17 Latin American Slang Phrases That Will Have You #ROFLing hard!
Language is fluid and constantly changes. Beyond academic rules or what is supposed to be the “right way” to speak and write Spanish (as if…), everyday vernacular is what really defines the paths that language takes. It is not the tired, old and generally white males in the ivory tower of academia that should determine how language evolves, but you and me, people who think outside the box and perpetuate tradition (doesn’t it feel awesome to use that old-fashioned phrase your abuelita loved, even jokingly?).
Latin American Spanish is rich in meaning and creativity. It is the product of processes of colonization that produced hybrids of Castillian Spanish (what the conquistadores spoke) and various indigenous languages. Later, migration processes to the continent brought with them new forms of expression. Argentinian Spanish, for example, is called lunfardo and incorporates words from Italian. Anyway, here’s 17 phrases that make no real sense at first, but are a source of identity and pride.
Latino power, mi gente!
Literal translation: Green, go!
What it really means: A (white) man from the United States or a (white) man from Western Europe, Australia or Canada.
This term is no longer exclusive to describe Americans, but anyone who looks stereotypically white. The word was coined during the Mexico-US war in the nineteenth century. The US troops wore green uniforms, and so locals would try to get them to go by simply saying: “Green, go!”. So, gringo.
Cállate los ojos
Literal translation: Shut up your eyes !
What it really means: Oh, really!
Used mainly by old ladies (so probably your mamá and tías and abues) when something is hard to believe. As in: “Did you see…? I think Lupe is hiding something from us…”. In unison: “Cállate los ojos”.
Estoy bien pedo
Literal translation: I am such a fart!
What it really means: I am quite drunk.
This phrase is used mainly in Mexico, where popular phrases often have to do with farting. Being pedo is basically being drunk. A peda is a party where people will likely get wasted. Also, if you wanna just say “How are you doin’?” you can simple say: “Que pedo?”… literally “What fart?”.
Literal translation: Bad/rotten milk.
What it really means: adjective, describes an ill intention.
When someone is being mean on purpose, you could say that the carnal did such and such in mala leche. Just imagine drinking a carton of bad milk… that is the bitter taste that toxic people leave behind.
Aquí sólo mis chicharrones truenan
Literal translation: Only my pork crackles crack around here.
What it really means: I am the boss (drops mic.).
Mainly used in Mexico, a land that loves chicharrones with lime and tons of salsa. Nothing worse than a soggy pork crackling, so I guess the phrase sort of makes sense…. just sort of. Will there be a vegan version soon?
Arrastrar el ala
Literal translation: Drag your wing.
What it really means: Argentinian for trying to hook up with someone.
Slang takes mysterious paths and sometimes produces poetic, yet surreal phrases like this one, specially in the land of tango and milonga. Now, if dragging your wing meant being sad because someone is just not into you (cue sad violins) that would make sense, but not this. Cool phrase, though.
Echar un cloro
Literal translation: Splash some chlorine.
What it really means: To pee.
Argentinian slang for urinating. Really confusing, as chlorine is what gets rid of that pee smell that can linger like a bad dream!
Literal translation: To give someone papaya.
What it really means: the act of taking an unnecessary risk.
Colombian for doing stupid things like drink driving or bungee jumping without the right gear. Who knows where the tropical fruit came into play! By the way, papaya is also used to describe female genitalia in some Latin American countries. Really.
Hacer una vaca /Hacer una vaquita
Literal translation: To make a cow/To make a little cow.
What it really means: Collecting a pot of cash for a common purpose.
Say you and your buddies are going to watch a game and need to buy snacks and drinks. Que hueva calculating how much each needs to pitch in exactly, so just get people to put in whatever and make a cow for the common good.
Hablar hasta con los codos
Literal translation: To talk even with your elbows.
What it really means: No one can shut you up.
This phrase is used to describe that person who just talks and talks and talks and talks… Perfect for that person who is a chismoso and just blabbers every time you see him. Not necessarily an insult… more like a subtle burn.
Literal translation: A rumba-dancing skeleton.
What it really means: someone who is super skinny.
Cubans love their rumba and their metaphors. If you say that someone is an esqueleto rumbero that means that the person needs to put on a few pounds… like yesterday.
Echarse un taco de ojo
Literal translation: Eat an eye taco.
What it really means: Looking at someone lasciviously (translation: you are a bit of a creep, dude).
This phrase comes out of Latin America’s everyday macho-talk. This is one of those slang phrases that just needs to go into oblivion. To echarse un taco de ojo means going somewhere to look at beautiful people and basically objectifying them. Stalker, much?
Literal translation: To give someone juice.
What it really means: To procrastinate… so probably what you are doing right now 🙂
Chilean for wasting your time or postponing the inevitable. How that can possibly be related to juice is an enigma.
Literal translation: Liz Taylor.
What it really means: Ready!
Chilean slang for ready, which is listo in Spanish. Somehow that mutates into listeilor and then Liz Taylor. Go figure. We wonder if the Hollywood diva ever found out about this.
Literal translation: To the chili pepper.
What it really means: To speak truthfully.
In Mexican slang, penises are often referred to as chiles (chilis). So that might have something to do with this. You would say something like: “Al chile, are you trying to scam me or something?”.
Literal translation: The goat.
What it really means: The bicycle.
Cuban Spanish is one of the most complex in Latin America, and often words don’t quite mean what you think they do. If you go to Havana and want to do a bike tour, remember to actually ask for a goat.
Jamar un cable
Literal translation: To voraciously eat a cable.
What it really means: To struggle financially.
Another Cuban linguistic gem. How being homeless or out of job relates to eating a cable is not quite clear, but the phrase has a strong, dramatic ring to it.
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