Learning slang can be difficult and even frustrating at times.
You want to speak more like a native speaker but you can’t seem to figure out what terms to use when, why, and with whom.
Below you will find a list of some of the most common slang terms/ expression used in the Spanish-speaking world.
Let’s face it, food is a pretty important part of everyday life. So, naturally, it’s something that gets talked about a lot! With that in mind, here are some useful words/ phrases that you may hear associated with food.
Background: In Venezuela you may want to go “papear” with some friends. It’s like saying “fuel up” or “nosh.” And who doesn’t want to be able to say that?
Example: ¿A qué hora vamos a papear?- What time are we going to eat?
Background: A combo isn’t just an option at a fast food restaurant in some Spanish-speaking countries!
Example: Estela prepara un combo excelente.- Estela prepares an excellent meal.
Background: A common slang term used a lot in the island countries (Cuba, Puerto Rico, etc.) “comerse un cable” is like saying, “we are really broke, so we will eat a cord/cable/wire.”
Example: En Venezuela nos estamos comiendo un cable.- In Venezuela we are without food.
If you’re going to eat, you’re probably going to drink! And, if you’re going to drink with friends, you’re probably going to drink something alcoholic. Here’s some useful slang you may need in just that situation.
Background: Have plan for the weekend? Do they involve meeting up with some friends and heading out to the bar? If so, in many Spanish-speaking countries, you may hear this term thrown around.
Example– Esta noche vamos a chupar en la fiesta.- Tonight we are going to drink (alcohol) at the party.
Background: This is another way of referring to the all-time favorite bar drink beer.
Example– Vamos por unas chelas después del trabajo.- We’re going for some beers after work.
Background: If you go out for a night with friends in Spain, you may end up describing yourself as a “fart.” Another option is saying “tener pedo” (to have a fart).
Be careful! An already interesting situation can turn into a very embarrassing one if you accidentally use the expression “tirarse un pedo” which means simply “to fart.”
Example: Tengo que irme a casa. Estoy pedo.- I have to go home. I’m drunk.
Another important and unavoidable part of life is money. Here is some common slang you may hear when speaking to a Spanish-speaker about money.
Background: In Spain, if you have no money left, you may literally be down to your “last two candles.”
Example– No podemos salir esta noche porque estamos a dos velas.- We can’t go out tonight because we have no money.
Background: Everyone looks forward to that time of the year when you get a little extra something for all your hard work. Well, if you’re discussing this lovely little gift with one of our Spanish-speaking friends, you may hear this term.
Example– El jefe me dió un aguinaldo muy bueno este año.- My boss gave me a very good bonus this year.
Background: In Perú, if you’ve reached that point in the month when you’re sitting around waiting for your paycheck to come, you may describe yourself as being a “needle.”
Example: Miguel, te pago la próxima semana porque ahora estoy aguja.- Miguel, I’ll pay you next week, because right now I’m broke.
Background: “Ajustado” literally means “tight.” Well, in Perú, this can also mean, like in English, to be tight on money.
Example– Ahora estoy más ajustado que el pantalón de torero.- Now I’m tighter than a bull fighter’s pants.
Background: An “astilla” could be a splinter or wood chips. But, in Cuba “astilla” is another way of referring to money.
Example– Cesar se cree todo un personaje desde que tiene un poco de astilla.- Cesar believes himself to be a character since he has a little money now.
Background: In Cuba you have “chips” but in Spain you have pasta!
Example– ¿Cuánta pasta crees que se necesita para pasar un finde en Londres?- How much money do you think you need to spend a weekend in London?
In case you wanted to learn more of the most common slang used in the Spanish-speaking world, here is a short list of other commonly used terms/ expression that didn’t fit into the above mentioned categories.
Background: If you’re in Mexico or Columbia, and you hear a friend tell you to stop “drooling” they may actually be telling you to get your act together and stop wasting time.
Example– Angel estaba baboseando en Internet cuando llegó el jefe.- Angel was wasting time on the Internet when the boss arrived.
Background: If you’re in Colombia, Chile, or Cuba and you find something “bacán” you’ve stumbled across something pretty awesome.
Example– El concierto de los Rolling Stone estuvo bacano.- The Rolling Stone concert was wonderful.
Background: When you’re in Argentina or Uruguay, you may not want to hear someone refer to you as a “bagayo”–it’s most definitely not a compliment.
Example– Ayer me presentaron a la hija del jefe–un bayago.- Yesterday I was introduced to the boss’ daughter–she was ugly.
Background: In Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, and Uruguay if you are “igualado” you probably forgot your manners at some point.
Example– Martín, no seas igualado.- Martin, don’t be disrespectful.
Background: If you’re looking for the house of the local government in a city in Uruguay or Argentina, you may want to ask for the “Intendencia.”
Example– Tengo que ir a la Intendencia esta tarde.- I have to go to Town Hall this afternoon.
Background: In Venezuela if you find something to be a little difficult, you can describe it as an “arrecho.”
Example– El próximo examen de matemáticas va a estar arrecho- The next math exam is going to be very difficult.
Background: Sometimes meaning a “hut” or “shack” when used in certain Spanish-speaking countries this term means “house.”
Example– Me invitaron a comer a su bohío- They invited me to eat at their home.
Backround: You know those people that never seem to get in trouble when they do something wrong? Celebrities, for example, would fit perfectly in this category. It’s probably because someone has “turned a blind eye” (as we would say in English) to their actions. In a lot of Spanish-speaking countries, this is called a “fat view” (Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Chile).
Example– Los llamados a ejecutar las leyes se hacen de la vista gorda cuando alguien de su partido las viola.- Politicians turn a blind eye when someone from their party violate the law.
This has just been a short list of some of the most widely used slang in the Spanish-speaking world. There are many, many more. Can you think of any you’ve heard that didn’t make our list?
Want more? Get your copy of this Spanish Slang e-book with audio!
Anastasia is a Chicago, Illinois native. She began studying Spanish over 10 years ago, and hasn’t stopped since. Living in Spain since 2012, she loves Spanish tortilla, vino tinto, and anything that contains jamón ibérico.
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