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Childhood memories are vivid, almost indescribable in their detail, and impossible to forget. A Christmas memory I have is that of a black velvet dress  a family friend gave to me for my seventh Christmas.
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Spanish Slang, Sayings, Palabras, Dichos

Submitted by on July 20, 2009 – 6:13 am49 Comments

Welcome Dicho y Palabras Lover!

Hola el Tiki Tiki! Glad you found us.

We write regularly about dichos, refranes and popular, funny Spanish sayings. Below is an original essay about a conversation we had about “coger” and you also can find more posts, videos and essays on dichos by visiting these Tiki Tiki links:

To Coger or not to Coger

palabras by ovillan on flickr

A friend from Patagonia works at a health-focused non-profit with a woman from Cuba. She told me a story I vow to get on video one day, but here is what I remember.

The woman from Patagonia often reminds the woman from Cuba not to use the word “coger” with the Latinos they work with because it is slang for “get some” not the plain “get it” or “get that” meaning the Cuban assigns to it.

One time, they were working with a group of Spanish-speaking girls when some local university volunteers (I believe all male) came in to help. The Cuban announced something to the effect of: “OK, ninas, whom ever finishes their work first gets to coger the student she wants.”

And the friend from Patagonia was horrified. She laughed when she told the story, and I realized exactly why we need video essays here on the Tiki Tiki.

This past week, there was a conversation on Twitter between @Raul_Ramos and @BellaVidaLetty about Spanish sayings. Raul asked if anyone else used “chevere,” which he loves. Betty followed back with`some Puerto Rican sayings: “gufiao, nitido, brutal, esta que echa caldo.”

I broke in and suggested the conversation would make a great essay.

After mucho tweets, here we are. Today, on the Tiki tiki we’re talking slang and sayings, and the wide and colorful variety among Spanish-speakers from the Americas, the Caribbean and Spain.

alborotada, fulano, cantaleta, pimpampun, traqueteo, fuacata, bácan, lata,recórcholis, rebenton, relajo, es como un miercoles, corazon de melon,  maja, jerga, le patina el coco…

Share with us your favorite Spanish slang or dicho, or just your favorite Spanish word (and please, this is a family site so keep them PG…) Post in the comments, get brave and shoot us a video post via our Tiki Tiki YouTube group, or post to your own site and link back. If you are on Twitter, we are @tikitikiblog.

Last September we had a similar conversation over at my Boonie Blog, and we had a blast. I learned a lot and afterward could not get the word “Despampanante” out of my head. Check out the link for some inspiration, or this Wiki page.

OK, talk slang-y palabras to us.

Let the pachanga begin.

Share, por favor!

49 Comments »

  • [...] This post was Twitted by NicaGuide [...]

  • Perfecto, here are my favorites from different friends in Latino world:

    chamo: Venezuelan for bro, dude, guy
    tío: Madrid for bro, dude, guy
    plata and lana: just sounds so much better than dinero (Peruvian/Mexican)
    brutal: my favorite PR word as in amazing, not brutal, more like fantastic
    cul: cool sounds great in Spanish
    con el cuchillo en la boca: PRican for working it hard

    Me encantan.

    Julio

  • I love this! My Mexican sister-in-law insists ice cream is nieve. In Cuba, it is helado. She calls socks calcetinas. I call them medias. She laughed when I said glasses were espejuelos. To her they are lentes or anteojos, (which sound totally weird to me). In Mexico maiz is what they feed pigs. They call corn elote. And while peanuts are mani in Cuba, in Mexico people eat salted cacahuete.

    In Cuba, “algo” is an all-purpose medical catastrophe…as in “Cuando vi la cuenta, por poco me dio algo.” Forado is used in Cuba to mean loaded or rich and usually pronounced “fo-RA-o.” Te la comiste(literally, “you ate it”)inexplicably means “well done!” One of my mom’s all-time favorites: “muerto el perro, se acabo la rabia.” She usually said this when rescinding some privilege I had abused as a teen ager.

    Probably the all-time Cubanism is the word we use for bus: la guagua. I will admit, this word is totally off the charts in other Spanish-speaking countries.

    Can we include Spanglish, too? I’ve got some expressions I’d love to share:

    “Don’t desesperate me!”
    “Gallos y Grillos” (from the English “guys and girls”)

    I’m looking forward to reading other posts.

  • Carolyn G says:

    My abuela had tons of dichos. We are ticos but I think you can find these in other countries and are not exclusive to Costa Rica.

    The best advice: Mejor sola, que mal acompanada. This was so true and I lived my life following her words.

    Maybe not the best avice but it always made me laugh: Si no ensena, no vende. Abuela Gilda used to say this when we wore things that might have been considered a little risque for her taste.

    There were others but these were always my favorites.

  • I just found this blog and I’m loving it, since it’s been kind of hard to find Latinas blogueras!

    @Carrie: The word “cojer” is unfortunately misspelled. The proper spelling is “coger”. It’s a very common misspelling, though!

    @Raul: In Ecuador we also call them helados, medias, lentes, mani. For us, the corn is “choclo”. We also use “Te lo comiste” when you miss a goal in a soccer match.

    My mom was in Argentina many years ago, and there was a guy walking his cute dog in the park. So the dog walked towards my mom, and she asked the owner if she could “coger” the dog. (For us that means “carry” or “touch”). Can you imagine the face of the owner asking my mom “Do you really? With the dog?” Then they explained each other the meaning of the word. :)

    A word I still can’t get used to is “bolsas” for bags as many Latin people refer to. We call them “fundas”. “Bolsas” is a vulgar way to refer to the male sexual organ. So, you can imagine how hard it is for me to ask someone for a “bolsa” (nobody understands when I say “funda”).

    Spanglish? How about translations! “Te llamo pa’tras!” That is SO NOT a Spanish expression, however it is widely used!

  • Carla says:

    Here’s another link for inspiration from a past Weekend Link Love:

    http://rlprblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/la-mantequilla-de-mani-y-el-arte-de-la.html Thanks to @jennifervides for the link =)

    My favorite memory of how big our differences in language are is when I was younger at the PR Parade in NYC. I was with a dance group walking the parade and we were all little Cubanitas. Before the parade started we were all hanging out on a side street with a ton of other folks getting ready to parade.

    One of the girls with us had a bug on her leg and I told her she had a “bicho” on her leg. For Cubans, it’s just a bug of some sort but if you’re Puerto Rican it’s something totally different and very inappropriate. Needless to say all the Puerto Ricans on that side street had a big laugh at my expense.

    I can’t wait to see what people come up with! I’m always using – fuacata and fulano. And I LOVE chevere; it’s a word my abuelo uses and some of his friends so I always associate it as a very suave word used by classy men.

    @Raul I’m showing this to my husband who learned the bit of Spanish he knows from non-Cubans. He always tries to correct me and you’ve listed a lot of the words he thinks he’s an expert at – medias and lentes – he says he never heard those before.

  • ChaCha says:

    Aaaaaaargh – I love this!

    Cubanita reporting for duty here…

    My favorite saying from my childhood… “Sana, Sana, culito de rana. Si no se sana hoy, se sana mañana!” Literally, you’re talking about healing a frog’s butt, and how if it doesn’t heal today, it’ll heal tomorrow. Nonsensical, but nothing would make a boo-boo feel better than having grandma rub it and say that!

    Other good ones:

    “Bota, que no es compota!” (Spit it out, it’s not baby food.), a nasty phrase conjuring images of phlegm, but still… rather funny…

    “FUACATA!” – loud noise… like striking something… Often used with “Le metio tremenda galleta!” (Describing when someone hit someone really hard.)

    “I’m sorry con excuse me!” – a classic grandma phrase.

    “Te conozco, masquarita!” – A Cubanism basically meaning , “I know what you’re up to!”

    “Oye, asere!” – asere: Amigo, socio, compañero – often used with “Que bolá?” (what’s up?)

  • I had a Mexican friend once who answered the phone “amarillo” I said what? he said, you know because gringos answer “yellow” ….

  • Marta says:

    As newly arrived Cuban refugees practicing our English, (which by default was Spanglish because we just didn’t know enough, but that’s not important right now) my sisters and I were sharing a blanket when we accidentally uncovered Miriam.

    Instead of: “No me destapes que estoy erizada” it came out:
    “Don’t discover me, I’m arised.”

    We still say it. It’s become a family classic. =D

  • Raul says:

    I have a Colombian friend who likes to say: “Llovian pedazos de marido”. It’s his version of “raining cats and dogs”. Not sure if it’s a Colombian say or his own :)
    I also love the funny sayings from the Cuban ladies in the blog. They remind me of our sayings in Spain… but funnier! For instance, I love “chancletaso”, except that we say “chancletaZo”. It reminds me of my mom chasing my sister and I with her chancleta. Aaaah, those were the days :)

  • Raul says:

    @Raul Ramos, did you know that the word “guagua” (for bus) is also used in Spain? But only in the Canary Islands, nowhere else. There must be some connection there, because it’s too much of a coincidence.

  • Raul says:

    @Marta, que significa erizada?

  • Marta says:

    Raul,

    Goose bumps. Or is it “piel de gallina?” =D

  • Amado says:

    In El Salvador ice cream is “sorbete”.
    “Bicho”is an insect, but also a boy; “bicha” is girl, but also a very femenine young man. If you are not a native Spanish speaker better not to use “bicha” because can be easyly insulting.

    “Coger” has also a sexual meaning, but is no problem o use it in thihe original meaning as “Cogé al niño de la mano”,”Cogí la calle equivocada”. If you don’t feel confortable using “coger” in El Sallvador use “agarrar” instead, other synonyms like “tomar” or “sujetar” are not frequent here. If writing in Internet about sex you can write it wiithu “j”, “cojer” to diferentiate from the other meaning.
    Another innocent word with strong sexual meaning here is “acabar” meaning to reach the orgasm during intercourse. Never say “Estoy acabando”(unless you sre having sex.). For other purposes use instead “terminar”. “Estoy terminando”.
    “Paloma” is the penis here, strong sexual word like “polla” in Spain. If you are a lady coming to El Salvador from Spain, Cuba, México, etc., and your name is Paloma, change your name temporarily, better use your second name or you could provoke scandals.

  • Carrie says:

    Thank you for fixing my spelling! I wondered about that.
    These are great and hilarious!

    And oh my goodness, the memories brought back by “Te conosco, mascarita!”

  • Carrie says:

    Here’s one from my friend, John. Via e-mail:
    An ad campaign in Chile: http://tinyurl.com/m84hgm

  • Monica says:

    My ‘buelita was big on table manners and always said, “el que come y canta, loco se levanta.”
    Also, I always learned from my Mexican relatives that a “metiche” was someone who was nosy and meddlesome, but when I said that in Spain to my dad’s side of the family, they didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.
    I don’t know where Raul is from, but I have an amiga from Colombia who is always saying “chevre.” I never heard it before she taught it to me.
    Lastly, I remember someone in my family saying, “dime con quien andas y you te dire quien eres” or something like that.
    Sorry I’m not using accents.
    Ciao!
    ~Monica

  • “Calabaza, calabaza, cada uno a su casa.” Man, did that phrase from a parent break up a lot of good times when I was ten.

    “Saca la mano que te pica el gallo.”

    As a kid, I often heard this when I tried to interrupt an adult conversation. “Los ninos hablan cuando las gallinas mean.”

  • Oh, I forgot another funny difference…

    Cubans answer the phone with “oigo.” Mexicans say “bueno.” I’d like to hear what they say in other Spanish speaking countries.

  • Laura says:

    @Raul…I remember reading that many of the Spaniards that came to settle in the Caribbean were from Islas Canarias. Hence the use of guagua and the very similar accent.

    My husband’s phrase is ‘tá bueno pa’ ir tirando, meaning it’s good for the mean time. Imagine a Cuban couple in Venezuela at a mattress store saying this to a clerk about a mattress. In Venezuela tirar is a slang for, you know, relations.

    Another experience happened to my husband and some friends (all Cuban) when they were in Venezuela (always there!) for a competition. They asked a little boy where they could “coger” the bus. The little boy told them “only if you grab it by the muffler.” Sorry, that’s kind of gross.

  • Laura says:

    My husband gave me another one…maybe a little inappropriate, but it’s so Cuban. The best Cuban phrases always seem to employ the word cojones. His favorite is “le roncan los cojones” meaning wow, that’s incredible or a very brave person, or an unbelievable situation, bad or good. So many meanings and totally not related to the literal translation!

  • In Chile, “pico” is slang for the man part. So when the other Americans and I would talk about bringing pico de gallo to a party, the Chileans would be horrified.

    A guagua is a baby in Chile. Cachai, po?

  • Chantel says:

    My favorite badass cubanismo: No creo en nadie!
    My favorite answer to the above cubanismo: Hay peste a guapo!
    My favorite sweet cubanismo: corazon de melon
    I also always love, love, love it when someone yells, “Toma!” during domino as the game winning tile is thrown.

  • Chantel says:

    Wait, wait, two more:

    Le zumba el mango! meaning, that’s incredible

    And this gem from my grandmother today:

    Hijo de gato caza raton, literally meaning: The cat’s son will catch mice. Figuratively, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

    I could post these all day:) Thanks Tiki Tiki!

  • Amado says:

    Dichos de El Salvador:
    -Al mejor mico se le cae el zapote.
    -¡Al revés de las hojas están los tamales!
    -El que de miel se hace a dedazos se lo comen.
    -Al que Dios se lo da San Pedro se lo bendice.
    -¡Al carajo pastores que Navidad ya pasó!
    -Acomodate al ambiente, te querrá toda la gente.
    -¡Aliviado está el enfermo que ya se caga en la cama!
    -Amor de madre, lo demás aire.
    -Bien predica quien bien vive…
    -Beato de día, gato de noche.
    -¡Buena está la chicha y mi nana fiándola!
    -Cuando el mal de uno es viejo el de otro es nuevo.
    -Cuando te den la vaquilla ponle la soguilla.
    -Cuando el tecolote canta un indio muere, será mentira…pero sucede.
    -Del agua mansa líbreme Dios que de la brava me libro yo.
    -Donde comen dos comen tres.
    -Después del trueno…¡Jesús, María!
    -Del plato a la boca suele caerse la sopa.
    -Dios no pone dos dichas juntas.
    -¡Le debe a las once mil vírgenes y un peso a cada santo!
    -Quien tiene boca se equivoca.
    -En cojera de perro y lágrimas de mujer no has de creer.
    -El miedo es hombre.
    -El ave canta aunque la rama cruja.
    -El mal camino andarlo luego.
    -El que mal se gobierna despacio padece.

  • Miguelina says:

    Let’s see…Dominicans answer the phone with “Alo?” and Colombians use the formal “usted” for everyone – including children.

    Dominicans say “mosquito” and Colombians “zancudos”

    Dominicans say “zafacon” for trashcan and “fundas” for those plastic shopping bags you get at the supermarket.

    Passionfruit is “chinola” in the DR and “parcha” in Colombia.

    Phew…and that’s just me listening to my parents while growing up!

  • @Raul In Ecuador we say “Aló” when we answer the phone. I’ve heard that in other countries they also say “Diga”.

    I’ve had so much fun reading all the comments! :)

  • Melek says:

    LOL!!! What a great ride down memory lane :)

    I remember an anecdote from when I was almost 5 yrs old. We lived in Puerto Rico and they refer to plantain chips as “platanutres”. In Cuba these are known as “mariquitas”. I was playing with some neighborhood kids and I must have said “mariquitas” because one of them reacted by saying that I had used a “bad” word. I then turned around and called my mother, and from the yard stated (so everyone could clearly hear it): “Mami, isn’t it true that mariquitas is ok, that the bad word is “Maric_n”?

    On Cubanisms (some may not be exclusive to Cuba):

    - When referring to a bad odor: “Huele a timon de guagua”
    - When someone died: “Canto el himno y se fue del aire” (this stems from many years ago when the TV stations played the National Anthem before ending their daily programming.
    - When people that had not seen you in a while noticed you had grown quite a bit, they would say: “Esta mas alta que una vara para tumbar gatos”
    - When referring to someone who spoke nonsense : “Come de lo que pica el gallo”
    - When someone had a taciturn facial expression: “Tiene cara de tumba”
    - “Cada loco con su tema”
    - “De tal palo tal astilla”
    - When someone pretends not to have seen something: “Se hizo de la vista gorda”
    - When someone was oblivious to what was happening or dealing with reality: “Brilla por su ausencia”

    Some neat Puerto Rican expressions:

    - Aguacaton (na) – Someone boring, dull personality
    - Enfogonao (a) – Someone who’s really angry or upset
    - Tremendo Revolu or Tremendo despelote – Disarray, mess

    … thanks for so much fun Tiki Tiki! :) Melek

    “Our language is funny – a fat chance and slim chance are the same thing.” ~J. Gustav White

  • Laura says:

    @Melek…your mariquita story almost made me spit out my cafecito!! Que comico! And thank you so much for posting what aguacatona is. I listen to a Puerto Rican group that has a song with that title and I never knew what it was…neither did mi cubanazo!

  • Laura says:

    My husband gave me another cubanism…obviously, he is enjoying this trip down memory lane…
    for a very pretensious person, “esta se quiere tirar el peo mas alto que el culo.”

  • BellaVida says:

    I have a very long comment to share. Tiki send me ur email.

    I’m loving this amusing conversation.

    I also love to hear dichos y refranes. Here are a few of my favorite funny ones.

    “Te conosco bacalao, aunque vengas disfrasao.” embustero
    “Mas lento que una caravana de cojos.”
    “Fulano es como un puente roto. Nadie lo pasa.”
    “Camina con los codos.” alguien bien tacano/cheap
    “Mas concentrao que un jugo de china.” Un estofon estudiando/nerd
    “Saliste de Guatemala y te metiste en Guatapeor.”

    Que esten bien. I look forward to more comments.
    Carino,
    Letty

  • Carrie says:

    OK, seriously this is great fun. What a trip down a very colorful memory lane…

    Here’s another:
    “Es como la gatica de Maria Ramos. Tira la piedra y esconde la mano!”
    My grandma used to say that one a lot!

    And what about sangandongo? I love the sound of that one!

    And, finally…take a peek at the Dichos post Violeta did for us recently. Some great ones there too.

  • Amado says:

    Más dichos de El Salvador:
    -El niño que es llorón y la china que lo pellizca.(China means not just a chinese woman but also a babysitter.)
    -El que con niños se acuesta cagado amanece.
    -El viudo que se vuelve a casar, algo le debe al diablo y le quiere pagar.
    -El que se va no hace falta, el que se queda no estorba.(También: Todos somoa útiles, pero ninguno es necesario.)
    -El que mucho escoge lo peor elige.
    -El que nació para maceta no pasa del corredor.
    -Al que nació para tamal del cielo le caen las hojas.
    -El que nació para triste ni borracho se alegra.
    -El que nunca ha tenido y llega a tener hasta loco se puede volver.
    -Cuesta tener y cuesta no tener. (“Cuesta” means here “is difficult”‘ “is hard”.)
    -Cuídate de perro que no ladre y de hombre que no hable.
    -Gallina que come huevo aunque le quemen el pico.(Bad habits are impossible to change.)
    -Hasta los gatos quieren zapatos.
    -Hombres casados ni fritos ni asados.
    -Hijo de pobre y ternero de rico no se mueren.
    -Hijo de mi hija mi nieto será; hijo de mi hijo no sé si será.
    -Novia de estudiante no es esposa de doctor.
    -¡Lo que no nos cuesta hagamoslo fiesta!
    -No hay feo sin su gracia, ni galán sin su defecto.
    -Natural y figura hasta la sepultura.
    -¡Ocho con yo! (To speak in the wrong moment, the wrong place or wrong subjec.)
    -Parientes pobres y cosas viejas, pocos y lejos.
    -Es más pidón que las ánimas benditas.
    -Si quieres ver un vivo aflijido, ponle un tonto a la cola. (Here “vivo” means smart.)
    -Secreto de dos es de Dios, secreto de tres del diablo es.

  • Ana Garcia says:

    Hey guys! Great comments. I just wanted to show you what the Spanish Slang Dictionary that I am working on right now. Any ideas are well received: http://www.spanish-translators.com/spanish-slang-translation.html I hope you enjoy it!! I still have a long way to go but… poco a poco… :)

    Ana

  • Carrie says:

    Ana, that is great. Thank you for sharing the link…I would want country of origin for slang if possible to track.

    Again, thank you all for the comments and dichos. Very fun, indeed.

  • [...] Spanish slang and dichos galore. [...]

  • Keen says:

    What fun…here are a few of my favorite Costa Rican dichos.

    One I use with my kids all the time: ¡Paciencia, piojo, que la noche es larga! (That’s my version of “Dude, CHILL OUT!”)

    When someone has bad luck, I love saying they’re más salado que un cubito Maggi.

    Someone who’s way off base: Está meando fuera del tarro.

    Colgó las tenis: Died.

    A favorite dicho I learned from my Peruvian boss: No mojen, que no hay quien planche. Quit causing trouble, we’ve got enough of it around these parts.

    And another I learned from a Colombian friend: Más ordinario que un ataúd con calcomanías. Tacky.

    What a fun thread! I’m late to the party, but I hope people post more dichos. :-)

  • [...] remember how much fun the Dichos and palabras post was? Well, I got all inspired and did a video of some dichos I particularly [...]

  • Help me! Isn’t there a word in Barcelona that means to walk around with your head up and mouth open in awe? I don’t know if it is Spanish or Catalan…Any ideas?

  • Sandrita19 says:

    My mother is Cuban and my father is Chilean so you can only imagine the conflicts we have for instance…
    In Cuba guagua is a bus while in Chile its a baby…In Chile they use the word Papaya for the fruit and Cuba its the womans privates…In Cuba and most spanish speaking countries they use barriga for for stomach or belly while in Chile they use guata or guaton for a person with a big belly…other silly things like melocoton and durazno…and sandia and melon de agua..But my favorite cuban thing is Tente en pies meaning having a small snack to hold u over…and my father’s favorite curse to say is puta la hueva, ill just leave that to your imagination..

  • Rick says:

    This was a great post! I absolutely love using Spanish slang, palabras, dichos, y idiomas. I have a website that breaks down common Spanish slang and idioms by region. I encourage everyone to use it and you are welcome to contribute your favorites slang expressions to the dictionary! Check it out at… Regional Spanish Slang

    Saludos,
    Rick en Nueva York
    http://www.wikilang.com
    The Community-Driven Online Spanish Dictionary

  • Jenny says:

    en Puerto Rico tambien le dicen guagua al bus.

  • Brenda says:

    This is good, you guys have to see ThingsLatinosLoveOrHate.com it cracks me up!

  • Christine says:

    Growing up I heard this expression from my Grandmother when my Grandfather was being a pest but a nice pest – toque me roque. Is that the meaning of this idiom?? Thanks for the trip down memory lane– the “Sana, Sana, culito de rana. Si no se sana hoy, se sana mañana!” brought back memories of my Mom saying this!!

  • Haha this slang stuff can be quite funny sometimes

    I have an uncle who visited guatemala with some friends (btw were from mexico) and got a flat tire on the way
    Here in mexico you go to a “vulcanizadora” to fix that, so they were searching for one

    They went downtown and searched for that vulcanizadora for near 2 hours, and the did not find anyone!

    When they returned some people had gathered around their car, and asked them what they were searching for, so my uncle and his friends told them they were looking for a vulcanizadora

    Apparently they didnt know what was that thing, and when my uncle explained them that he needed to fix that tire, they said “ohh so you are looking for pinchazos!”

    And ironically, they had stopped in one of those pinchazos places!

    (Pinchazos in mexico, is like “Punctures”, so when you have a flat tire, the last thing you want is an extra puncture haha)

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