September 7, 2020 by Luis F. Dominguez Spanish Vocabulary 0 comments
Every language has its own slang words which vary by country and region, terms that pop up from the streets and take on a life of their own.
Central America’s variety of countries feature colorful vocabulary full of fascinating words and sounds that sometimes even cross borders.
Let’s learn some of the most common Spanish slang words from each country in the region.
What is Slang?
Spanish, just as any other language, is a living creature. It’s fluid, evolving, and ever-changing. New words are frequently invented and old words become obsolete as time goes by. For a while, these new words are part of what’s called “Spanish slang”, because they haven’t been officially accepted into the language yet. Some of these words eventually catch up and become formally accepted, others disappear as quickly as they were created.
According to the dictionary slang is a “very informal language that is usually spoken rather than written, used especially by particular groups of people.” In this case, the “particular group of people” are the citizens of the Spanish-speaking Central American countries.
Spanish Slang Considerations
As usual, when talking about something “Spanish” on this blog we are referring to the Spanish language in general, not to the people or words from Spain specifically. So yes, you can have Spanish slang that’s not from Spain, but from Central America.
Do you know which countries are inCentral America? Often people in the U.S. refer to Mexico as a Central American country. However, that’s not accurate. The Spanish-speaking countries located in Central America are Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. (The official language of the one other country in the region, Belize, is English.).
Spanish Slang Words in Guatemala
Guatemalans call blonde people canche.
¿Te acuerdas de Rodrigo? Mi amigo canche del trabajo.
Do you remember Rodrigo? My blonde friend from work.
This Spanish slang term means cops in Guatemala.
Los chontes lo andan buscando.
The cops are looking for him.
Literally meaning “nail” in every other Spanish-speaking country, clavo in Guatemala is actually used to express that someone has a problem.
Tenemos un clavo y necesitamos de tu ayuda para resolverlo.
We have a problem and need your help to solve it.
The literal translation of this term is “female donkey,” but in Guatemala burra also means bus. One can see how this term would evolve from the time when people used burras for transportation.
Hablamos luego que voy a perder la burra.
Talk to you later, as I’m going to lose the bus.
While in Mexico and Peru pisto refers to alcoholic drinks, in Guatemala is a slang word for money or cash.
Do you have any money?
Chilero is used in Guatemala as an adjective to express that something is awesome, cool, or simply good.
¡Esa playa está chilera!
That beach is awesome!
Spanish Slang Words in El Salvador
Bicho or bicha are Spanish slang terms used to refer to a little boy or little girl in El Salvador. It’s important to mention that bicho literally means “bug.”
Ese bicho es muy listo.
That boy is very clever.
To really understand the meaning of puchica, try using the English word “damn!” It can express a lot of different things, but they are usually negative things. (This phrase is also common in Guatemala.)
¡Puchica! Reprobé el examen.
Damn! I failed the test.
In El Salvador, bayunco means crazy. Not insane, but the fun kind of crazy. In other Spanish-speaking countries people might say ¡qué loco!, but in El Salvador they would say:
Tener is a Spanish verb that literally means “to have,” and goma means “glue.” So, tener goma would literally mean “to have glue,” but in El Salvador this is a slang phrase that actually translates as having a hangover.
¿Cómo estuvo la fiesta anoche? Tienes goma, ¿cierto?
How was the party last night? You have a hangover, right?
Salvadoran slang term for “a thing.” It comes very handy when you don’t know the actual name of things.
Olvidé un bolado en mi casa, ahora vuelvo.
I forgot a thing at my house, I’ll come back soon.
This Spanish slang word from El Salvador is used to refer to white people.
Ese chele viene del norte.
That white guy comes from the north.
Spanish Slang Words in Honduras
While in Mexico birria is a goat meat stew, in Honduras it’s a slang word for beer. You can see that it comes from an association of sounds.
Voy por más birrias.
I’m going to get more beers.
Term used to refer to the armed forces.
Los chafas cerraron la carretera.
The armed forces closed the highway.
Maje is a Spanish slang word from Honduras used to talk about a close friend.
¡Vamos maje! Va a estar buena la fiesta.
Come on dude! The party is going to be awesome.
Honduran slang term for boy, and cipota would mean girl.
¿De verdad te gusta ese cipote?
Do you really like that boy?
Honduran expression that can be translated as “alright.”
Nos vemos mañana, ¿cheque?
See you tomorrow, alright?
Andar is a Spanish verb that means “to walk,” but it’s also widely used as a synonym of “to be.” Hule means “rubber.” So, andar hule makes no sense when translated literally. In Honduras, however, it means to have no money or to be broke.
Spanish Slang Words in Nicaragua
I simply love the sound of this word decachimba. It means that something is really cool.
¡Tu auto es decachimba!
Your car is super cool!
This Spanish verb means to hit a ball with a baseball bat, but in Nicaraguan slang it refers to a robbery.
Me batearon mi billetera.
My wallet was stolen.
Solo mate sos
A beautiful and of obscure origins Spanish slang expression used in Nicaragua to express disbelief.
Anoche tuve una cita con Shakira.
¡Solo mate sos!
Last night, I went on a date with Shakira.
No way! Of course you didn’t!
Spelled just like the Asian country and it’s also you would refer to a girl of Chinese origin. In Nicaraguan slang, a china is also a babysitter. One can imagine that in the past Chinese immigrants used to get babysitting jobs in the region and the term referred to all babysitters.
No puedo conseguir una buena china para que me cuide a los niños.
I can’t get a good babysitter to take care of my kids.
I really like the evolution of this term because it shows perfectly how new words are created. A chispa in Spanish is a “spark”, so a chispero would be a tool that creates chispas or sparks. Hence, a chispero is a lighter.
Se me olvidó mi chispero, ¿me prestas el tuyo?
I forgot my lighter, can I have yours?
Just like the Mexican chisme, this Nicaraguan word means “gossip.”
¡Eso no es verdad, es puro cuecho!
That’s not true, it’s pure gossip!
Spanish Slang Words in Costa Rica
These two words literally translate as “pure life,” but it has many uses and meanings in Costa Rica. It can stand for “great,” “goodbye,” “thank you,” “nice to meet you,” etc. I like to think of it like the famous phrase of the Star Wars saga: “May the Force be with you.”
You can say it in many different contexts, and the message is always the same: “I care about you,” in the Jedi films, “life is good,” in the Costa Rican context.
Me tengo que ir, ¡nos vemos mañana!
I have to go now, see you tomorrow!
Life is good!
This Spanish slang term means “nice” or “cool” in Costa Rica.
Tu camisa está tuanis.
Your shirt is cool.
Mae is the Costa Rican equivalent to the Mexican güey or the American “dude.” It’s also used as a filler word like “um.”
Este Mae es tuanis.
This dude is cool.
Jalarse una torta
Meaning literally “to pull a cake,” in Costa Rica it’s a slang phrase used to express that someone has made a mess or has done something wrong.
Mi hermana se jaló una torta cuando reprobó el examen.
My sister got in trouble when she failed the test.
Costa Rican slang term for their fathers.
¡Extraño a mi tata!
I miss my dad!
In Costa Rica, a mejenga is a pick-up soccer game.
Mis amigos están jugando una mejenga.
My friends are playing a pick-up soccer game.
Spanish Slang Words in Panamá
Cocobolo is a Spanish slang term that in Panamá is used when talking about a bald man.
Ese cocobolo es mi tío.
That bald man is my uncle.
Literally meaning “stick” in Spanish, palo in Panamanian slang means “one dollar.”
Me quedan cinco palos.
I have five dollars left.
This phrase is used to express that you have no money at all. Estar is one of the Spanish verbs that translates as “to be”, and limpio in Spanish means “clean.”
Estoy limpio, no tengo nada de dinero.
I’m broke, I have no money at all.
Panamanian slang word for “party.”
Tengo un buen arranque el sábado, ¿quieres venir?
I’m having a party on Saturday, do you want to come?
A fren in Panamá is just as it sounds a “friend.”
Te presento a mi fren, Juan Carlos.
This is my friend Juan Carlos.
That’s right, life is good in Central America and they know how to enjoy it. Which Spanish slang term or phrase was your favorite? Do you know about another one that we missed? Leave us a decachimba comment below and let’s start a conversation!
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Luis F. Dominguez
Freelance Writer at Homeschool Spanish Academy
Luis F. Domínguez is a freelance writer and independent journalist interested in travel, languages, art, books, history, philosophy, politics and sports. He has written for Fodor’s, Yahoo!, Sports Illustrated, Telemundo, and Villa Experience, among other brands of print and digital media in Europe and North America.
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central america spanish slang