No natural language can claim to stay chaste forever. No matter how it began, it always accumulates expressions not standard to it with time. As with English, that’s the case with Spanish too. This article deals with a very specific subset of Spanish, the one spoken in Colombia. To further narrow things down, we talk specifically about Colombian Spanish slang and nothing else here. This is not a study of dialectical features of the vernacular but only the nonstandard aspects thereof. Colombian Spanish slang, and nothing else.
The Colombian Spanish slang lexicon shares quite some overlap with those of other Latin American countries, of Venezuela and Uruguay in particular. So don’t be surprised if you run into something you recall as having heard elsewhere. It’s all a part of how dialects work.
17 Nouns of Colombian Spanish Slang
This section is going to form the bulk of this article. That’s because of the 31 Colombian Spanish slang terms listed here, 17 happen to be nouns! And that’s natural because colloquialisms around people and objects tend to develop more rapidly than any other. I mean think about the number of slang terms we have for a skinny person in English! As said above, quite a few of these words are not entirely exclusive to the Colombian Spanish slang pool, but the country still remains the source of them all. Some of the most common words of Colombian slang originated in the Paisa region (around Medellin) and spread out thanks to the strong Colombian media.
Meaning: A sharp person
avión and avionazo (literally, big airplane) are Dominican equivalents of the English word slut. In Colombia it refers, instead, to a street-smart person, i.e. someone who is clever or cunning. Another word commonly used with slightly less positive connotations is avispa. Avispa is Spanish for wasp but in Mexican Spanish, it’s also slang for thief while in Colombia, for a sly or shrewd person.
Mi hermano era un avión (My brother was a sharp man).
¡Cuidado! El agente es un avión! (Beware! The agent is a cunning fellow!)
Meaning: A hot person
Bizcocho is also common in Peru. In most Spanish speaking countries the term refers to a kind of sponge cake or pie. On the other hand in Mexico, the word is sometimes used for the female genitalia, of course not in polite conversations. In Colombia, it can be used the way we use sweetheart or babe as terms of endearment or flirtation in English. For a person of either gender. The word can have both sexual and friendly connotations depending on the context. Bollo and cosota happen to be two other members of the Colombian Spanish slang lexicon that serve the same purpose as bizcocho.
Su novia es una bizcocho (His girlfriend is a hottie).
¡Venga bizcocho, sólo falta un taco! (Come on babe, we just need one taco!)
Meaning: Embarrassment, disgrace
Depending on which country you are in, boleta is a ticket, a fine, a pass, or a ballot paper. In Mexico, it also refers to a report card in school. None of these is what we’re talking about here, though. In the streets of Colombia, boleta is mostly slang for a socially awkward situation. More often than not, it’s paired with qué to form an interjection. How awkward or embarrassing, is totally up to the speaker’s articulation.
¡Que boleta! ¡Perdimos el partido 0-6! (What a shame! We lost the game 0-6!)
Es una boleta que esté tan sucio (It’s a disgrace that it should be so dirty).
Not just any car. This one gets used only if one were referring to a car with a certain amount of endearment. It’s almost like personifying your ride. Especially if it’s old. It’s funny that you should want to call your beloved ride this because cacharro, from which cacharrito derives, is Spanish for a jalopy, a wrecked old-banger of a car. Not terribly endearing, now, is it?
Mi papá me deja usar su cacharrito los fines de semana (My dad lets me use his car on the weekends).
Mi cacharrito ha ido sin problema durante años (My car has run without an issue for years).
Meaning: Thief, robber
Caco enjoys currency in Guatemala too. Other countries have their own colloquialisms for thief, from chorizo in Spain to ratero in Mexico, and from pillo in Puerto Rico to choro in Peru and Ecuador. Another word Colombians love using for thieves is raponero. But raponero applies to a more specific subset of caco, i.e. the purse-snatchers. So all raponeros are cacos, but not all cacos are raponeros.
El caco dijo que se iba a esconder por un tiempo (The robber said that he would lay low for a while).
La mujer pegó al ladrón con su cartera (The woman hit the robber with her purse).
Meaning: Work, job
Camello is literally a camel. Now I don’t know how hardworking camels are compared to other animals but the Colombians seem to do. Camello is a very commonly used term for hard work in the country. In some countries, the word is also slang for a drug dealer. Camels and drugs, now that’s an interesting connection, isn’t it? Like, I already know about drug mules but drug camels?
Llevar a cabo el proyecto requirió de mucho tiempo y camello (Completing the project required a lot of time and work).
Este camello no paga muy bien (This job doesn’t pay very well).
In areas along the Andes, such as Chile and parts of Peru, cháchara means joke, otherwise chiste in standard Spanish.
Meaning: Expertise, experience
Cancha enjoys usage all over Latin America in the sense of expertize or experience. Other than this, they also use cancha as slang for golf course, football field, tennis court, or practically any open space. But Colombians mostly limit its use to expertize.
Tras muchos años trabajando, tiene mucha cancha (After many years working, he has a lot of experience).
Te hace falta más cancha para poder usar una motosierra (You lack the expertise to handle a chainsaw).
In Mexico, the word is typically used in plural and when done, it means knickknack or junk, things you have but don’t need anymore. In areas along the Andes, such as Chile and parts of Peru, cháchara means joke, otherwise chiste in standard Spanish. Coming back to our country of interest, the word refers to smalltalk. Chatter, if you will. This usage, however, isn’t necessarily confined to Colombia and can be heard in many other parts of the Spanish-speaking world. An oft-heard expression using this word is estar de cháchara which means to engage in chitchat.
Dejen la cháchara y hagan algo útil (Quit the chitchat and do something useful).
A mis amigos les encanta estar de cháchara (My friends love to chatter).
Meaning: Low-quality work
As an adjective, chambón can mean both clumsy and lucky depending on the context. As a noun, it’s the one being clumsy. These interpretations are universal and part of standard Spanish. However, in Colombia, the word can also refer to a shoddy job. Something finished half-heartedly and likely in a rush, if you will. A useful idiom using this word is hacer algo a la chambona which means to finish something in a rush. Yes, there does exist the derived verb chambonear for such purposes, but I find idioms more fun to use. Don’t you?
Este puente es un chambón (This bridge is a shoddy job).
Su chambón rompió mi computadora (His shoddy job broke my computer).
Meaning: Useless things
Chéchere enjoys currency in not only Colombia but also neighboring Venezuelan (western dialects) and Panamanian Spanish. The connotation is identical to that of cháchara in Mexico and around. You can see why that’s the case given useless chatter is as good as the junk in your house. Just get rid of all the chéchere and all the cháchara in your life the next time you’re on a life-detox mission.
No me di cuenta de la cantidad de chácharas que guardaba (I didn’t realize how much junk I was holding on to).
Si tiraras todas esas chácharas tendrías mucho más espacio (If you threw away all that garbage, you’d have much more space).
This one is interesting. And surprisingly versatile. As a standard, Chino is Spanish for Chinese. But with a regional twist, it may stand for a whole range of things. For example, in Mexico it’s a commonly used adjective for curly hair. In Colombia, chino commonly refers to a kid. This usage is, of course, colloquial and not too familiar everywhere. In fact, if you tried this usage along the Atlantic coast, you’d likely draw a blank. That said, don’t be too generous using this word because it derives from cochino, Spanish for a baby pig. Not sure how welcoming the parents are going to be if you called their kids baby pigs.
Los chinos dijeron que estan demasiado cansados (The children said they’re too tired).
Mira ese chinito (Look at that kid).
Meaning: Freeloader, moocher
Concha is Spanish for seashell and a vulgar Latin American colloquialism for the female genitalia. And that’s what conchudo comes from. Depending on what part of Latin America you find yourself in, the word can mean jerk, idiot, cheeky, or shameless. In Bolivia and Chile, it can also mean lucky! In Colombia, the term (when used as a noun) usually refers to someone who takes advantage of others. Think freeloader, or sponger. If you eploit someone’s innocence for selfish gains, you’re a conchudo.
Sí, Mano es todo un conchudo (Yes, Mano is a real moocher).
¿Algún día vas a dejar de ser una conchuda? (Are you ever going to stop being a freeloader?)
Cotorra is a young lora. Lora is Spanish for parrot, female parrot to be precise. And what do parrots do? They chirp all day long! That’s what gives both cotorra and lora their slang interpretation, someone who talks a lot, a gasbag if you will. There’s also the verb cotorrear in case you wish to talk about the act. This slang usage isn’t exclusive to Colombian Spanish though and can be understood in many other parts of the Spanish-speaking world as well. Another word with the same connotation is parlanchín, parlanchina if female.
Mi hermana es una cotorra mientras que yo soy más reservada (My sister’s a chatterbox while I’m more reserved).
Daniel dice que su suegra es una cotorra (Daniel says his mother-in-law is a gasbag).
Meaning: An old person
Cucho is as Colombian as it gets although some neighboring countries might also be familiar with the term. The word is Colombian Spanish slang for an old person. You could use it for your dad (in the third person, of course) even, although am not sure how polite it would be. The word can also be used as an adjective. Chileans know the word too, but they use it for a different purpose. In that country (as in the rest of the Southern Cone), cucho refers to a cat. In Mexico, cucho is a cripple, a limbless person to be precise. Coming back to Colombia, cucho gives us an interesting, although slightly derogatory expression, cuchi Barbie. A cuchi Barbie is almost a cougar but not exactly. She’s middle-aged and attractive, but not necessarily on the prawl for men.
Mi cucha hace las mejores arepas del mundo (My mom makes the best arepas in the world).
El domingo fui a pescar con mi cucho y mi hermana (On Sunday, I went fishing with my dad and my sister).
Meaning: An annoying person
A pejorative Colombian Spanish slang expression, mamón refers to someone who’s being a pain in the neck. Basically, downright annoying. The word is quite familiar in all of Central and Latin America with only slightly differeing interpretations. What’s common to all interpretations, though, is that they’re almost all vulgar, offensive, or pejorative. There are some decent examples as well, such as Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua where the word refers to a fruit called lychee. In Paraguay it’s a papaya while in Cuba it’s often any fruit in general. Quite a fun coincidence if you’re not terribly fond of fruits.
¡Cómo me fastidia Peter! ¡Qué mamón es! (Peter annoys me so much! He’s such a jackass!)
Ese mamón no sabe nada de nada (That jerk doesn’t know anything).
Meaning: Dude, buddy
You use parce the exact same way as you do dude or bro in English. In the second person. Naturally, you wouldn’t want to use it with someone older or not very familiar. I mean do you “bro” a stranger or your teacher in English? Big no. By the way, parce is a shorter version of parcero, the original Colombian Spanish slang for the same thing.
¡Parce! ¿Cómo vas? ¿Todo bien? (Dude! How are you doing? Everything good?)
Mira, parcero, así es la vida (Look, mate, that’s life).
Meaning: Enjoyment, commotion
You could use recocha for a fun activity or something undesirable, such as a ruckus. Which one of the two, is obviously a function of context. I don’t know if other Latin American countries understand the word in this usage. But in Colombian Spanish slang, the usage is quite common. So the next time you find yourself in the middle of a loud drunken mess, you know you’re in a recocha.
Pasaba mucho tiempo de recocha con mis amigas (I used to spend a lot of time having fun with my friends).
Mis alumnos andan siempre armando recocha (My students tend to engage in horseplay a lot).
4 Adjectives of Colombian Spanish Slang
No slang vocabulary is complete without a generous seasoning of colorful descriptors. Although not as abundant as nouns, adjectives add their own regional twist to the Colombian Spanish slang in both formal as well as informal settings. The ones I’m listing here are not even a fraction of all there is but these are some of the most ubiquitous. You just can’t escape them if you’re in the country for even a few hours.
Meaning: Awesome, cool, terrific
Same as chévere but more exclusive to Colombia, whereas chévere enjoys some currency in, for instance, Venezuela as well. Bacano can also be used as a noun but with a slight modification in the masculine form. It’s bacana for a cool girl but bacán, witout the -o, for a cool guy. You can use the term liberally with no fear of any backlash, unless you’re in an extremely formal setting.
¡Estuvo bacana tu fiesta! (Your party was awesome).
Anoche fuimos a un bar super bacano (Last night we went to a super cool bar).
Meaning: Angry, a great deal of, a skilled person
Also spelled verraco. The word literally refers to a kind of pig but in Colombian Spanish slang usage, it means a skilled person, a very difficult situation, a lot of something, or very angry. Many other connotations exist too, both as noun as well as adjective, but they’re all colloquial and contextual. The speaker’s intonation can also factor into the meaning implied.
¡Usted sí es un berraco! (You are really a genius!)
Él está bien berraco hoy (He is very angry today).
Meaning: Awesome, cool, terrific
This one’s a staple if you’re into Colombian Spanish slang. Especially the less-than-polite parts thereof. But don’t get me wrong, chimba isn’t exactly taboo either. Young men and women use it all the time, at least in familiar settings. Good things can at times be too good to be real which is why chimba can also mean fake in some contexts. Again, whether one means cool or fake would be clear from the context.
¡Qué chimba de partido! ¡Lo disfruté mucho! (What a great match! I really enjoyed it!)
Los boletos para el concierto eran chimba y no nos dejaron entrar (The tickets for the concert were fake and we weren’t allowed to enter).
Oh and some Colombians can also use chimbo for anything that is fake, genitalia or otherwise. So fake bills, made-up stories, counterfeit check, everything is chimbo. Try not to switch it for chimba when referring to something nice though, although in the sense of fake the two words do overlap freely.
Meaning: Fake, dud, low-quality
Chimbo, in Colombian colloquialism, refers to fake, old, or generally undesirable. Crappy, if you will. Venezuela and Paraguay are also familiar with this usage. The word can also hold its own as a noun, albeit still a mere Colombian regionalism, and when it does it refers to a penis! Seriously? Fake penis? Hondurans and Salvadorans seem to have a better use for the word though as in their slang, chimbo refers to a gas cylinder. Oh and some Colombians can also use chimbo for anything that is fake, genitalia or otherwise. So fake bills, made-up stories, counterfeit check, everything is chimbo. Try not to switch it for chimba when referring to something nice though, although in the sense of fake the two words do overlap freely.
Le di un billete de $100 chimbo (I gave her a fake $100 bill).
El cliente me quiso pagar con un cheque chimbo (The customer tried to pay me with a dud check).
6 Idiomatic Expressions of Colombian Spanish Slang
This one is my most favorite part of any colloquial lexicon. The idioms! They make a dull language come alive with some interesting character. The number of idioms in your vocabulary, colloquial or otherwise, is directly proportional to your grip on the language. So, my strong advice would be to internalize as many of them as possible, whichever language you’re learning. A simple blog post, or even an entire book, would less than enough to cover all the idioms out there. But I’ve tried to list out some of the most ubiquitous members of the Colombian Spanish slang lexicon. Learn them to instantly sound less like a tourist and more like an easygoing colombiano.
22. Calienta Huevos
Meaning: Cockteaser, hardball
The prettier the girl, the harder it’s going to be to get to her. In English we call it playing hardball. In Colombian Spanish slang usage, we play hot eggs, the literal translation of calienta huevos. Calientapolla is the Mexican equivalent, in case you’re interested. The analogy remains the same either way, so pick whatever works for you. The bottom line is that a calienta huevos is the girl who leads you on, builds up your enthusiasm, yet stays elusive.
No te preocupo, su novia es una calienta huevos (Don’t worry, his girlfriend is just a cockteaser).
¡Ah, esa calienta huevos! No me dejó besarla! (Ah, that cockteaser! She wouldn’t let me kiss!)
23. Comer Cuentos
Meaning: To believe
Cuento is Spanish for account, as in an account of something that probably happened. Comer is to eat. So literally speaking, comer cuentos is to eat a story being recounted; in other words, to buy it, fall for it, believe it. Usually the expression is used in the negative to imply a refusal to believe. Just remember that in the context of this idiom, to believe is to eat. Thus, the one doing the believing is the one doing the comer.
A mí no me comen el cuento (They don’t believe me).
Yo no me como esos cuentos (I don’t believe these stories).
24. Echar los Perros
Meaning: To flirt
This one is my absolute favorite! Echar los perros means to hit on someone. Not stalking, just flirting. I hear Spaniards use the expression too, albeit in a different sense. There, it means to tell off somebody. In most of Latin America, the connotation is to come at someone strongly, not necessarily with a romantic interest. But the flirtatious interpretation is the most common one in Colombia. And, from what I hear, also in Guatemala. Echar also features in the Salvadoran expression echarle los calzones which means the same thing, only a tad more vulgar.
Ella siempre estaba echándole los perros a Javier (She was always flirting with Javier).
Ya deja de echarle los perros a él (Stop hitting on him already).
25. Hacer una Vaca
Meaning: To chip in
To make a cow? How do you do that? Probably by pooling in some money together with your friends, I don’t know. But that’s how it is in Colombian Spanish slang. And not just in Colombia but also in Mexico, Uruguay, Chile, and even Spain. So, quite a handy little expression if you asked me. Not a bad idea to add it to your vocabulary. You could further customize the expression by changing vaca to its diminutive vaquita. Think of vaca or vaquita here as the kitty or the ante you add your contributions to, e.g., la vaca para las chelas (beer funds), etc.
Hagamos una vaca para comprar pizza (Let’s chip in to buy a pizza).
Hicimos una vaquita para una nueva casa (We pooled in for a new home).
26. Mamar Gallo
Meaning: To tease
Mamar is related to mammaries and literally means to suckle. Gallo is rooster. So I can see how mamar gallo could leave you stumped. I mean what’s breastfeeding a rooster got to do with pulling someone’s leg? And why would a rooster suckle anyway? Well, that’s how idiomatic expressions work. Perhaps something to do with cocks being cocky? I don’t know, just shooting in the dark here.
Mi hermano no me deja de mamar gallo (My brother won’t stop teasing me).
No te pongas furioso, sólo estaba mamando gallo (Don’t get mad, I was just pulling your leg).
By the way, did you notice how we just connected mamar with mammaries to illustrate its meaning, to suckle at breasts? That’s called word association. an immensely effective way to boost your vocabulary using memory tricks you’re already good at. Read more about these memory tricks here to see how you can do wonders with your Spanish.
27. Parar Bolas
Meaning: To pay attention
Parar bolas isn’t exclusive to the Colombian Spanish slang lexicon. The idiom enjoys an equally widespread usage, if not more, in neighboring Venezuela. Literally translated, it means to stop balls. How that relates to paying attention, I don’t know for sure; but we can always theorize. My theory is that one ought to be quite attentive to catch a ball thrown at them. And here it’s multiple bolas. So if you’re stopping balls coming at you, you’re probably also attentive.
No me paró bolas (He didn’t listen to me).
No le pares bolas, está loca (Don’t mind her, she’s crazy).
4 Verbs of Colombian Spanish Slang
There are absolutely a lot of verbs that make up a sizeable chunk of Colombian colloquialism, but I can’t recall most of them. But I’m listing out the four I can. I would even hazard a wager that these four are probably the most widely used slang verbs in Colombia. But that’s my personal take and I would encourage you to explore for yourself. So here we go with the big four.
Meaning: To get away, to withdraw
Abrir means to open. But in most of Latin America in general and Colombia in particular, the verb also means to leave or to get away. This usage, however is not quite standard and can best be seen as part of the great Colombian Spanish slang lexicon. I have no idea what the act of opening has got to do with that of leaving but let me try winging it. Notice the reflexive -se in abrirse there? Yeah, that literally means to opening oneself. Now think of opening as analogous to spreading out, or leaving. Much like how water leaves the sink when the drain is opened.
Oye, dame tiempo para abrirme (Listen, give me time to get away).
Puede que alguien le viese abrirse (Maybe somebody saw him get away).
Meaning: To accidentally fall or trip
Aporrear means to pound or to hammer on. The reflexive usage is quite common to not only Colombia but also the Andes. No, it doesn’t mean to beat oneself up, but taking a tumble is kinda close, don’t you think? The reflexive version can also be interpreted as to slave away or to slog. That doesn’t sound much different from taking a beating anyway.
Laura perdió el equilibrio sobre los patines y se aporreó (Laura lost her balance on the roller skates and took a tumble).
Esa bolsa ahí en el suelo le hará aporrear a alguien (That bag on the floor will make someone trip).
Meaning: To mess up
Barro is Spanish for mud. And that’s where embarrar comes from. Just as to embalm is to cover in balm, embarrar is to cover in mud. That’s standard Spanish, not colloquialism. In Colombian Spanish slang, however, the verb takes a more figurative meaning, to muddle up, to mess up. In Mexico and some other parts of Spanish-speaking America, embarrar also means to tarnish, e.g., someone’s image.
Creo que embarré la entrevista (I think I messed up the interview).
Se me abría una vida ideal y lo embarré todo (An ideal life opened up for me and I blew it).
Meaning: To bribe
Ligar means to tie in standard Spanish. But the verb, when used colloquially in Colombia, refers to the act of bribing someone. Bribing is an illegal favor and by offering me one, you practically bind me to do what the bribe was for. You tie me to a deal. Probably that’s the connotation behind ligar in this usage. As apparent, the verb is always used transitively, i.e. it must have an object, the person being bribed and thus tied into an obligation.
No puedes ligarme con perfume (You cannot buy me with perfume).
Jorge intentó ligar a un agente de policía para que no le pusiera una multa (Jorge tried to bribe a police officer not to fine him).
Final Notes on Colombian Spanish Slang
As I have repeatedly said before, this list is by no means complete nor can it ever be. Not even close. It would take an entire book, possibly more, to cover everything termed as slang in Colombian street-speech. Treat this as a starting point to get your feet wet and once through with them, go ahead, explore the rest for yourself. Here’s one excellent blog I found while browsing aimlessly, do check it out. I can promise you it’ll be a thrilling experience. The deeper you go down that rabbit hole, the better you absorb the language. And as you do, please consider sharing your findings with the rest of us in a comment here! We would love to learn along with you as there’s never enough learning.