All countries, and even most regions, have their own unique brand of slang. Slang not only colours a language, but also contains something of a regional identity; these deviations from language can set you apart from other places and strengthen your feeling of belonging to a place.
They can also just be plain old fun, as anyone that has moved to a new part of the world can attest to. Busting out some local slang in a foreign country can lead to immense giddiness among locals, not to mention help you get by chatting to people when others can merely gawk, confused by the splatterings of words they never came across in their textbooks.
Colombians are particularly proud of their slang, colourful and ubiquitous as it is. They’re also particularly divided by region. I’ve attempted to collect a list of Colombian slang here for the newcomer, but the truth is that it’d be far more accurate to label this list ‘Bogotá slang’. That’s where I live, that’s where I learn.
Still, I’ve tried to be general, so I hope this is of use to you, oh faithful traveller, as you navigate the Costeños, Caleños, Paisas, Rolos, and all other locals you encounter in your travels to Colombia.
¿Que mas? is a confusing one for those that know a little Spanish, since it means ‘what more?’, therefore tempting you to say something along the lines of ‘nothing’, or ‘a beer please’. This is wrong. A simple ‘bien’ is your best response.
Far from a mere slogan in Colombian Carre Fours, ‘chévere’ is the vocal equivalent of dancing salsa or drinking aguardiente: if you master it you’ll be considered a local. It basically means great, and if something’s really great, don’t be afraid to show it with a ‘chéverisimo’.
Parce is a simple one that gets used in the way us English use ‘mate’, or ‘bro’.
I’m not sure if there’s a literal translation for this, but it means ‘cool’.
For a while I wondered where Colombians were seeing all these Chinese people. That’s until a friend told me ‘chino’ simply means ‘kid’, or ‘boy’ (and china means girl). Why I don’t know, but sometimes you just sit back and accept it.
Esfero literally means sphere, so quite why they use it for pen I don’t know. Still, it’s easier to remember than boligra for me so I don’t complain.
If you’re enguayabado, or you have a guayabo, then you’ve probably been on the aguardiente the night before and are recovering in bed, longing for some Colombian soup or a bandeja paisa. You, my friend, are hungover.
A little like parce in its usage, except huevón can also be used as a friendly put-down. Kind of the Colombian equivalent of ‘boludo’ from Argentina, only not used in almost every sentence.
Like ‘huevón’, ‘marica’ should be used with caution since it can be taken as an insult. Generally, however, it’s a term used affectionately among friends.
Convinced you have brown hair? Think again. Here in Colombia you’ll be called a ‘mono’, which means blonde (or monkey). Kind of strange to be called blonde when you categorically are not blonde, but T.I.C. parce.
Everyone’s favourite wake-me-up in the morning, a small cup of Colombian coffee. Brilliant.
Literally means neighbour, but it’s a nice way to greet the guy in the shop (ie ‘¿Como esta, vecino?’)
Peculiar to those who already have a grasp of Spanish, ‘me regalas’ actually means ‘can you gift me’, meaning that Colombians almost always ask for something for free before actually paying for it. ‘¿Me regalas un tintico por favor?’
Honestly, in Colombia, the diminutive is your best friend. From lessoning the impact of taxi prices (‘Diez mil pesitos’) to making the morning that little bit cuter (‘mañanita’) to just make goodbyes sound weird (‘hasta luegito’), you can pretty much use them everywhere.
Other countries use ‘pues’ for sure, but the Colombian (particularly Paisa) usage of it is pretty unique in my experience. This is to say, it can follow almost anything you want it to. “Chao pues”, “listo pues”, “que mas pues”, “quiubo pues” and many more…
Trancon means traffic, so if there’s a lot of traffic you’d say “hay mucho trancon”.
A particular favourite of mind, you say these instead of their more vulgar counterpart and it’s acceptable in front of children, grandparents and probably even the president.
Thanks to Brighid for reminding me of this particular classic. If something is paila it means it’s ‘bad’, but in a particularly Colombian way. It’s best to say it with an ‘uuuush’ at the beginning for emphasis.
What’s some of your favourite Colombian slang?
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