Sunday, 27 November 2016

How To Talk Like A Mexican: Part Two

This is the fourth of a series of three posts on the vocabulary of the three countries I visited in Latin America: Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico. I collected expressions from friends and from conversations around me. Most of the three vocabularies are in Spanish, but they also include words in Quichua, Nahuatl, and Czech, among others.

"How To Talk Like A Mexican" is comprised of two parts: Part One, which included all my Mexican Spanish phrases beginning A through G; and Part Two (which you are reading now), that includes all Spanish phrases beginning H through Z in addition to several phrases in other languages such as Nahuatl. 

Language is a fascinating subject influenced by factors as varied as geography, history, and anthropology. I welcome any questions, suggestions, or corrections you have to add to this vocabulary. I hope that you find it interesting and informative for future travels! This series is incomplete, and I look forward to expanding it in future.

Thanks to the friends that helped with the Mexican glossary, including Yanni, Isis, Nick, Christian, Armando, Jorge, Nelson. Quiero agradecer en particular Gerardo y Gabriel, dos amigos queridos que me enseñaron tantas palabras de su lengua materna que no pude escribir la mitad en mi cuaderno. ¡Espero que nos veamos pronto!


Aquí he dejado mis últimas palabras sobre los dichos que encontré durante mis viajes por Latinoamerica. Me parece extraño que hace un año ya estaba viviendo en Quito - cocinando, descubriendo la ciudad, recibiendo cartas en los correos (¡cómo se sabe cuando realmente se ha llegado en su hogar!). Y han pasado casí seis meses desde que volví al Reino Unido, un país debajo de cielos grises y dividido de su referendo reciente sobre el U.E.. Espero que 2017 nos pasará mejor que este año, que ha regalado tantas lastimas a tanta gente.

Acabo de darme cuenta que en menos que tres meses iré a Guatemala. ¡Imaginate cuantas palabras encontraré por allá, en este país desconocido! Cuando regresaré de Guatemala publicaré un post de, "Cómo Hablar Español Guatemalteco", para añadir a mi serie actual. 



Hasta ahora todo bien – lit. "Until now, all good". So far, so good.

Hijo de tigre pintito – lit. "Son of the painted tiger". Seemed to be similar to, a leopard doesn´t change its spots.

¡Hijo de tu reputisima madre! – lit. "You son of your reputable mother!" A spectacular diss.

Hijole - see Órale.

Hueso – bone, or an avocado stone.

Inconscientemente – unconsciously

Is-is-is – used to emphasise something. For example, Importante is important. Importantissimo is very important. Importantis-is-is-issimo is very important indeed.

Jalle – the store.

Jetear – to go to sleep, used in a casual sense. Similar to "to drift off".

Jitomate – tomato. Not to be confused with tomate. A tomate in Mexico is a sour green fruit the size of a ping-pong ball, that is liquidised to form the base ingredient of salsa verde. 

Juegalo - see Órale.

Justa en el coracora is short for corazón, meaning "heart". Roughly equivalent to our expression, "Right in the feels!".

La belleza está en los ojos de quien la ve – Equivalent to our expression, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder".

Lo que se ve es lo que hay – what you see is what you get.

Lo que siembras es lo que cosechas - lit. "What you seed is what you harvest". Equivalent to, "You reap what you sow".

Mamon – usually used for a guy who is a bit weak, a loser, perceived as not being masculine. Also someone a little fresa. Not sure if it can be used for a girl also?

¿Mandes? – lit. “You send?”. Used when you didn´t hear someone, and want them to repeat what they´ve said.

Matar dos pajaros con un tiro – lit. “To kill two birds with one throw”. Equivalent to, "to kill two birds with one stone". 

Me vale madres – lit. “It matters mothers to me”. Used to denote that something doesn't matter to you; similar to our expression, "I couldn't care less". 

Mejor cien amigos que cien pesos – lit. "Better a hundred friends than a hundred pesos". A hundred pesos is approximately $5.

Merolico – someone who talks very fast, in a colloquial or slangy style. A merolico is akin to a salesman or confidence trickster, notorious for being sharp-tongued, slick, entertaining, and distrustful.

Mestizo – mixed-race.

Miruña – see chiquita. Term of endearment, meaning something like, "little one".

Mocho – (of a word) shortened, curtailed. For example, porfa in place of por favor ("please").

Molcajetes – a salsa-maker, or really a mortar and pestle. Also the name of a cinder cone in the state of Nayarit.

Más mexicano que nopal – lit. "More Mexican than nopal". Nopal is the prickly pear cactus found throughout Mexico. Many Mexicans are aware of stereotypes of their country, with those cartoons of a moustachioed guy in a sombrero snoozing underneath a nopal. Therefore, this saying has a touch of self-deprecation to it.

N.T.C. – short for "No te creo!" Or, “I don´t believe you!”. Pronounced “enne-teh-seh”.

N.T.P. – short for "No te preoccupes", meaning “don´t worry”. Pronounced “enne-teh-peh”.

Naco – Mexican version of a chav/ned/bam.

¿Neta? – used as an expression of disbelief, similar to, "You can´t be serious!".

Nicknames - There exists a diminuation for almost every common name in Mexico; the nicknames are unanimously dissimilar to the originals. For example, Francisco (nicknames include Pancho, Paco, Chico); José (nicknames include Pepe).

No les vale – lit. "It doesn´t matter to them".

¡No mames! – lit. "Don't suck my tit!". A vulgar way of expressing disbelief or incredulity, similar to our expression, "You're kidding me!". Not to be used in polite company!

¡No manches! – lit. "Don't stain!". A polite form of "¡No mames!" (see above).

No pude evitarlo – "I couldn´t help it."

Nueva look – a new style, a makeover.

Ñengo – used for a very slim person; similar to our "skinny malinkey lang legs". See also: palilo botanero. 

O sea – lit. "Or that is", similar to "That is to say...". This is the subjunctive form of ser ("to be") and is used to clarify what you mean. 

Oaxaca – the state from which the restaurant Wahaca gets its name; Oaxaca and Wahaca are pronounced exactly the same. I know – it blew my mind, too.

¡Órale! – lit. "Pray it!". A highly versatile and useful word used to mean, variously: hey!, wow, jeez, oh dear, cool, oh shit, interesting, and many more. See also: Andale, Hijole, Juegalo. 

¿Pa´que buscarle tres pies al gato? – lit. “Why are you looking for a cat with three legs?”. The second part of this question is, "...when there are so many with four?". Roughly, this expression is used for someone who is making a mountain out of a molehill, or finding difficulty in a trivial problem. With this expression, you are asking: "Why are you looking for your answer in the wrong place?".

Pachanga – a big, big, happy, fun party.

Padre – cool. This is the most generic way of saying "cool" (see also: chido, chingon). Padre also means "father", interestingly, and I can advocate for calling your parents the superpadres in order to score brownie child points that you can cash in at a later date.

Palillo botanero – lit. "chopsticks". Used figuratively to refer to someone really skinny (a "skinny malinkey lang legs"). See also: ñengo.

Parques de Papel – lit. Paper Parks. Areas of land that have been determined as "Areas of Conservation" or "Nature Reserves" by the central government, but are not, in reality, conserved or cared for.

Perro que ladra no muerde – lit. "The dog that barks doesn't bite". Equivalent to, "his bark is worse than his bite".

Petricor el olor del suelo después de la lluvia. The smell of the earth after it has rained.

Picar – lit. to bite, but figuratively refers to something spicy. For example: "¡Hasta el katsup le pica!" - "Even ketchup bites him!", or "Even ketchup is too spicy for him!". 

Piedras rodeandos se encuentran – lit. “Rolling stones meet”. Almost the opposite of “a rolling stone gathers no moss”. This saying suggests that travellers are, naturally, constantly moving to new places; should you meet someone significant during your travels, by your nomadic nature it is likely that you both will meet again. To my mind, a sense of fate and destiny permeats many Mexican sayings.

Piloncillo – unrefined sugar-cane. Piloncillos are found as dark-brown sugar cones, sold in one-kilogram bags. They are a useful ingredient in Mexican cooking, or can be eaten straight from the packet. 

Pinche – lit. second cook on a ship. An expression used before someone's name, either cheekily or to show you're not especially fond of them. For example, pinche José” translates as something like "that damned José".

Piropo – chat-up line, usually vulgar. 

Platicar – to chat.

Pulque – an alcoholic milky drink made from fermenting the heart of the agave plant. Pulque is the cousin of mescal and tequila, and often flavoured fruitily. Very good quality in San Luis Potosí state.

¡Que huevo! Or ¡Que flojera! – meaning, "what a pain!" Or, "I can´t be arsed!"

¿Que onda? - "What's up?" See also: ¿Que pedo? and ¿Que pex?

¿Que pedo? – see above.

¿Que pex? - see above.

… que tuvieras tan suerte – lit. "You should be so lucky".

Ronroneo – a curling or rolling "r" sound (ronronear, "to purr"). Refers to the Spanish way of rolling "r"s, with your tongue towards your lips (as opposed to the French way, which is pronounced further back in the throat).

Sale – meaning "cool", "ok", "got it". See also: dale in Ecuadorian Spanish, vale in Spanish Spanish.

"Segura tu mama es repostera porque hizo este bombón" - lit. "Your mum must have worked at the candy store because look at this marshmallow she made!" Definitely my favourite Mexican phrase of all time. This is an example of a piropo, a pick-up line.

Selfies – selfies.

Ser clavado de algo o alguien – to be stuck on something or someone. For example, an intense crush on someone, or a song you can't get out of your head. 

Seseo – a lisp. Spanish Spanish, compared to Mexican Spanish, is noticeably more seseando or lisping: 'c' when found before 'i' or 'e' is pronounced 'th', as is 'z'.

Silvestre – sylvan.

Sobres – meaning "cool", "ok", "got it". See also: Sale.

Taquear – to eat tacos.

Te crées muy muy – lit. "You think much much of yourself". Something akin to, "You think you're so cool!".

¿Te late? – “Does that suit you?”

¡Te vale madres! – lit. "You matter mothers!" What is it with mothers mattering nothing in Mexican sayings? This expression means: "none of your business!".

Te llavas las manos conmigo – lit. “You're washing your hands with me”. Not quite our "you're washing your hands with me" – more like "you're getting me into trouble", or "you're throwing me in the deep end". Meaning, "you're letting me take the blame for your wrongdoing".

Tengo el mal de puerco – lit. "I have the pain of the pig". Used for when you have eaten too much and feel full and tired, and you want to go sleep and fatten yourself up.

Thug – pronounced "tuug", same meaning as English.

Tontada – a stupid thing.

Toparse con alguien – to bump into somebody.

Tornamesa – turntable.

Tortas – filled sandwiches. In Spanish, torta is a cake, and emparedados are sandwiches. In Mexico, pastel is cake and tortas are sandwiches. In Colombian, ponque is cake. I have no idea.

Un standard – a car that drives manual, as opposed to automatico (a stick-shift).

Una chafa – a rip-off

¡Vamos a pistear! Or, ¡Ponemos en pixtos! – "Let´s get smashed!"

“Vas a querer o se lo echo al perro” - lit. You´ll want it or it'll be thrown to the dog. Aggressive chat-up line, something along the lines of "you know you want it". Don´t use this one on a girl you like, it is really offensive.

Verbo mata carita – lit. "A single word kills a little face". Meaning, actions and charm work better than a pretty face when trying to seduce a girl.

Viceversa – same same in English.

¡Ya basta! – "Enough already!"

¡Ya entendí! – "Got it!"

Ya no hay manera ni modo de resultar esta pregunta – "There's no will or way to solving this question".

¡Ya te traigo en jabon! – lit. "I'll turn you into soap already!" A threat to beat someone up.


Pupichek - bellybutton

NAHUATL (indigenous language of the Mayans, spoken on the Pacific Coast and in the southern states of Mexico)

Xolotsquintles the hairless dogs of Colima. Seen whispering at the roundabout to Comala.

Tianguis a flea-market or car-boot sale.

Lakall man

Sigwal - woman



TEÉMEK (indigenous language spoken in La Huasteca of San Luis Potosí state)

Nenek hello

Chusushi - goodbye


I hope you have enjoyed this series of blog posts. I hope to see you around Reasoning with Volcanoes soon!

Saturday, 29 October 2016

How To Talk Like A Mexican: Part One

This is the third of a series of three posts on the vocabulary of the three countries I visited in Latin America: Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico. I collected expressions from friends and from conversations around me. Most of the three vocabularies are in Spanish, but they also include words in Quichua, Nahuatl, and Czech, among others.

"How To Talk Like A Mexican" is actually comprised of two parts: Part One, which includes all my Mexican Spanish phrases beginning A through G; and Part Two, which will include all Spanish phrases beginning H through Z in addition to several phrases in other languages such as Nahuatl. Part Two will be coming out in a week or so; look out for it!

Language is a fascinating and rich subject that is influenced by factors as varied as geography, history, and anthropology. I welcome any questions, suggestions or corrections you have to add to this vocabulary. I hope that you find it interesting and informative for future travels! Speaking of - this work is by no means complete, and I look forward to expanding it in the coming years.

Thanks to the friends that helped with the Mexican glossary, including Yanni, Isis, Nick, Christian, Armando, Jorge, Nelson, and many others. Quiero agradecer en particular Gerardo Gabriel, dos amigos queridos que me enseñaron tanto de su lengua materna. ¡Espero que nos veamos pronto!

N.B. For NSFW Section, See: How To Talk Like an Ecuadorian.


Desde el primer día que aterrizó mi vuelo en D.F., me enamoré de México. Este país tiene treinta y dos estados, dos costas, y una idioma tan vibrante y extenso que era una imposibilidad caber en un solo post todas las palabras que había aprendido. ¡Me acuerdo el momento cuando, después de un mes viajar por México, miré a una mapa y me di cuenta que había atravesado menos que un cuarto de la longitud del país! Merezca mucho más de estes posts - pero al menos te puedo enseñar aquí unos dichos únicos. ¡Espero que le gusten!



“A falta de pan, las tortillas son buenas” – lit. “When there´s no bread, tortillas are good”. Possibly equivalent to the English expression, “beggars can´t be choosers”.

A gusto – great, the relaxing kind of fun. Similar to chill. “El concierto fue a gusto” – “I liked the concert, it was really chill.”

“¡A huevo!” – meaning, "Hell yeah!" or "Fuck yeah!"

“A mal tiempo, buena cara” – lit. “In the bad times, have a good face”. Similar to the English expression, “Put a brave face on it”.

“A nopal solo le arrima cuando tiene tunas” – lit. “One only approaches a prickly pear when it is bearing fruit.” Meaning that most people only approach a situation considering what they have to gain from it.

“A ojo de buen cubero” – lit. “With an eye on the good cubero”. A cubero is a vessel that in Cuba is used to store wine. This expression means to measure something by rule of thumb or to “eyeball it”, that is to measure something roughly.

“¡A otro perro con este hueso!” – lit. “Go to another dog with this bone!” Meaning, I don´t believe you – go and tell your story to someone more gullible!

“¿A que hora sales por el pan?” – lit. “What time do you go out for bread?” This is an example of a piropo (a chat-up line). A man could ask this of a woman he finds attractive, with the intended result being that she tells him what time she leaves home and then he can “run in to” her. Really a bit sleazy.

“A ti, mas” – lit. “To you, more.” A polite response to “gracias” (Thank you) or “Buen provecho” (“Bon appetit”).

ABCdario – alphabet. Pronounced “ah-beh-se-dah-rio”.

Abarrotes – a corner shop. From abarrotar, meaning “to package or parcel”.

Acabo de – meaning “I just recently [insert verb here]”. For example, “Acabo de leer eso libro” – “I just read that book”. See also apenas.

Acá – Here. See also aquí. Sounds very similar to allá (there).

Ademanes – gestures.

“¡Aguas!” – lit. “Waters!” Meaning, watch out!

Ahí – Meaning, "there" or "over there" in general, without implying any measure of distance.

Alburres – a generous portion of the Mexican sense of humour, alburres are dirty jokes or vulgar tales.

Allá – meaning "there", with the added implication of great distance. For comparison, ahí (there) could refer to an object nearby whereas allá (there) could be used for Mexico, all the way on the other side of the Atlantic. Ahí (there) could refer to either.

Allí – meaning "there", with the added implication of small distance.

Amigovios/amigovias – a portmanteau of amigo/a (friend) and novio/a (boy-/girlfriend). This describes perfectly friends with benefits, or that couple in your group of friends who are almost-but-not-quite dating.

Anglosajon – anglified, or “Englishified”. Similarly, españolizado/a means a word from another language that has been absorbed or adapted into Spanish.

Anteayer – the day before yesterday. Like the Spanish inverse of overmorrow.

Anthro – club, disco.

Aquí – here. Compare with allí, allá, ahí.

Apenas - used when something has just been done. See also acabo de.

“¡Arriba, abajo, al centro, pa´dentro!” – lit. “Up, down, to the centre, for inside!” A toast common to Mexico and Colombia, with your glass in hand following the instructions.

“Barrato cómo la huerta” – lit. “Cheap like the orchard.” Used to refer to fresh produce, or things that are produced or grown locally.

Bigote – moustache, but also cream-filled horn-shaped pastry found in the panadería (bakery).

“Botellita de jeréz todo lo que me digas será al revés” – lit. “Little bottle of sherry, everything you tell me shall be as reversed”. This is an expression used by kids, in response to an insult or taunt. English might have something similar, like: “back at you times one hundred with a cherry on top”.

Cachar – to catch someone doing something. “¡Mi novia me canchó con su mejor amiga!” – “My girlfriend caught me with her best friend!”

“Cada cabeza es un mundo” – lit. “Each head is a whole world”. Pretty self-explanatory (ex-planetary?), and also true.

Caguama – a large bottle of beer, about 1.2 litres in volume. Very common in Mexico, and cheaper than regular bottles. In some stores you will receive a receipt with the bottle, which is your bottle deposit – if returned within three days will earn you some money back (around 3 pesos).

Caliche – slang.

“Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente” – lit. “The prawn that sleeps will be carried with the current”. Meaning that if you do not choose your direction in life, it will be chosen for you.

“Cerrar con broche de oro” – lit. “To close with a zip of gold.” Used for a party or event that saves the best for the last; can be roughly translated as “to go out with a bang”.

Chava – chick, bird, girl, dudette.

Chela – beer.

Chevere – meaning cool; however, chevere itself is a very uncool word in Mexico. Imagine someone saying “Spiffing!” in England, with no hint of irony. Compare with chevere in Ecuadorian and Colombian Spanish.

Chido – meaning cool. See also chingon, padre, chevere. Use any in this sentence to say “Cool” and sound cool – “¡Qué chido/chingon/padre!”

Chilango – someone from Ciudad de Mexico, D.F., or surrounding areas.

Chingadero/a – thingamajig. RUDE.

Chingon – meaning cool. Coming from the verb chingar (to fuck). Don´t use chingon around your abuela (granny).

Chiste – a joke, like una broma.

Chueco – bent out of shape.

Chuy – a nickname for Jesus. In Mexico there are a lot of corner stores (abarrotes), tyre shops (vulcanizadoras) and garages (garajes) named ___ Chuy. Occasionally people may refer to “Tata Chuy” (“Papa Jesus”).

Codo duro – lit. hard elbow. Used to describe a miserly or stingy person.

Compa – slang for friend, short for compadre. Used in general for all friends.

Compadre – comrade or friend, used for your inner circle of friends with mucho respect.

“Con dinero baila el perro” – lit. “With money dances the dog”. Meaning that with money, anything is possible. Incidental interesting fact: the “dancing dogs” of Colima are not, in fact, dancing, but are instead sharing secrets with each other.

“Crea fama y echate a dormir” – lit. “Create fame and throw yourself to sleep”. Roughly meaning, if you do bad things to people, they will spread the word and your bad reputación will precede you.

“Cría cuervas y les sacarán tus ojos” – lit. “You breed crows and they will peck out your eyes”. As in the UK, in Mexico crows are associated with bad luck, and have a reputation for eating carrion, beginning with the eyes. Thus, if one were to breed crows, should they be surprised that the birds feed as their nature intended them? Roughly similar to the meaning of, “you reap what you sow”, but for comeuppance; for instance, in response to a parent who refuses to discipline their kids and then complains that they are brats. Metal as a bat out of hell.

“Cuentas claros, amistades largos” – lit. “Clear cheques, long friendships”. Roughly the same principle as “neither a borrower nor a lender be”.

Cultura de masas – lit. culture of the masses. Pop culture.

Cursi - cheesy.

“Dando y dando, pajarito volando” – lit. Giving and giving, flying little bird. Employed in the same way as the English expression, “I´ll scratch your back, you scratch mine”.

“Darle vuelo a las hilachas” – lit. “To give flight to threads”. To kick up your heels, to enjoy yourself, to have a good time.

“De los males, el menor” – lit. “of the bad things, the lesser”. The Spanish version of “the lesser of two evils”.

“¿De que fumas?” – lit., “What are you smoking?” Used to express derision or incredulity at someone´s stupid thought or idea.

“¡Demonios!” – lit. "Demons!" The Mexican version of Damn!

Depa – apartment complex

Descurapelando – (of skin) peeling

Dona – a donut. An españolizada version of doughnut.

Dos-tres – lit. two-three. Meaning, alright or so-so. “¿Como te fue?” “Pues, dos-tres” – “How did it go?” “Eh, alright”.

El enésimo vez – The umpteenth time

“El gran varón” – lit. “The big guy”.

“¡El mejor día del mundo!” – Best day ever!

“¿En serio?” – “Seriously?” or “You´re kidding me!”. An expression of incredulity or disbelief.

Enchuecar – to bend out of shape.

Enganchado – lit. chained to. To be hooked on something.

Entaquear – to make some meal or dish into a taco topping. For instance, one could entaquear a pizza or a lasagne.

“Era una vez …” – “Once upon a time”. Often used to begin funny stories.

“Era una vez …” “-truz!” – Let´s see if I can explain this, and why I love it (it´s a stupid joke in Spanish). Basically, un avestruz is an ostrich. Starting a story with the phrase, “Era una vez” makes it easy for someone else to jump in with “-truz!”, making the start of your story: “Era un avestruz…”(There once was an ostrich …)

Espada de dos filos – a double-edged sword.

Españolizado/a – a word from another language that has been adapted or incorporated into Spanish. See also Anglosajon.

Estar crudo/a – to be hungover.

“Estoy como agua para chocolate” – lit. “I´m like water for chocolate” (as in drinking chocolate). Chocolate in Mexico comes in dark, solid hockey pucks, and to make hot chocolate you need boiling water. In this scenario you are the water – as in, you are very angry.

“Estoy que no me calienta ni el sol” – lit. “I´m in such a state that not even the sun could heat me up”. Meaning “I´m really angry”. See also, “Estoy como agua para chocolate”.

Fiestero/a – party animal

“Figate que…” – “Imagine that …”. Used in an argument when someone is incorrect, and you want to prove your point. Used like “In fact – ” or “Actually…”. For example, imagine an argument in which we´re talking about a glass. Me: it´s made of plastic. Friend: No, it´s glass, because it has patterns etched into it. Me: Pero figate que (But imagine that) you can have patterns etched in plastic, too.

Flaco/a – slim

Fresa – a stuck-up person or snob. Used for both women and men.

Fulano/fulanito - random dude, guy. Less familiar than guey – you don´t know that fulano, but you might know that guey.

Godinez – a common Mexican surname, slang for someone who works in an office.

Guey – dude, man.


Tune in sometime next week for more Mexican sayings (H - Z) and a few words in Nahuatl!

Friday, 14 October 2016

How To Talk Like A Colombian

This is the second of a series of three posts on the vocabulary of the three countries I visited in Latin America: Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico. I collected expressions from friends and from conversations around me. Most of the three vocabularies are in Spanish, but include Quichua, Nahuatl, and Czech, among others. 

Language is a fascinating and rich subject that is influenced by factors as varied as geography, history, and anthropology. I welcome any questions, suggestions or corrections you have to this vocabulary. I hope that you find it interesting, informative, and useful for future travels! Speaking of - this work is by no means complete, and I look forward to adding to it in the future.

Thanks to the friends that helped with the Colombian glossary, including Julian, Anna, Dimitri, Elisabet, and .... Extra thanks go to Ale and Andres, for brilliant hospitality and for teaching me an alarming array of unique Colombian expressions.

N.B. For NSFW Section, See: How To Talk Like A Mexican (coming next week!)

From its southern tail to its northernmost tip, Colombia combines an extraordinary number of environments, landscapes and people; perhaps it´s no more than you´d expect for a country that spans Gibraltar to the Scottish border in its length. However, one thing is consistent wherever you go in Colombia, and that is its extraordinary warmth. From the ballistic fury of Galeras to the windswept dusty plains of Cabo de la Vela; combined with the hospitality of its people, Colombia is unforgettable. I believe that this warmth is mirrored in their unique expressions, some of which I have gathered here. Enjoy!



A la ordenlit. at your order. An expression indicating that the speaker is at your service; often heard employed by waiters at restaurants, or by retail workers. 

Ahorita – right now, this instant (also used in Ecuador and Mexico). Anyone who has experienced Mexican time will understand this is a somewhat vague definition of this instant, similar to the French "maintenant". 

Blanco, en gallino lo pone y frito se come – lit. “It´s white, a chicken makes it, and you eat it when it´s fried.” This is a riddle with an extremely obvious answer: an egg! This phrase is used in response to someone saying a truism or something self-evident, a sort of “No shit, Sherlock!”

Broder - from brother, used for friends or as an alternative to "dude" or "man". 

Cachaco/costeñoadjectives that define Colombians from different parts of the country. Cachacos are from Bogotá, Medellín, Manizales - the interior of the country. Costeños are from the coast: Santa Marta, Cartagena, Baranquilla.

Cara de ponque – lit. cake-face. This means that you have a happy expression! "Que pasa, tienes una cara de ponque" - "What's up, you look really happy!" 


Claro lit. clear. Often heard in Colombia in the form of: "Claro que si" - "Of course", or "¡Claro que no!" - "Of course not!" 

¿Comiste un payaso por desayuno? – lit. “Did you eat a clown for breakfast?” Asked sarcastically of someone when they are cracking a lot of jokes, or acting much funnier than usual.

Echar globos – lit. "to throw balloons”. Meaning to daydream.

Estafarlit. "to stuff". The verb used to indicate being ripped off. "¿Me estafas?" - "Are you ripping me off?"

Gomelo/aof a person, meaning supercilious, snobbish, up oneself. See also freso/a in Mexican dictionary.

Gozar – to get a kick out of something.

Hacer la vaca – lit. "to make the cow". To collect money from friends in order to make a collective pot that will buy something, usually alcohol, for a social. 

Hora zanahoria – lit. "carrot hour". Somewhat hard to understand; it was explained to me that Bogota teens usually party at the weekends in clubs outside the city, in the hills. La hora zanahoria is the hour at which a party finishes, and everyone returns home.

La luz de la calle y la oscuridad de la casa – lit. "the light of the street and the darkness of the house". An expression used for a person, company or situation whose good reputation may hide nefarious secrets. Similar to our expression of "what goes on behind closed doors...". 

Listo – ready, but also used in the style of "got it", or "yep" in response to a question. 

Mas vale bueno conocido que malo por conocer – lit. "More worthwhile to be well-known than bad to know". I am uncertain of this expression; perhaps it is equivalent to our "better the devil you know", or perhaps it means "more important to be well-known than well-liked?". 

¿Me regalas …?lit. "Will you gift me ...?". Used to ask somebody for an item. For example, "¿Me regalas el agua?" - "Can you pass the water?" 

Paila vulgar expression that translates roughly as, “I´m fucked!”, or “You´re fucked!”. Used in response to an unfortunate situation, such as when a disaster or fuck-up has happened. Accompanied by a slit-neck gesture.

Paisa – someone from Medellín. From here comes bandeja paisa, literally "the paisa´s tray", a gut-busting meal of 14 ingredients including various cuts of meat, eggs, avocado and beans. Bandeja paisa is the national dish of Colombia.

Papaya puesta, papaya partidalit. “papaya displayed, papaya gone”. Meaning that if you have something valuable and flaunt it in public (for example, a Rolex), someone is going to take it from you.

Patos en arriba – lit. “ducks up”. When everything is in disarray, higgledy-piggledy or topsy-turvy.

Piña – pineapple, or slang for grenade.

Pobre viejecito – lit. "Poor little old one!" Roughly equivalent to our expression of, “I´m playing the world´s tiniest violin for you”. Used mockingly in response to someone else´s humblebrag or self-pity. 

Porfa – short for "por favor" - "please".

Puro tilín tilín y nada de paletas – lit. "All tilín, tilín and no ice-creams". Similar to our expression, "All sizzle and no steak", used for when a person fails to deliver on their promise. In Colombia it is common to see men wheeling around carts that contain paletas (ice-creams). They advertise the paletas with a little bell on the side of the cart. Imagine how annoyed you´d be if, after hearing the bell, there were no ice-creams ... that is puro tilín tilín y nada de paletas!

“Que hubo, hombre?”“What´s up, man?”

Rolo – someone from Bogotá.

“Se armó” “It´s on”. Armar is the infinitive, meaning "to assemble" or "to put together".

Se me fue por el camino viejo – lit. "It took me down the old path". Equivalent to our expression, “That went down the wrong way”, when one drinks and subsequently chokes on it.

Ser guancheto act like a thug. "¡No seas guanche!" - "Stop acting like a thug!"

Ser sapo/alit. to be a frog. To be overly inquisitive, to stick your nose into other people´s business. "¡No seas zapa!" - "Don´t be so nosy!"

Se saltó la mangueralit. "The gas pump jumped out". This expression explains that sensation when you have eaten so much at dinner that you have to push your plate away and lean back from the table. For context, when you fill your car with gas at the station, the gas pump will jump away from the car when the tank is full. 


Jamaluku How are you?

*Wiwa is one of the indigenous languages spoken on the Caribbean coast of north Colombia.

Friday, 7 October 2016

How To Talk Like An Ecuadorian

This is the first of a series of three posts on the vocabulary of the three countries I visited in Latin America: Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico. I collected expressions from friends and from conversations around me. Most of the three vocabularies are in Spanish, but include Quichua, Nahuatl, and Czech, among others. 

Language is a fascinating and rich subject that is influenced by factors as varied as geography, history, and anthropology. I welcome any questions, suggestions or corrections you have to this vocabulary. I hope that you find it interesting, informative, and useful for future travels! Speaking of - this work is by no means complete, and I look forward to adding to it in the future.

Thanks to the friends that helped with the Ecuadorian glossary, including Carla, David, Liz, and Pancho. And an especially huge thanks to Alex, who contributed a huge amount of words and schooled me on the difference between Quichua and Quechua!

N.B. For NSFW Section, See: How To Talk Like A Colombian (coming next week!)

The hard blue skies of Colima were fading into distant memory when I finally unpacked my old rucksack. Eight months, three countries, and several thousands of miles later; since my last day in Mexico I had been through candy-land Los Angeles, pine-dusted Vancouver, and London, with its slate-grey skies and discarded papers scuttling through the streets. Now I sat in Edinburgh. Through my bedroom window, green Blackford Hill blustered against the prevailing wind, just the same as last September. Had I really left here? I was down to the last dregs of the rucksack when out they came: one, two, six sketchbooks. Batik print - hardcover black - bound in cloth. When closed, and stacked high, they amounted to a satisfying stack. Open, I left my room behind, and there I was again - Latin America.

In each of these sketchbooks I found words hidden in the seams. Squatting in the centre, scrunched into the corner, or tucked into the flyleaf. Last time I returned from the Americas I brought a raven, a live and bristling thing, its feathers stamped in ink. This time I brought ink, too: the words tattooed into the books, the ones I had gathered like a magpie. Somewhere along my sketchbook journey I learned the trick of annexing the final pages for my vocabulary, but sifting through the earlier sketchbooks was an exercise in cat-and-mouse, the words shy like the people.

Ecuador was the first one on my travels. The mountain kingdom. What a country! I remember the enormous sky over Quito, never the uncomplicated blue of Mexico but constantly charged and changing, bruised by a thunderstorm or marked by white scratches, cirrus clouds stricken by fast high winds. One could never predict the coming days. The paramó below the savannah sky was wrinkled by the passing of time and glaciers. The land curved away in all directions from the Equator.



Ahoritaright now, this instant (also used in Colombia and Mexico). Anyone who has experienced Mexican time will understand this is a somewhat vague definition of this instant, similar to the French "maintenant". 

Bacán – cool.

Broder – comes from brother, means friend or mate. “Dale bro, ahí topamos” - "Alright friend, see you there".

(Broma) colorida (referring to a joke) dirty, vulgar

Carishina - a bad cook. "¡No seas carishina, corta bien la cebolla!" - "Don´t be a carishina, cut that onion properly!"). Can be used for either a man or a woman. 

Chacra – ranch

Chevere – meaning cool, used by everyone from the cool kids to your Grandma. For an alternative definition, look out for the upcoming Mexican glossary. 

Chirimoyas – custard apple. Strange green dimpled fruit with enormous ebony seeds and flesh that tastes like bubblegum.

Dale – meaning ok, fine, got it. See also: sale (Mexican Spanish).

Ecuador - the country, but also employed to say "great, perfect, that´s it": 
"¿Alguien tiene agua?"
"Sí, yo tengo."

Free solear – to free solo something in rock climbing.

Frutillas – strawberries.

Gamin – a maverick or reckless person. Can be used in a derogatory manner to mean foolish or uneducated: "Un gamin se cruzó la calle sin ver" - "A gamin just crossed the road without looking".

Gaminear – infinitive of gamin. "Una man estaba ahí gamineando, dando belay sin prestar atención" - "That girl was gamining over there, belaying without paying attention". 

Hueviear to mess with somebody. “¿Me huevas?” or “¿Huevas conmigo?” - “Are you f---ing around with me?”. Comes from huevas, the Spanish for testicles.

Huevon - a fool or an idiot. Can be used affectionately or derogatorily. "¡No seas huevon!" - "Don´t be a huevon!". Can also be spelt with a g (guevon).

Man – meaning dude or guy. "Ese man" or "eses manes" – "that guy" or "those guys". Can also be used for women: "Esa man es bacán" - "That girl is cool".

Mijo/Mija – a derogatory way of referring to people, particularly of a man referring to a woman. However, can also be used affectionately - but between close friends only. Comes from "Mi hijo/a" - "My son/daughter". 
For example: "Mija, ayudenos con una agua" - "Mija, get us some more water" (when a man asks a waitress for water). 

Pana - friend, mate

Rascacielosskyscraper. Lit. "sky-scratcher".

SaltamontesA grasshopper. Lit. “Mountain-jumper”. Surprisingly, not much larger in South America than in Europe.

Tomate de arbolstrange fruit that looks like an elongated, pale tomato. Disgusting to eat raw, but makes a weird and refreshing juice. 

Topar – to touch, but also to meet up at a place. “Topemos en el bar” - "Let´s meet at the bar."

Ve - to see, but can also refer to a person. Used like the Canadian "eh": "¡Vamos ve!" - "Let´s go, eh?".

Vos - informal version of "tú" - "you". "¿Que es de vos?" - "How´s it going?".

Quiteño or Quitoan Spanish – ¿Want to talk like you´re from the capital of Ecuador? Of course you do. Put an “f” at the end of everything, and also a “guevon”: 
“Vamosff ve, vamos a llegar tardef” - "Let´s go eh, we´re going to be late".
“Sí, vamos a comer weon" - "Yeah, let´s go man". 

Weon, guevon, huevon ... at this point it degenerates into a sound that is no longer recognisably a word.


Achachay – hot
Araray – cold
Ayayay – “Ouch!”
Atatay - disgusting
All these four are reactionary sounds and can be used interchangeably in their shortened forms - Yaya, tatay, raray - to express surprise, for instance if touching a burning stove.  

Cara – man

Cocha – lake

Chuchaqui – hangover. Possibly the best word in the world. I started spreading it in Mexico, to some success. "Estoy crudo" just doesn´t describe it.

Chunchi – elastic.

Cuy – guinea pig. I´ve also heard it referred to, formally, as a “conejillo de Indias” – "little Indian rabbit"Neither from Guinea nor from India, neither a pig nor a rabbit; it seems we´ve all gone mad. Apparently it´s called a cuy in Ecuador because of the curious way they squeak. Alternatively it could be the sound of the spit they´re being roasted on ... guinea pigs are quite popular for dinner in Ecuador.

Cuis – to crack your knuckles or bones.

Guagua – kid. "Los guaguas" – "The kids".

Maña – a trick or a hack, possibly dishonest.


Shunsho – idiot. Similar to tonto in Spanish.

Warmiwoman, lady.

Yana - black.

*Quichua - pre-Colombian language spoken in Ecuador by the Incas. Quechua - pre-Colombian language spoken in Bolivia/Peru by the Incas.