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Learn the Lingo: Fun Expressions in Latin American Spanish

Learn the Lingo: Fun Expressions in Latin American Spanish main image

To coincide with the release of the new edition of the QS University Rankings: Latin America, we’re taking a look at some Latin American Spanish expressions that might be useful for anyone considering studying or traveling in the region.

If you’re thinking of studying abroad in a Latin American country, you’re probably aware that Latin American Spanish is significantly different to European Spanish (also known as Castellano). If you already speak good European Spanish, it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter many major problems conversing with Latin American Spanish speakers – but you will no doubt come across a number of new and confusing regional sayings. Learning a selection of these idiomatic expressions can be a good way of gaining additional insights into the region’s diverse and vibrant cultures, allowing you to develop a deeper understanding of Latin American histories, values, passions and lifestyles.

Did you know? In Argentina, slang expressions are such an ingrained part of the culture that they even have a word for it. This word is lunfardo, alluding to a dialect of heavy slang which originated from Buenos Aires’ lower classes in the late 19th century and is now used widely all over Argentina and parts of Uruguay.

1. "Comiendo moscas" (across Latin America)

Comiendo moscas is a turn of phrase many English speakers will know already, meaning “eating flies”. So, if you want to call out anyone who drifts off in lectures, just say “¡Estás comiendo mosca!”

2. "Irse el avión" (Mexico)

Literally translating as “leaving the plane”, irse el avión means to lose your train of thought. To say this in the first person, use “se me fue el avión”, which is to say your plane just took off.

3. "Echando la hueva" (Mexico)

Literally translating as “throwing the egg”, echando la hueva is an expression that can be used if you want to say you are being extra lazy at the moment.

Eggs are also used in a number of other Latin American Spanish slang words and expressions, particularly in Chile where ahuevonado is used to describe someone stupid, the verb huevear means “to mess around” and the phrase “agarrar para el hueveo” means to tease someone. Other variants are decidedly more offensive in polite company, such as huevón, meaning “dude” or “idiot”, a term often used amongst close friends as a lighthearted insult. In Mexico me da hueva, literally meaning “give me egg”, is a common turn of phrase and is used to mean “I don’t want to” or “the very thought is making me tired”.

If this talk of eggs has gotten you a bit confused, then feel free to say “¿Y que huevada?” This is another egg derivative and means “What the hell is going on?!”

4. "Buena onda" (across Latin America)

A term common in Argentina and Uruguay, buena onda translates as good waves or vibrations, a term similar to the English saying “good vibes”. Anything can have good (buena) or bad (malaonda, which often is meant as really cool or really uncool. Also, de onda means to do something as a favor for someone.

5. "Vivir en nube de pedos" (Argentina)

Another common Argentine expression, this one means to be out of touch with reality – but literally translates as “to live on a cloud made of farts”. Apparently the Argentineans love their slang fart analogies because there are several more. En pedo means to be drunk, while subo como pedo de buzo, which literally translates as “to go up like a scuba diver’s fart”, actually means to quickly rise up the social ladder!  One of the most common phrases is ni en pedo, which essentially means “no way in hell”.

6. "Arrastar el ala" (across Latin America)

If you find yourself doing some socializing and dating during your time in Latin America, you may need to use the phrase arrastar el ala, meaning to make a romantic advance on someone. If you’re really flirting with someone, however, tirar los galgos (“having the dogs after you”) might be more appropriate!

7. "Lo atamos con alambre" (Argentina)

An expression that reveals the nature of living in parts of Latin America where it’s not uncommon for things to break down, lo atamos con alambre means to bodge something, or to fix it temporarily, something you might find yourself doing at least once during your stay.

8. "Échale ganas!" (Mexico)

Echale ganas! is what you would yell at someone who needs the put some energy into whatever it is they’re doing. Be that dancing the tango, climbing Chichén Itzá, or making a mojito.

9. "Hazme un fa" (Colombia)

Hazme un fa is the Colombian way of asking for a favor. Here the favor is shortened to “fa” as is also done for por favor (please) which becomes porfa. Colombians are well known for their formal politeness and many foreigners are surprised by courteous replies of con mucho gusto (with pleasure) or a la orden (at your service), or even a sus ordenes/ a su merced (at your service, at your mercy) from the likes of waiters, shop owners and even taxi drivers.

9. "Más loco que una cabra con pollitos" (across Latin America)

This particular Latin American Spanish expression has a lovely ring to it and can be used to declaim something (or someone) as absolutely mad. The expression directly translates as “crazier than a goat with chicks”!

10. Hablar hasta por los codos (across Latin America)

If you come to study abroad in Latin America and find yourself unable to stop going on about how exciting the place is to anyone who’ll listen, it’s likely the locals will say you’re hablar hasta por los codos, directly meaning “talking up a storm” and similar to the English expression “talking someone’s ear off”.

11. Me pica el bagre (Argentina)

Although with authentic Latin American cuisine on every corner you may not get a chance to utter this saying all that much, me pica el bagre is an expression which translates as “the catfish bites me” and refers to the sensation of having something tickle your stomach when you’re very, very hungry.

12. ¡Baja un cambio! (Argentina)

And finally, if a friend is panicking about end of term exams you can say ¡baja un cambio! meaning “chill out!” or “relax!”

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Other common Latin American Spanish words:

¡Orale! = Right on! or Let’s do it! or Go for it!

¡Híjole! = Wow! or Holy cow! (the meaning depends on whether the word is said with a positive or negative intonation)

¿Qué onda? = What's happening?

¡Ándale! = Hurry up!

¡Guácala! = That's horrible!

Che = Mate, buddy or dude (a word commonly used in Argentina which can also be used to grab someone’s attention or as a filler to keep an informal conversation going. Famous Argentinean Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara actually got his nickname due to his excessive use of the word.)

Taco = A taco is not just a foodstuff in Latin America. Taco can mean a hard corn tortilla, a pool stick or the heel of a shoe. In Chile the word also means a traffic jam or a notepad. If you call someone your taco de ojo you are saying they are food for your eyes, meaning they look good enough to eat!

Chido = Cool (a very, very common filler word)

¡No manches! = No way! or Come on!

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Laura Tucker's profile image
Written by Laura Tucker
Laura is a former staff writer for TopUniversities.com, providing advice and guidance for students on a range of topics helping them to choose where to study, get admitted and find funding and scholarships. A graduate of Queen Mary University of London, Laura also blogs about student life.

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