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Colombia Travel Blog

By JL Pastor & See Colombia Travel

Jan 22

Paul’s Bacano Guide to Colombian Slang

Colombia es chevere

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?

¿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.

¿Que mas, pues?

¿Que mas, pues?

Chévere

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

Parce is a simple one that gets used in the way us English use ‘mate’, or ‘bro’.

Bacano

I’m not sure if there’s a literal translation for this, but it means ‘cool’.

Chino/a

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

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.

Guayabo

Guayaba

Guayaba

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.

Huevón

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.

Marica

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.

Mono/a

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.

Tinto

Everyone’s favourite wake-me-up in the morning, a small cup of Colombian coffee. Brilliant.

Vecino

Literally means neighbour, but it’s a nice way to greet the guy in the shop (ie ‘¿Como esta, vecino?’)

Me regalas…

Me regalas una servilleta?

No es necesario hacer todo esto cuando te preguntan “Me regalas?” en Colombia

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?’

The diminutive

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.

Pues

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

Trancon means traffic, so if there’s a lot of traffic you’d say “hay mucho trancon”.

Hijuemadre/hijuepucha

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.

Paila

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?

Paul

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22 Comments on “Paul’s Bacano Guide to Colombian Slang

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Daniel says:

Nice entry. But the word “esfero” doesn’t mean “sphere”, esfera is. Esfero doesn’t have any other meaning, it’s just a contraction of the word “esferógrafo” (a writing sphere).

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Angie says:

súper chévere el post!! jaja :D

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Luis Esteban says:

Dude a kick ass post (y), its really cool to read those things from the point of view of a foreigner, if i could suggest something, it would be really nice to make a second part of colombian slang, mainly of parlache which is nowdays a common fashion slang which started at medellin gettos and many times is wery useful, and the story of parlache it’s wery interesting, for example you used the word ‘paila’ which originally was a ‘low profile’ person slang word a part of parlache, so today it´s so wide spread, and one of it´s aceptions is pailander which is courios, because it were born blending the terms paila , and highlander, thats because at that time ‘higlander’ tv series were ran at national TV, i mean the series starring by adrian paul , whit the opening song ‘princess of the universe’ from queen

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cami says:

Que chimba de post parcero. I loved this post, it’s nice and funny to see how other people sees our language. I had a few problems with ” me regala por favor” when travelling abroad to other latinamerican countries, the way they look at u is priceless

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Luis says:

Even though I have been out of the country for 7 years now I still use Ave Maria, pues ome!. It makes me feel closer to my roots…

Also, I think you forgot to mention a very important phrase of Colombian slang. ‘Hacer la vaca’ very important when buying un petaco de cervezas or un carton de Ron/Guaro.

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andres says:

hey! I´ll give you this one and is funny as “chino”, when a Colombian says “quedé gringo” or “quedar gringo” means he/she didnt get anything what the other was saying!! ,so in other words = “sorry Im not that smart could you please explain again?!
LOL! sorry for those gringos that get offended

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Diana Caballero says:

Hey Paul, Great post! We liked it so much that we shared it on our page of resources to learn Colombian Spanish here: http://www.speakinglatino.com/learn-colombia-spanish-slang/

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alan hernandez says:

also in certain regions they use the word primo/prima or primavera which translates to cousin but can be used as a term of endearment with friends. also pola. vamos a hechar pola. translates to lets go drink some beers.

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Brighid says:

Uush parce you left out my favorite – paila!

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Beekinga says:

Chino/a comes from “cochino/a” synonim of what? yeah, pig. What do small kids always do and more often than not end up soaking in sudsy waters on daily basis? There is your explanation for “mis chinos”,

Esfero obviously bic pens are ball point ink pens thus the name. We like to keep it simple. Like eating “ponqué” which none else does :)

Parce comes from “parceiro” which is brazilian for your mate. But a parce will call his chums llavería and they’ll hang out in their parche, and I’d better take a step back and wonder why me, coming out of a stupendous independent school for girls south of London knows so much gamin slang…I guess that is the answer to why I adore cockney…

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floor says:

We live in Bucaramanga, a city of 1 million people often referred to as “Bucaramangita”

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Kevin Howlett says:

Great article, Polito. A mi me gusta berraco. Also eh ave maría, pues. !Que vaina! is also up there…

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