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 orden – lit. 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/costeño – adjectives 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!”
Caucho – rubber.
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.
Estafar – lit. “to stuff”. The verb used to indicate being ripped off. “¿Me estafas?” – “Are you ripping me off?”
Gomelo/a – of 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 partida – lit. “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 guanche – to act like a thug. “¡No seas guanche!” – “Stop acting like a thug!”
Ser sapo/a – lit. 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 manguera – lit. “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.