65 Spanish Slang Words & Phrases You Need to Know

If you’re an English speaker in the U.S. you’ve probably noticed how the way Americans express themselves verbally differs widely from how Australians do it, beyond just the accents. Even within our own borders colloquial variations are too numerous to count. But, consider for example, the difference between how New Englanders speak versus people on the Gulf Coast. To illustrate this point a little more thoroughly we thought it might be a good idea to draft up a few posts outlining some of the common slang terms from various languages that you might come across online. We thought that might be both instructive, and good for a laugh.

We thought we’d begin with Spanish since many of our most immediate neighbors are Spanish-speaking countries, and there are many Spanish-speaking communities within our own borders. Here’s a long list of Spanish slang terms divided according to country:

Spanish Slang Words From Argentina

  1. ¿Qué onda? — What’s up?
  2. ¿Como va? — What’s up?
  3. Piola (adj.) — Cool people
  4. escrachado/escrachar (verb) — Cool people
  5. te quiero mucho — I love you
  6. Pibe — Boy
  7. Chabón — Guy/Dude
  8. Tacho — Taxi

Spanish Slang Words From Chile


  1. ¿Qué más? — What’s up?
  2. ¿Qué hubo? — What’s up?
  3. ¡Ojo! — Be careful!/Watch out!
  4. ¡Pilas! — Be careful!
  5. Mañé — Ridiculous/uncool
  6. Piedra — Anger
  7. Tinto — Black coffee
  8. Tombo — Police Officer

Spanish Slang Words From Cuba


  1. ¿Que es la que hay? — How are you doing?
  2. mate — insanely in love with someone / an act of desperation
  3. mono — cute/pretty
  4. chavos — cents/dollars/money

Spanish Slang Words From Guatemala


  1. ¿Qué onda! — What’s up
  2. Calidá — Cool
  3. Cerote/Pizado — Dude/Idiot
  4. Te quiero mucho — I love you lots
  5. Wirito/Gúirito — Boy
  6. Chavo — Guy
  7. Chava — Teen girl
  8. Que chilero! — Cool!

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Spanish Slang Words From México


  1. ¿Qué Huele? — What’s up?
  2. Fresa — Preppie/snob/spoiled brat
  3. Aguas — Watch out!
  4. Chido — cool
  5. Qué padre — That’s tight
  6. Güey — Dude (sometimes pejorative)
  7. Mande — What did you say? / Pardon me
  8. ¡Chale! — Give me a break!

Spanish Slang Words From Spain


  1. ¿Qué pasa? — What’s up
  2. ¡Ni di coña! — No way!
  3. Guiri — Tourist from North Europe
  4. Quinqui/Kinki — Delinquent / pretty theif
  5. Tio / Tia — Dude

Spanish Slang Words From Perú


  1. ¿Que cuentas? — What’s up?
  2. la firme — true
  3. achorado — defiant
  4. los vidrios — see you
  5. chamba — work
  6. Pata — bro/dude
  7. chompa — jacket
  8. figureti — show off

Spanish Slang Words From Venezuela


  1. ¡Arrecochínense! — squeeze/group together!
  2. ¡Avíspate! — Get smart! / straighten up!
  3. Caucho — fat belly
  4. Bala fria — Junk food/quick lunch
  5. Candela — Awesome
  6. Ratón — Hangover
  7. Echar los perros — To court someone
  8. Lata — French Kiss

More Slang Terms From the Spanish Language

Here’s a list of eight Spanish slang words that might be understood as perfectly tame expressions in one Spanish-speaking country while striking a very different chord in another.

  • Gallego (Galician) — Latin American synecdoche (a type of metaphor that uses a small part of something as an allegorical description of the whole, e.g. referring to employees as hired ‘hands.’) In Latin America, Gallego generally denotes all Spaniards and does not necessarily assume pejorative connotations. Strictly speaking though, a Gallego (Galician) is a person from Galicia, the northernmost and westernmost region of Spain, bordering Portugal. Galicia has a unique ethno-cultural history and a native language that is more closely related to Portuguese than Castilian Spanish. Galician ethnicity originates from Celtic tribes and was influenced by Roman incorporation, which occurred around 19 BC. Referring to Spaniards by the term Gallego might be the perfectly appropriate thing to do on a Latin American website. But use of that term in the same context on a website targeted at audiences in Spain would be the equivalent of referring to all Americans as Californians. It would just seem weird and silly.
  • Roto, f. rota — Literally translated as “broken” Roto refers to common Chilean people. The term took on negative, classist connotations in the 20th century when applied to describe poor, Chilean urbanites. Roto/rota is the modern, Chilean equivalent to the English word plebians, from the Roman word plebes and that changed from referencing ‘the common people,’ in ancient Rome, to strictly connoting peasant status among English speakers. In Bolivia and Peru, roto is used as a pejorative for Chileans. But, in Chile, the roto is a figure of nationalist identity and pride—a working class archetype—but the word is only understood that way in exactly the right context. Certainly, a website targeted at Bolivian and Peruvian Spanish speakers would not want to use the term roto as a general purpose term for, ‘average people.
  • Vaina — Literally translated as ‘sheath’ or ‘pod,’ and originating from the Latin word, vagina, which translates directly into ‘scabbard’ or ‘sword sheath,’ vaina is a general purpose filler noun, comparable to ‘thing,’ or ‘thingy,’ used in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela. But don’t go thinking that vaina is generally acceptable for a business website in those countries. Although some, especially Dominicans, consider it the most useful word for everyday social communication, vaina invokes strictly negative connotations in the same way that ‘crapcomes across as more negative than ‘stuff.’ Thus, vaina is typically used as a deliberately vague referent to illicit, or unmentionable ‘things.’
  • Madre — You might think there could be nothing more universally harmless than the Spanish word for mother. But we’re talking about language, something that could not be less universal. In certain Mexican contexts, adding the word, Madre to a phrase adds profane and/or offensive connotations. Mexican culture has a cultural taboo against matriarchal families because of associations with witchcraft. Also in Colombia the word madrazo, which stems from madre, refers to insults in general. So before you go invoking mother and/or maternity on a Mexican version of your business website, think carefully about context.
  • Pico — This word is a masculine noun that means a peak, point, spike, beak, bill, pick, or pickaxe. The verb form of pico is picar, which means to sting, to bite, to peck at, to break, to chip, etc. Knowing that, it’s hard to imagine how the fresh vegetable salsa, pico de gallo, which directly translates into ‘beak of the rooster,’ got it’s name. Used in other contexts, pico is sometimes a spanish slang word for male genitalia. So be careful how you use this one?
  • Marimba — The marimba is the national instrument of Guatemala, where it was first observed and documented under Mayan use by the historian Domingo Juarros, in 1680. A familiar and very popular sound in Latin American music the marimba is a percussion instrument similar to a xylophone, consisting of a rack of wooden bars that produce musical notes when struck with mallets. In fact, the marimba was probably heavily influenced by the xylophone, which was brought to central America via West Africa in the 16th or 17th century. However, in Colombia, Cuba, México, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, the word marimba is also used as a slang term for Marijuana. So, to advertise the sale of ‘merimba’ on an ecommerce site might be a situation best handled with special attention paid to word choice.
  • Loca — American non-Spanish speakers are probably most familiar with the adjectival usage of the word ‘loca,’ (crazy) from popular colloquial iterations like, ‘la vida loca,’(the crazy life), etc. It should be pointed out that the phrase ‘la vida loca,’ has no explicit gender connotations even though ‘loca’ applies the feminine termination. It simply follows the conventions of Romance languages for adjective use by matching the case, tense, and gender of the noun it modifies, while noun declension is not necessarily context dependent. Some nouns apply strict masculine or feminine declension regardless of the subject. Pollo loco is an example of masculine declension using the same base adjective. Again, the phrase is not explicitly gendered. In fact it’s especially ambiguous given that pollos (chickens) are implicitly female, while roosters, or gallos are male. However, loca/loco is not just a uniform adjective connoting general craziness across all Spanish-speaking cultures. In Costa Rica, loca is also used as a slang noun for a ‘crazy woman,’ or a ‘madwoman.’ Now, imagine how in Costa Rica, improperly contextualized usage of ‘loca’ could alter the intended meaning from ‘living a crazy life,’ for example, to ‘living the life of a crazy woman.’  
  • Cabrón — Who doesn’t like authentic Mexican? Well, this word is authentic Mexican trashmouth slang that has all the contextual malleability of the F-word in English. It can be used to mean any or every four-letter-word in George Carlin’s book. It can be a not-directly-translatable adjective that simply punctuates phrases with a vulgar tone, but it also has many tame meanings as well. For example, it also means buddy, pal, and/or mate and seems to work, in that sense, similarly to the way American English speakers use the word ‘dude.’ But, cabrón is so charged up with Latin hot-bloodedness that even its tame uses should be avoided in polite company, or on any kind of professional web page.

About Smartling

If you check out our extensive market penetration guide, you’ll notice that we stress the importance of website localization. And under that same subheading we point out how a website should look and feel native to a local audience. It should seem like it was made by locals for locals.

Probably the best way to fail at setting up a native-looking and feeling website is to fail to understand the local language paradigm, the history and culture that created it as well as the quirks and colloquial nuances that reflect those things. We agree, that acquiring and accurately applying all that knowledge can be a daunting task, which is why our Global Fluency Platform is such a valuable asset to any international business that wants the ability to translate website content to effectively reach any language, all cultures, and every market.

If your international business is looking for solutions to executing internet localization as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, you can contact us via email hi@smartling.com or call 1-866-707-6278.

Be sure to also read the top slang terms in other parts of the world: