Critical Colombian Slang — The 15+ Essentials for Learners

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This is a guide to not the dirtiest, not the edgiest — just the most common Colombian slang you’ll hear on the streets of Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, or Cartagena.

We may have come to Colombia to learn to dance the salsa, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have an interest in Spanish.

Considering whether to learn French or Spanish? See our comparative guide.

I’m fluent in Spanish at a business level, but not native. I just try to get by as native as possible. In Spain, people think I’m a long-term immigrant. In Latin America, people often think I’m Spanish — or once, Argentinian. Consider this a guide from a fellow learner a few steps ahead, sharing what I’ve learned recently.

Even though Spanish is just Spanish in every country, and most people looking at you will know right away whether you’re a local or not, there’re still a few things you can say to make you sound much more local and get a more local reaction.

For example, in Colombia, you can of course always just greet people with cómo estás for “how are you”. Nobody will think twice about it.

But if you say ¿Quiubo, man? — if not the first time you meet someone, then the second time — you’ll get a warmer reaction.

That’s the power of slang. It helps people feel comfortable to you, and it breaks down barriers that will make you feel more like you belong in a different part of the world.

Colombian Slang in Spanish - header image

Want to suggest another Colombian slang word? Comment at the bottom. I’ll also update this as I find new important words myself.

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Summary — Colombian Slang for noobs

Firstly, we’re not covering standard Spanish slang here. If you’ve come here looking for fun uses of words like mierda, well, Google is your friend. There are also great books on Amazon on Spanish Slang, like this really fun dictionary I learned from ages ago.

Also, bear in mind that Spanish slang is very regional — it’s different even within Colombia. But the list below is pretty generically applicable to anywhere in Colombia.

That said, these words are definitely not guaranteed to be common elsewhere in Latin America! They may be, and they may not be.

Here’s a summary table of Colombian Spanish slang. More detail below!

You might also like my deep-dive into French slang that has stood the test of time.

Colombian Spanish SlangEnglishExample(s)
QuiuboWhat’s up? How’s it going?¿Quiubo amigo/parce?
ChévereAwesome, very nice!Ese lugar es muy chévere!
!Que chévere ese carro!
!La camiseta que compraste está super chévere!
Bacán AwesomeMe gusta mucho esa discoteca, es muy bacana.
¡Qué almuerzo tan bacano!
Listo!OK!(Just use this as ok.). Listo? Listo!
Hágale pues!Sounds good! Let’s do it!De acuerdo, hágale pues!
Rumba/ rumbeara party, or to party. En Cali se rumbea mucho!
Con (mucho) gusto!You’re welcome!Say this when someone says Gracias to you. Nobody ever says No hay de que or De nada.
Qué penaI’m sorry!Que pena con ustedes!
una vaina
a thing, or annoying thing¡Vaya vaina que se te haya roto el coche!
Que vaina que te pasara eso…
camello, camellarwork, or to workSe dice que hay camello acá.
Pero todo el día estás camellando
qué mamera, jarteraHow annoying, boringQué jartera tener que oír esta historia de nuevo.
¡No quiero ir a esa fiesta… qué mamera!
man, viejaa dude, or chick (any age)¿Adónde vas, man?
Mira esa vieja que viene
un verraco, una verracaAn awesome person¡Ese tipo es un verraco!
Esa señora es una verraca, ¿no?
Me regalas…Lend me…Me regalas un lapicero?
un berracoa go-getterEse tipo es un berraco
bobo/bobastupid, sillyTengo una pregunta boba…
sip/sipoyesA contraction of si pues, just means “yes”
chimbaCool¡Que chimba!
huevónidiot/jerk, but also dude/manOye huevón (dude) no me dijiste ayer que…
¿Ese huevón (asshole) que esta haciendo…?
parar bolasto pay attentionParame bolas…
¡No me pares bolas!
dar papayato put yourself in a position where people might take advantageSi no das papaya, nadie te hace caso…
No tengas tu celular en la mano en la calle, no hace falta dar papaya así

A few notes on these words below (not all of them).

Spanish Colombian Slang for “Hello”

Saying “Hello” in Spanish is as simple as saying “¡Hola!

Of course, you can say hola — we do all the time and it’s fine.

You can also default to a few other standards, like Buenas!, which you can use at any time of day.

But once you’re even vaguely familiar with someone — say the doorman, or your landlord, or the second time you visit a restaurant, you can great with a friendly ¿Quiubo?

The word quiubo is a contraction of qué hubo, and it literally means “What was there?” But it’s just a casual “What’s up?” which of course isn’t a literal question either.

The word Quiubo is sometimes written Qu’hubo, and might be modified like Quiuboles, or other variants. You’ll also hear it elsewhere in Latin America, like in Mexico.

Another often-heard phrase in Colombia is “Hola, ¿qué más?

A standard response to ¿Quiubo? is … ¿Quiubo?.

Saying something is awesome or cool

You pretty much here chévere and bacán on day 1 in Colombia — these are core Colombia slang. I did. I think it was in the same sentence… someone was describing something as

Es un lugar muy, muy chévere… es muy bacán.

These words aren’t at all unique to any age group. We’ve heard people older than our parents use them. For example our dance instructor told us doing a certain step in a certain way was más chévere así.

Partying: La Rumba

“Rumba” is also a really common Colombian slang word. We heard it on day one. Tal vez alguien les invite a una rumba…

Likewise the verb rumbear or rumbiar sometimes (they’re not strictly official words) are often heard.

Just bear in mind that una rumba isn’t referring to the Rumba dance! There may be no dancing at all…

Things people call you in Colombian slang: Jóven, Vieja, Man, Parce, M’ijo

There are lots of ways of referring to someone in Colombian Spanish slang.

As a man, many people say man to me (but in a Spanish accent — sounds like pan for example). Like this morning said Con mucho gusto, man when he handed me the change.

The word vieja isn’t used directly with a woman, but is used to refer to other women. It’s vaguely derogatory, like “chick” in English. It refers to a woman of any age.

The words joven and m’ijo or m’ija (contractions for mi hijo/a) are used generally to refer to you directly. ¡Gracias m’ijo! someone might tell you regardless of your age — as long as you’re obviously not much older than them. Similar with joven.

The word parce refers to a friend. I’ve seen it in telenovelas, but haven’t heard it yet. Probably because I’m pushing 40…

A telenovela I enjoy that's full of Spanish slang - Distrito Salvaje
A TV series I really enjoy that’s full of Spanish slang – Distrito Salvaje

Probably my favourite word for describing someone is un berraco/a. Sometimes they’re spelled verraco/a. It’s a super Colombian word, one that people are proud of!

Loosely, this Colombian slang word means “someone who stops at nothing”. What a great word! Like a “badass”.

¡Esa mujer es una berraca! That woman is a badass, she’ll stop at nothing!

A variant on berraco/berraca is berraquera which means valiance, strength, courage. It’s used often like a el le falta verraquera (throwing in the v spelling just for fun).

Super Colombian: Dar Papaya

The phrase dar papaya does not literally mean “to give a papaya”. It means “to act in a way that gives people a chance to take advantage of you (or to steal from you).

Examples of dar papaya are things like

  • Counting your money out on the street
  • Letting your phone stick out of your pocket
  • Wearing expensive jewellery in a touristy place

What I like about this phrase is that it has made it into everyday language among ex-pats. In forums they’ll be writing English and say “don’t dar papaya like that”.

Colombian slang for “a thingamajig” or “a whatchamacallit”

Una vaina is a great word you can’t go without in Colombian slang!

This word exists in a few other Latin American countries, but not in Spain, where they just settle for “una cosita” or “un este”.

But say with a look of incredulity ¿Esta vaina que es? and you’ll get a decent response!

Everyday Colombian slang phrases: “I’m sorry” and “You’re welcome”

The use of que pena as “I’m sorry” caught me off guard in Colombia.

In standard Spanish, it means “what a shame!”. But in Colombian slang (or daily language, really) it means “I’m sorry/my apologies”.

People definitely do say “lo siento” but it carries more weight.

Less startling was mucho gusto, which means “much pleasure”. In Spain you often hear mucho gusto when meeting someone — it’s used as “nice to meet you”.

In Colombia, con mucho gusto or simply con gusto is the standard — and I think only — way of saying “you’re welcome”. I literally never hear people say de nada or no hay de que. So don’t sound those unless you want to sound like you just got off the boat from the Iberian peninsula.

Another common everyday word I hear is ¡Hágale pues! , which means “OK” but also like “let’s do it!”, i.e. when a deal has been struck or something agreed upon.

For example, if you’re discussing a price with a taxi (who refuses to use the meter), and you come to an agreement — you can say ¡hágale pues! and you’ll be on your way.

The pues is optional but adds character.

Finally, a super-common word — saying “OK” in Colombian Spanish slang is as simple as listo! Yes, listo means “ready”. It took a little adjustment for me to start saying listo instead of vale (which some people do say… but not as much) or bueno (which people use relatively more rarely).

Listo! Enough explaining, time for you to get out and use the slang here on the streets of Colombia.

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3 years ago

What about when Colombians say “buenas,” as opposed to “buenas dias.” They just cut it super short. You gotta include that!

Ken Barnes
Ken Barnes
2 years ago

“Chimba” can also mean “vagina” apparently ..depends on context.