it.
Por si las moscas – ‘Just in case’. Used in an almost identical way to por si acaso.
¡Qué nota! – An expression essentially meaning ‘cool’ e.g. ¡que nota ese carro! – what a cool car!
¡Qué pena! – In many Latin countries this expression means what a shame, or how embarrassing. In Colombia however, it is the most frequently used form of saying sorry. Saying que pena, or more emphatically, que pena contigo / con usted, is far more common than saying lo siento, lo lamento or other textbook style ways to express regret.
¡Que pereza! – A very common phrase to say that something is boring or a pain e.g. mañana me toca madrugar a las 5am para ir a clase. ¡Que pereza! – I’ve got to get up tomorrow at 5am to go to class. What a pain.
Tener plata – This is the expression most commonly heard when saying that someone has a lot of money / is rich (either temporarily or permanently). The phrase ser rico, to be rich, is most frequently heard when described tasty food. In the context of people, saying a person es rico/a is a (not often used) slang way of saying they are attractive.
A Few Other Colombian Slang Words
Bacano/a – Widely used way of expressing a favorable opinion of something or someone. It's rough definition in English would be ‘cool’ e.g. ¡que piscina más bacana! – what an awesome swimming pool!
Berraco – This one has so many meanings, we've had to dedicate the explanation a whole other post. Depending on the context, it can mean awesome, highly capable or intelligent, angry, grumpy or complicated. Read more here.
Camello – Literally defined as ‘camel’, the world camello is used to describe hard work, or working a lot (in Antioquia the term boleo can be used interchangeably with this). It is sometimes employed as a verb ‘camellar’.
Cantaleta - Cantaleta describes a telling off, or a nagging. A wife might say to her husband for example ¡Te dije que sacaras la basura y todavía no lo has hecho! ("I told you to take the garbage out and you've still not done it!") and the response could be Ya, ya lo hago. ¡Deje la cantaleta! ("OK alright. Quit your nagging, I'm doing it already")
Charro – In Antioquia charro is very commonly used to say something is funny, in the sense of amusing. Elsewhere, it tends also to denote ‘funny’, but in the sense of peculiar.
Chévere – Similar to the above. Can also be used to mean ‘good’ as a passing comment, for example: Q. ¿Nos vemos allí a las 7pm? A. Chévere – Q. Shall we meet there at 7pm? A. OK, cool.
Chicanear – to boast or show off e.g. ese man solo habla ingles con ellos para chicanear – that guy only speaks English with them to show off. The equivalent verb in international Spanish would be alardear.
Conchudo – Probably the closest translation of someone who is un conchudo is ‘a cheeky git’; someone who pushes their luck with things to get what they want.
Empeliculado/a - This neat little adjective has no direct equivalent in English. It comes from the word película, the Spanish word for movie, and means essentially that someone is living in a movie, disconnected from reality or that they tend to make a big drama out of things. So if after a first date a Colombian guy is asking a girl to marry him, someone might comment: el man está súper empeliculado si cree que la vieja le va a decir que sí - he's crazy if he thinks she's gonna say yes to him.
Gas - A word sometimes heard to express disgust about something, similar to the English word 'gross' e.g. ¿Cogiste ese sanduche de la basura y te lo comiste? ¡Gas! - You picked that sandwich out of the rubbish and you ate it? Gross! It is only ever used as a self-contained exclamation so cannot be used as an adjective, or with the verbs ser or estar.
Guácala - A word almost identical in use and meaning to 'gas' above.
Macheteado – Coming from the verb to hit something with a machete, this term is also employed as a metaphor for damaging or ruining something, particularly in the context of foreign languages. You may hear people say, for example, pues dice que habla inglés, pero es un inglés bien macheteado – Well he says he speaks English, but he speaks it pretty badly.
Maluco – Meaning bad or in some way unpleasant e.g. tiene un sabor muy maluco – it tastes really bad.
Mañe – A person or object that lacks style or taste. Similar to the English concepts of ‘kitsch’ or ‘tacky’.
Ñapa (ñapita) – La ñapa is a little bit of something extra given for free. An example would be if you order a jugo de maracuyá (passionfruit juice) and are given a whole cup’s worth. The bit of juice still left in the blender at the end could be given to you as la ñapa.
Pintoso – Pintoso is used to describe a man (use of the female version of the term is much rarer) who is good looking, but does not imply that the speaker is attracted to them. As such, it is a more neutral term and is the one you are most likely to hear a male use if wishing to say another man is good looking. An alternative version is to say simply tiene pinta.
Play - The polar opposite of the above. An object (or, less commonly, a person) that is posh or flashy. The term pinchado/a is used in much the same way, though generally to refer to people rather than things.
Regalado – Something that is considered a bargain is generally referred to as regalado, regalar being the verb to give something as a present (but with a broader use in Colombia). 1. ¿Cuánto te costó la bici? 2. Apenas 200,000 pesos. 1. ¡Regalado! - 1. How much did the bike cost you? 2. Only 200,000 pesos. 1. that's so cheap!
Sisas – an expression sometimes used instead of the word sí, to mean yes. Not to be confused with quizás, meaning maybe.
Traqueto - The criminal underworld has a whole load of its own slang terms. A traqueto is one of these. This is a mid-level gang member / drug dealer, generally one who likes to be flashy and make obvious displays of their wealth and/or criminal status. Don't use within earshot of anyone you suspect could be one...
Vaina – The meaning of this term depends on the context in which it is used. One use is roughly equivalent to the English term stuff, a word to describe an undetermined thing e.g. Q. ¿Qué cocktail tomaste? A. No sé, una vaina con piña – what cocktail did you have? I don’t know, some pineapple thing. It also is used to describe problems or difficult situations, for example, Q. el último bus para Cartagena ya salió. A. Qué vaina. ¿Y ahora qué hacemos? – the last bus to Cartagena has left already. What a pain, what are we going to do now? An additional use is in the phrase echar vaina, meaning to be irritating or annoying.