Spanish Notebook: Colombian-isms

After several summers of picking up slang in Mexico City, my internal Spanish dictionary included words like padre (cool), fresa (preppy or snobby), and guey (dude), and phrases like no mames (literal translation is vulgar but it’s used colloquially to mean “no way”). For my first visit to Mexico City, I was doing an internship organized by Harvard, and the program coordinator introduced us to some slang during orientation activities. After a few more extended visits in the city and conversations with friends, I’d picked up even more words typical of Mexican Spanish. But moving to a new country means I’ve been hearing all sorts of new words in casual conversations. Coming independently to Bogotá, I’ve been compiling lists on my own for phrases and words particular to Colombia, mainly for my own memory. But perhaps a new expat or traveller will also find this list helpful!


Soñar es una chimba
This “paste up” in La Candelaria reads “Soñar es una chimba.” A word used mainly in Antioquia, chimba, means awesome or cool, so this phrase translates to, “dreaming is awesome.”

Among Friends

marica — literal translation is “gay” but used informally like the equivalent of “dude”

el man — you guessed it!

pelada — girl or woman

maricón — derivate of marica but stronger; viewed as a curseword often

malparido — a bad person; very strong word that is viewed as a curseword often

mierda — shit!

maña — a bad custom or bad habit

vaina — thing; used very frequently to refer to objets, ideas, actions, matters, etc.

chimbapaisa (see below) slang for cool

rumba — a party; rumbear is the verb form

parche — a hang out or a crew of friends

consentido — spoiled; commonly used to describe people who are used to getting what they want

chevere — cool, awesome

genial — cool, awesome

bacanopaisa slang for cool, awesome

joder — to annoy or make fun; “no joda” or “no me jodas” are the Colombian equivalent to the Mexican “no mames”, meaning “no way” or “you have to be kidding me”

juicioso — a character trait of taking something seriously or being conscientious

vaca — Colombians “hacer una vaca” or pitch in money when organizing an activity that requires everyone chip in some funds

guayabo — hangover

seroche — altitude sickness; very commonly experienced when people not from Bogotá first arrive in the city

Objects n Things

tinto — coffee

guaro — aguardiente

pola — beer

esfero — pen

datafono — machine used to charge credit and debit cards

trancón — traffic jams; very common at nearly all hours in Bogotá

puente — long weekend; very common in Colombia, at least one a month

Regional Identity 

paisa — people from Medellin

antioqueños — people from the Antioquia region, like people from Medellin

rolos — people from Bogotá; used interchangeably with bogotanos

costeños — people from the coastal cities including Cartagena, Barranquilla, Santa Marta, etc.

caleños — people from Cali

sureños — people from the Southern Highlands (e.g. Popayan)


que más? — equivalent to “que tal?” or “what’s up?”

como le va? — how is it going?

que pena — sorry, or excuse me

dar papaya — to do something without proper caution; i.e. if you were walking around with your iPhone 6s in your hand carelessly in La Candelaria after dark, this would definitely quality as “dando papaya”

de una — sometimes used in the phrase “de una vez” and can mean, “definitely” or “immediately”

estar amañado — to feel comfortable and at home somewhere; Colombians often ask me if “estoy amañada” with Colombia

defenderse — the phrase basically means to manage; when people ask how well I speak Spanish, I often respond, “me defiendo,” meaning that I manage for myself but am not fully fluent like a a native speaker

tener/estar de afán — to be in a hurry

pues nada — often used to conclude saying something when you have nothing else to say





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