The Summer of Colombian Slang

Why is this the summer of Colombian slang? As I mentioned in my last post on cringe-worthy Spanish mistakes, to study a language is to keep learning. And then, once you think you’ve got it all pretty much under control–and you were finally so proud of your collection of colorful expressions and register-switching–you discover that there is more. An entire continent more of vocabulary, slang, and niceties.

Yep, that’s what happens when you live in Spain and your boyfriend hails from Latin America (is anyone else in this boat?). Luckily, our unique situation has several perks. For example, the opportunity–not to mention the necessity and desire–to visit his home country. This summer, that’s exactly what we’re doing. We have two tickets to Colombia, and I’ve been preparing for the trip by flipping arepas, devouring blog articles, and mentally preparing to use “Ustedes” instead of “vosotros.” In other words–YIPEEEE!

colombian slang

Studying up on our next destination!

And that is just the surface of the linguistic differences. There are a few words and expressions I need to relearn this summer. “Remember, “patatas” are “papas,” Andres gently reminded me the other day. He’s hoping to save me from a faux-pas, I know. I’m afraid there are so many more differences out there waiting to trip me up. A lesson in slang amped up my arsenal, but I’m just as concerned with avoiding the wrong terms as I am expanding my vocab. To give you an example of my mental gymnastics this summer, I present you with a list of eight Spanish terms that change meaning somewhere between Spain and Colombia:

1) Un tinto

In Spain: a glass of red wine.

In Colombia: a cup of coffee.

colombian slang

Me das un pocillo de cafe? = Can I have a a cup of coffee? (pocillo = taza)

2) Rico

In Spain: Something wealthy / delicious / cute

In Colombia: Something wealthy /rich / delicious / nice / great / fantastic / etc…

In Spain, you can exclaim “Qué rico!” over a rich-tasting dish. In Colombia, rico is more like a positive cover-all. For example, if it’s hot and suddenly a fan starts blowing cool air your way, it’s “Qué rico!

3) Leche

In Spain: milk / something awesome

In Colombia: milk / something lucky

There are plenty of “milky” slang terms in Spain; the tamest one being “Es la leche!” (This is cool! / This is the shit!) In Colombia, however, “Qué leche!” means “What luck!” or “(You’re) so lucky!”

It’s always a lucky day if it starts with a cafe con leche

4) Catorce

In Spain: The number 14

In Colombia: The number 14 / a favor

In Colombia, you can actually do someone a “catorce.”  Hacer un catorce = to do a favor.

5) Abrirse

In Spain: to open

In Colombia: to leave

There is about 100% chance that I will use this one incorrectly on my travels. Stay tuned for imminent faux-pas.

6) Vaina

In Spain: sheath / case / pod

In Colombia: thing

In Madrid, I’d only ever heard vaina to refer to a pea pod. Then, Andres’ high school friends came to visit and I couldn’t understand why the heck they sprinkled vaina in every other sentence. To give you an idea, I’d wager that they used vaina as often as we use “stuff” in English.

This store in France sold pea pods ‘n things

7) Listo

In Spain: ready / smart

In Colombia: ready / smart / cool / ok

Especially as a question, “Listo?” can have several meanings in Colombia.

8) Dar papaya

In Spain: to literally give (someone) a papaya

In Colombia: to set yourself up to be ripped off

If my local fruteria in Madrid offered me a papaya, I wouldn’t turn it down. However, in Colombia, “to give a papaya” means to put yourself in a situations that makes it easy for someone to rip you off. For example, if you sport a DSLR ’round your neck in a seedy part of town, someone may take up your papaya-invitation and steal the camera from you.

colombian slang

I don’t have any papayas photos but I thought this one was still sweet

You bet I will try my hand at using a few of these in Colombia–just as I hope Andres attempts the Southern accent when we eventually visit Arkansas!

 Want to learn more Colombian slang? My post is just the tip of the old iceberg…

Learning Colombian Spanish Slang – Bacon is Magic

Five-part series on Colombian Slang – Uncover Colombia

Colombian Slang Flash Cards – Quizlet


If any fellow bloggers are interested in writing guest posts, let me know! I’d like to keep this space up and running while we’re traveling around Colombia. (!)

← Previous post

Next post →


  1. What a fun trip, and qué leche!! – I am dying to go to South America!! My sister and her boyfriend, who is of Chilean descent, just visited, and the Novio and I laughed over all of the differences.

    • Cassandra

      Thanks, Cat! Yes, there are so many differences; sometimes Andres bursts out laughing at the Spanish (from Spain) phrases that I say. I remember that he found “pachuch@” particularly funny.

  2. Oh man…tinto can mean wine and coffee in Spain and Colombia? I’m totally screwed when I end up traveling across Latin America. Hahaha

    BTW is Colombia one of *those* countries in which it’s super dangerous to use the word “coger” instead of “tomar”?

    • Cassandra

      Luckily, I don’t have to slam the breaks on “coger”! Unlike other parts of Latin America, the word is used the same in Colombia as in Spain. Yay!

  3. Ah so lucky! Where in Colombia is Andres from? My cousin has been dating a Colombian guy for about 5 or 6 years now and has been to Colombia to visit his family a few times. Her boyfriend is from Manizales and I saw the pictures of the city–it’s surrounded by mountains and near a volcano (but I can’t remember if it’s active or not). Have a fabulous time and enjoy the linguistic mix-ups, it’ll be fun learning them!

    • Cassandra

      Thanks 🙂 He’s from the Northern coast, from the same city as Shakira! (If that gives you an frame of reference–it definitely didn’t for me until I looked at a map.)

      I just googled images of Manizales and it looks beautiful! What a contrast between the city and the mountains, they have the best of both worlds. Colombia is such a big country and I wish we had more time to explore it. The good thing is that this won’t be our last trip!

  4. Oh man I’ve always wanted to go to Colombia! So jealous! I’m a huuuuuge fan of Colombian food, so I’ll be living vicariously through you 😉

    • Cassandra

      Thanks, Courtney! When Andres mentioned that we could buy avocados and fruit juices off the street, you bet I wrote that into the itinerary. In ink. I can’t wait!

  5. I’ll have to study these now that I have a new Colombian roommate! I’ve already noticed that every other sentence is, “¡Qué rico!”

    That’s great you’ll be going to Colombia! I can’t wait to hear about it!

    • Cassandra

      Oh, nice! Let me know if you learn any other handy phrases!

Leave a Reply

Read previous post:
funny spanish mistakes
7 of My Cringe-Worthy Spanish Mistakes

Language learning is a long, arduous process of aligning concepts, words, and registers. Slip up with one of these three...