This is the third 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 they also include words in Quichua, Nahuatl, and Czech, among others.
“How To Talk Like A Mexican” is actually comprised of two parts: Part One, which includes all my Mexican Spanish phrases beginning A through G; and Part Two, which will include all Spanish phrases beginning H through Z in addition to several phrases in other languages such as Nahuatl. Part Two will be coming out in a week or so; look out for it!
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 add to this vocabulary. I hope that you find it interesting and informative for future travels! Speaking of – this work is by no means complete, and I look forward to expanding it in the coming years.
Thanks to the friends that helped with the Mexican glossary, including Yanni, Isis, Nick, Christian, Armando, Jorge, Nelson, and many others. Quiero agradecer en particular Gerardo y Gabriel, dos amigos queridos que me enseñaron tanto de su lengua materna. ¡Espero que nos veamos pronto!
N.B. For NSFW Section, See: How To Talk Like an Ecuadorian.
Desde el primer día que aterrizó mi vuelo en D.F., me enamoré de México. Este país tiene treinta y dos estados, dos costas, y una idioma tan vibrante y extenso que era una imposibilidad caber en un solo post todas las palabras que había aprendido. ¡Me acuerdo el momento cuando, después de un mes viajar por México, miré a una mapa y me di cuenta que había atravesado menos que un cuarto de la longitud del país! Merezca mucho más de estes posts – pero al menos te puedo enseñar aquí unos dichos únicos. ¡Espero que le gusten!
“A falta de pan, las tortillas son buenas” – lit. “When there´s no bread, tortillas are good”. Possibly equivalent to the English expression, “beggars can´t be choosers”.
A gusto – great, the relaxing kind of fun. Similar to chill. “El concierto fue a gusto” – “I liked the concert, it was really chill.”
“¡A huevo!” – meaning, “Hell yeah!” or “Fuck yeah!”
“A mal tiempo, buena cara” – lit. “In the bad times, have a good face”. Similar to the English expression, “Put a brave face on it”.
“A nopal solo le arrima cuando tiene tunas” – lit. “One only approaches a prickly pear when it is bearing fruit.” Meaning that most people only approach a situation considering what they have to gain from it.
“A ojo de buen cubero” – lit. “With an eye on the good cubero”. A cubero is a vessel that in Cuba is used to store wine. This expression means to measure something by rule of thumb or to “eyeball it”, that is to measure something roughly.
“¡A otro perro con este hueso!” – lit. “Go to another dog with this bone!” Meaning, I don´t believe you – go and tell your story to someone more gullible!
“¿A que hora sales por el pan?” – lit. “What time do you go out for bread?” This is an example of a piropo (a chat-up line). A man could ask this of a woman he finds attractive, with the intended result being that she tells him what time she leaves home and then he can “run in to” her. Really a bit sleazy.
“A ti, mas” – lit. “To you, more.” A polite response to “gracias” (Thank you) or “Buen provecho” (“Bon appetit”).
ABCdario – alphabet. Pronounced “ah-beh-se-dah-rio”.
Abarrotes – a corner shop. From abarrotar, meaning “to package or parcel”.
Acabo de – meaning “I just recently [insert verb here]”. For example, “Acabo de leer eso libro” – “I just read that book”. See also apenas.
Acá – Here. See also aquí. Sounds very similar to allá (there).
Ademanes – gestures.
“¡Aguas!” – lit. “Waters!” Meaning, watch out!
Ahí – Meaning, “there” or “over there” in general, without implying any measure of distance.
Alburres – a generous portion of the Mexican sense of humour, alburres are dirty jokes or vulgar tales.
Allá – meaning “there”, with the added implication of great distance. For comparison, ahí (there) could refer to an object nearby whereas allá (there) could be used for Mexico, all the way on the other side of the Atlantic. Ahí (there) could refer to either.
Allí – meaning “there”, with the added implication of small distance.
Amigovios/amigovias– a portmanteau of amigo/a (friend) and novio/a (boy-/girlfriend). This describes perfectly friends with benefits, or that couple in your group of friends who are almost-but-not-quite dating.
Anglosajon – anglified, or “Englishified”. Similarly, españolizado/a means a word from another language that has been absorbed or adapted into Spanish.
Anteayer – the day before yesterday. Like the Spanish inverse of overmorrow.
Anthro – club, disco.
Aquí – here. Compare with allí, allá, ahí.
Apenas – used when something has just been done. See also acabo de.
“¡Arriba, abajo, al centro, pa´dentro!” – lit. “Up, down, to the centre, for inside!” A toast common to Mexico and Colombia, with your glass in hand following the instructions.
“Barrato cómo la huerta” – lit. “Cheap like the orchard.” Used to refer to fresh produce, or things that are produced or grown locally.
Bigote – moustache, but also cream-filled horn-shaped pastry found in the panadería (bakery).
“Botellita de jeréz todo lo que me digas será al revés” – lit. “Little bottle of sherry, everything you tell me shall be as reversed”. This is an expression used by kids, in response to an insult or taunt. English might have something similar, like: “back at you times one hundred with a cherry on top”.
Cachar – to catch someone doing something. “¡Mi novia me canchó con su mejor amiga!” – “My girlfriend caught me with her best friend!”
“Cada cabeza es un mundo” – lit. “Each head is a whole world”. Pretty self-explanatory (ex-planetary?), and also true.
Caguama – a large bottle of beer, about 1.2 litres in volume. Very common in Mexico, and cheaper than regular bottles. In some stores you will receive a receipt with the bottle, which is your bottle deposit – if returned within three days will earn you some money back (around 3 pesos).
Caliche – slang.
“Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente” – lit. “The prawn that sleeps will be carried with the current”. Meaning that if you do not choose your direction in life, it will be chosen for you.
“Cerrar con broche de oro” – lit. “To close with a zip of gold.” Used for a party or event that saves the best for the last; can be roughly translated as “to go out with a bang”.
Chava – chick, bird, girl, dudette.
Chela – beer.
Chevere – meaning cool; however, chevere itself is a very uncool word in Mexico. Imagine someone saying “Spiffing!” in England, with no hint of irony. Compare with chevere in Ecuadorian and Colombian Spanish.
Chido – meaning cool. See also chingon, padre, chevere. Use any in this sentence to say “Cool” and sound cool – “¡Qué chido/chingon/padre!”
Chilango – someone from Ciudad de Mexico, D.F., or surrounding areas.
Chingadero/a – thingamajig. RUDE.
Chingon – meaning cool. Coming from the verb chingar (to fuck). Don´t use chingon around your abuela (granny).
Chiste – a joke, like una broma.
Chueco – bent out of shape.
Chuy – a nickname for Jesus. In Mexico there are a lot of corner stores (abarrotes), tyre shops (vulcanizadoras) and garages (garajes) named ___ Chuy. Occasionally people may refer to “Tata Chuy” (“Papa Jesus”).
Codo duro – lit. hard elbow. Used to describe a miserly or stingy person.
Compa – slang for friend, short for compadre. Used in general for all friends.
Compadre – comrade or friend, used for your inner circle of friends with mucho respect.
“Con dinero baila el perro” – lit. “With money dances the dog”. Meaning that with money, anything is possible. Incidental interesting fact: the “dancing dogs” of Colima are not, in fact, dancing, but are instead sharing secrets with each other.
“Crea fama y echate a dormir” – lit. “Create fame and throw yourself to sleep”. Roughly meaning, if you do bad things to people, they will spread the word and your bad reputación will precede you.
“Cría cuervas y les sacarán tus ojos” – lit. “You breed crows and they will peck out your eyes”. As in the UK, in Mexico crows are associated with bad luck, and have a reputation for eating carrion, beginning with the eyes. Thus, if one were to breed crows, should they be surprised that the birds feed as their nature intended them? Roughly similar to the meaning of, “you reap what you sow”, but for comeuppance; for instance, in response to a parent who refuses to discipline their kids and then complains that they are brats. Metal as a bat out of hell.
“Cuentas claros, amistades largos” – lit. “Clear cheques, long friendships”. Roughly the same principle as “neither a borrower nor a lender be”.
Cultura de masas – lit. culture of the masses. Pop culture.
Cursi – cheesy.
“Dando y dando, pajarito volando” – lit. Giving and giving, flying little bird. Employed in the same way as the English expression, “I´ll scratch your back, you scratch mine”.
“Darle vuelo a las hilachas” – lit. “To give flight to threads”. To kick up your heels, to enjoy yourself, to have a good time.
“De los males, el menor” – lit. “of the bad things, the lesser”. The Spanish version of “the lesser of two evils”.
“¿De que fumas?” – lit., “What are you smoking?” Used to express derision or incredulity at someone´s stupid thought or idea.
“¡Demonios!” – lit. “Demons!” The Mexican version of Damn!
Depa – apartment complex
Descurapelando – (of skin) peeling
Dona – a donut. An españolizada version of doughnut.
Dos-tres – lit. two-three. Meaning, alright or so-so. “¿Como te fue?” “Pues, dos-tres” – “How did it go?” “Eh, alright”.
El enésimo vez – The umpteenth time
“El gran varón” – lit. “The big guy”.
“¡El mejor día del mundo!” – Best day ever!
“¿En serio?” – “Seriously?” or “You´re kidding me!”. An expression of incredulity or disbelief.
Enchuecar – to bend out of shape.
Enganchado – lit. chained to. To be hooked on something.
Entaquear – to make some meal or dish into a taco topping. For instance, one could entaquear a pizza or a lasagne.
“Era una vez …” – “Once upon a time”. Often used to begin funny stories.
“Era una vez …” “-truz!” – Let´s see if I can explain this, and why I love it (it´s a stupid joke in Spanish). Basically, un avestruz is an ostrich. Starting a story with the phrase, “Era una vez” makes it easy for someone else to jump in with “-truz!”, making the start of your story: “Era un avestruz…”(There once was an ostrich …)
Espada de dos filos – a double-edged sword.
Españolizado/a – a word from another language that has been adapted or incorporated into Spanish. See also Anglosajon.
Estar crudo/a – to be hungover.
“Estoy como agua para chocolate” – lit. “I´m like water for chocolate” (as in drinking chocolate). Chocolate in Mexico comes in dark, solid hockey pucks, and to make hot chocolate you need boiling water. In this scenario you are the water – as in, you are very angry.
“Estoy que no me calienta ni el sol” – lit. “I´m in such a state that not even the sun could heat me up”. Meaning “I´m really angry”. See also, “Estoy como agua para chocolate”.
Fiestero/a – party animal
“Figate que…” – “Imagine that …”. Used in an argument when someone is incorrect, and you want to prove your point. Used like “In fact – ” or “Actually…”. For example, imagine an argument in which we´re talking about a glass. Me: it´s made of plastic. Friend: No, it´s glass, because it has patterns etched into it. Me: Pero figate que (But imagine that) you can have patterns etched in plastic, too.
Flaco/a – slim
Fresa – a stuck-up person or snob. Used for both women and men.
Fulano/fulanito – random dude, guy. Less familiar than guey – you don´t know that fulano, but you might know that guey.
Godinez – a common Mexican surname, slang for someone who works in an office.
Guey – dude, man.
Tune in sometime next week for more Mexican sayings (H – Z) and a few words in Nahuatl!