To start your journey in Colombia, we want to share a short slang dictionary, taken from an interesting Spanish Blog, and choosing the words, we know, you will certainly hear and use in Medellín:
No natural language can claim to stay chaste forever. No matter how it began, it always accumulates expressions not standard to it with time. As with English, that’s the case with Spanish too. This article deals with a very specific subset of Spanish, the one spoken in Colombia. To further narrow things down, we talk specifically about Colombian Spanish slang and nothing else here. This is not a study of dialectical features of the vernacular but only the nonstandard aspects thereof. Colombian Spanish slang, and nothing else.
Nouns of Colombian Spanish Slang
Meaning: Dude, buddy
You use parce the exact same way as you do dude or bro in English. In the second person. By the way, parce is a shorter version of parcero, the original Colombian Spanish slang for the same thing.
¡Parce! ¿Cómo vas? ¿Todo bien? (Dude! How are you doing? Everything good?)
Mira, parcero, así es la vida (Look, mate, that’s life).
Meaning: Expertise, experience
Cancha enjoys usage all over Latin America in the sense of expertise or experience. Other than this, they also use cancha as slang for golf course, football field, tennis court, or practically any open space.
Tras muchos años trabajando, tiene mucha cancha (After many years working, he has a lot of experience).
Te hace falta más cancha para poder usar una motosierra (You lack the expertise to handle a chainsaw).
Meaning: Work, job
Camello is literally a camel. Now I don’t know how hardworking camels are compared to other animals but the Colombians seem to do. Camello is a very commonly used term for hard work in the country.
Llevar a cabo el proyecto requirió de mucho tiempo y camello (Completing the project required a lot of time and work).
Este camello no paga muy bien (This job doesn’t pay very well).
Meaning: Low-quality work
As an adjective, chambón can mean both clumsy and lucky depending on the context. As a noun, it’s the one being clumsy. These interpretations are universal and part of standard Spanish. However, in Colombia, the word can also refer to a shoddy job. Something finished half-heartedly and likely in a rush, if you will. A useful idiom using this word is hacer algo a la chambona which means to finish something in a rush. Yes, there does exist the derived verb chambonear for such purposes, but I find idioms more fun to use. Don’t you?
Este puente es un chambón (This bridge is a shoddy job).
Su chambón rompió mi computadora (His shoddy job broke my computer).
Meaning: Awesome, cool, terrific
Same as chévere but more exclusive to Colombia, whereas chévere enjoys some currency in, for instance, Venezuela as well. Bacano can also be used as a noun but with a slight modification in the masculine form. It’s bacana for a cool girl but bacán, witout the -o, for a cool guy. You can use the term liberally with no fear of any backlash, unless you’re in an extremely formal setting.
¡Estuvo bacana tu fiesta! (Your party was awesome).
Anoche fuimos a un bar super bacano (Last night we went to a super cool bar).
Meaning: Angry, a great deal of, a skilled person
Also spelled verraco. The word literally refers to a kind of pig but in Colombian Spanish slang usage, it means a skilled person, a very difficult situation, a lot of something, or very angry. Many other connotations exist too, both as noun as well as adjective, but they’re all colloquial and contextual. The speaker’s intonation can also factor into the meaning implied.
¡Usted sí es un berraco! (You are really a genius!)
Él está bien berraco hoy (He is very angry today).
Meaning: Awesome, cool, terrific
This one’s a staple if you’re into Colombian Spanish slang. Especially the less-than-polite parts thereof. But don’t get me wrong, chimba isn’t exactly taboo either. Young men and women use it all the time, at least in familiar settings. Good things can at times be too good to be real which is why chimba can also mean fakein some contexts. Again, whether one means cool or fake would be clear from the context.
¡Qué chimba de partido! ¡Lo disfruté mucho! (What a great match! I really enjoyed it!)
Los boletos para el concierto eran chimba y no nos dejaron entrar (The tickets for the concert were fake and we weren’t allowed to enter).
Oh and some Colombians can also use chimbo for anything that is fake, genitalia or otherwise. So fake bills, made-up stories, counterfeit check, everything is chimbo. Try not to switch it for chimba when referring to something nice though, although in the sense of fake the two words do overlap freely.
Idiomatic Expressions of Colombian Spanish Slang
This one is my most favorite part of any colloquial lexicon. The idioms! They make a dull language come alive with some interesting character. The number of idioms in your vocabulary, colloquial or otherwise, is directly proportional to your grip on the language. So, my strong advice would be to internalize as many of them as possible, whichever language you’re learning. A simple blog post, or even an entire book, would less than enough to cover all the idioms out there. But I’ve tried to list out some of the most ubiquitous members of the Colombian Spanish slang lexicon. Learn them to instantly sound less like a tourist and more like an easygoing colombiano.
Echar los Perros
Meaning: To flirt
This one is my absolute favorite! Echar los perros means to hit on someone. Not stalking, just flirting. I hear Spaniards use the expression too, albeit in a different sense. There, it means to tell off somebody. In most of Latin America, the connotation is to come at someone strongly, not necessarily with a romantic interest. But the flirtatious interpretation is the most common one in Colombia. And, from what I hear, also in Guatemala. Echar also features in the Salvadoran expression echarle los calzones which means the same thing, only a tad more vulgar.
Ella siempre estaba echándole los perros a Javier (She was always flirting with Javier).
Ya deja de echarle los perros a él (Stop hitting on him already).
Hacer una Vaca
Meaning: To chip in
To make a cow? How do you do that? Probably by pooling in some money together with your friends, I don’t know. But that’s how it is in Colombian Spanish slang. And not just in Colombia but also in Mexico, Uruguay, Chile, and even Spain. So, quite a handy little expression if you asked me. Not a bad idea to add it to your vocabulary. You could further customize the expression by changing vaca to its diminutive vaquita. Think of vaca or vaquita here as the kitty or the ante you add your contributions to, e.g., la vaca para las chelas (beer funds), etc.
Hagamos una vaca para comprar pizza (Let’s chip in to buy a pizza).
Hicimos una vaquita para una nueva casa (We pooled in for a new home).