One of the best things about the Spanish language is its diversity: the many dialects of Spanish spoken across Europe, the Americas, and Africa each have their own unique slang.
Mexican slang is among the most famous, but most Latinos have ironically addressed someone as tío before in gentle mockery of their cousins in Spain, and even Spaniards scratch their heads at what passes for everyday speech in Argentina.
Colombia is another hispanophone country that, despite being generally thought of as one of the ‘clearest’ varieties of the language in Latin America, packs a diversity of slang to match the human and natural diversity the country is famous for.
So today let’s celebrate the Spanish of Colombia, where 45 million Spanish-speakers are dancing salsa and drinking shots of aguardiente as their country marches toward peace. Here are six slang phrases that are quintessentially Colombian.
#1: Qué pena
In most of the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, qué pena is something more like “what a shame”. But in Colombia, it’s used a lot of different ways.
Mostly it means something like “excuse me” or “sorry”–someone bumps into you on the street and mumbles a quick qué pena without looking up from their phone, or a stranger interrupts your conversation with a qué pena to ask for directions. Sometimes waiters even use it, almost as if they were apologizing for showing up at your table to take your order: “Y qué pena señor, qué quiere tomar?”
#2: Me regalas
Use the verb regalar anywhere outside Colombia and it tends to follow its dictionary definition, “to gift” or “to give as a gift”, but in this South American country its use is confusingly generalized. In Colombia, “Me regalas una cerveza?” is the normal way to order your beer at the bar, even though you’ll still be paying for it.
Spanish speakers arriving in Colombia might range from confused to offended by the range of things Colombians are asking to regalar them, but that’s nothing compared with the crazy looks unsuspecting Colombians receive on holiday in Spain or Mexico: “Regálame un plato de pollo a la plancha” works in the restaurants of Bogotá and Medellín, but anywhere else it just sounds like you’re asking for free lunch.
#3: Qué hubo?
Haber is one that trips up most learners to start with, which is why this common Colombian greeting can make you a little crazy if you don’t understand it.
Pronounced more like one word in Colombia–kyubo?–it means the same as qué tal or your generic “what’s up” greeting of choice, but it does so using the past tense form of haber, literally asking “what was there?”
It’s so ubiquitous in Colombia that it’s the namesake one of the country’s most popular online newspapers: Q’Hubo.
“Not sure if hung over / or still drunk”
#4: Ando enguayabado
Personally, I think this is one of the most ridiculous Colombian slang words, and giggle-inspiring as it is, I refuse to use such a cute and refreshing-sounding word to describe being hung over.
Literally “guava-ed”, this phrase uses the Colombian obsession with fruit to capture an image of a poor hung over soul sucking on a guayaba as they try to recuperate from the night before. When your Colombian housemates andan enguayabado, do your best to have some sympathy with their state, and maybe offer them a guayaba in a punny gesture of solidarity.
#5: Qué más, bien o no?
In Medellín and Antioquia Department, you’ll hear this greeting and variants of it spoken on and yelled across streets all day long.
Literally “What(‘s) more? Good or no?”, it captures in six syllables the typical Paisa way of speaking, in this region characterized by use of voseo and indirect, campo-style communication. “Qué más” is the standard greeting–it can be hurled at a familiar face as you walk by on the sidewalk with no response expected–but other times your neighborhood shopkeeper might just shout “bien” when you walk into the store, almost like a command: be well!
Sometimes Colombians drop the pretenses and just go for efficient, colorful, hilarious communication. Culicagado, or, loosely translated, “crap-ass”, might be the apex of that.
Constructed from culo, a less-than-polite term for “butt”, and the verb cagar, another not-so-polite verb for going numero dos, this word packs a lot of imagery into one quick interjection that’s usually screamed at some misbehaving kids.
If you visit Colombia, save this one for the perfect moment when someone’s acting the fool at a party, and make sure you mean it, because as funny as this word is on its own, there’s nothing better than it coming convincingly out of a gringo mouth at the right moment.
“They called me culicagada / so I gave them a little present”
Slang is one of the most fun parts of language learning, but also one of the most authentic. It’s how most people are really talking any given day out on the streets, and it can offer sometimes amusing insights into a culture’s sense of humor and creativity. Colombian slang is no different, and it’s one of the many pieces of the cultural puzzle that make the country one of the warmest, friendliest, and overall best places to learn Spanish.
What are your favorite Spanish slang words and phrases, and what countries are they from? Tell us about them in the comments!