Even accomplished Spanish speakers can be perplexed by some of the conversations between Pablo Escobar (pictured) and his criminal associates in the popular Netflix series ‘Narcos’.
Based, as it is, mainly in the Colombian city of Medellin, most of the characters speak using the distinctive local brand of Spanish. This features a liberal sprinkling of parlache; a specific strand of slang which originated among Medellin’s criminal underworld, before gradually migrating into the mainstream.
Today, these terms have become a staple in informal conversations between people from all sections of society – not just the small proportion that are mafiosos.
When seeking to understand the Spanish in the series, we have some assistance from the good people at Netflix who have been kind enough to subtitle all the local slang.
Sadly, no such assistance is available in real life conversations with paisas (as residents of Medellin and the surrounding region are called), meaning you might struggle with this Spanish outside the context of watching online episodes.
To remedy this, I present some brief explanations of some of the unique areas of Colombian Spanish and slang which you’ll come across in this series, and probably in real life too.
Let’s start with some of the everyday slang expressions that can be heard in a whole range of different situations, not just those involving criminal types:
A word with a variety of different meanings, but in ‘Narcos’ it is mostly used when talking about someone particularly talented or exceptionally able. “¡Usted es un berraco!” means something like “you’re a legend!”.
An extremely popular word that means anything in the area of “yes”, “OK”, “good”, “right” etc. Basically, an affirmative response to something or to indicate that you’ve understood. Where in Spain they would say “vale” for these purposes, in Colombia they are infinitely more likely to use “listo”.
It works as a response to so many things, but here are a few examples:
- 1. “Saca las cosas del carro” 2. “Listo”; (1. “Get the stuff out the car” 2. “OK”)
- 1. “Nos vamos a las 8” 2. “Listo”; (1. “We’re going at 8pm” 2. “Cool”)
- 1. “Si te parece, vamos a comer más tardecito” 2. “Listo” (1. “If it’s OK with you, we’ll eat a bit later” 2. “Fine”).
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Another very common slang phrase, especially in Medellin. This expression doesn’t have an exact translation, but means something like “sure”, or “OK” or “go ahead”.
It’s similar to the above, but slightly more enthusiastic. So, if your friend asks if you want to go drink a few beers, for instance, you can respond by saying “¡hágale!”. This would be more like say “yea, let’s do it!”, as opposed to “Alright” or “OK” which would be the rough translations of using “listo” as your response.
Used to describe “chilled” or “relaxed” people, but it can also be heard as an alternative word for “tranquilo” i.e. a way to tell someone to be calm.
- 1. “me preocupa que todavía no haya llegado la mercancía” (“I’m concerned that the goods still haven’t arrived”)
- 2. “Fresco, está que llega” (“Relax. They’re just about to arrive”).
A popular way for guys to address each other. Short for “mi hijo” or “my boy”. If thrown into greetings, it makes them sound extra Colombian e.g. “¿Quiubo m’ijo?” is the local equivalent of “Wassup bro?”.
Like the above, “’ome” is another term used when talking with your buddies. It is short for “hombre” and is heard in that most paisa of exclamations: “¡ave maría pues ‘ome!” (a tricky phrase to translate that one, but its equivalent might be something like “Jesus Christ man!” or “Lord, help me!”).
This is the slang word Colombians use for referring to “friends”. It is basically the local version of the word “amigo”. (A few example sentences of how to use can be found in this post.)
The English word “man” is used by Colombians to mean, you guessed it, “man” or “dude”. So the question: “¿Y ese man, qué?” would be “What’s the deal with that guy?”.
For some unknown reason, the word “peeled” can also mean to a (generally young) person.
A word not unique to Colombia, but which is nevertheless heard a lot, both in ‘Narcos’ and in real life. It literally means “little mum”, but is almost exclusively used as a (not entirely respectful) way to talk about attractive girls. A bit Freudian perhaps, but there we go.
A bit of slang that is heard throughout Latin America. It is technically just used for people from the US, but it in reality it is the word that locals will use for almost anyone who is white, and from outside of Latin America.
I’ve previously heard a handful of international visitors complain that this is an offensive or even racist term. That has never been my impression of the way that Colombians use it — it is simply a way to refer to certain a sort of foreigner.
In some parts of the world, the “pink zone” is the Spanish version of the “red light district”. Not so in Colombia. Here it is a – not overly fashionable – way to refer to the areas of the big cities where most of the bars and clubs are concentrated.
In Medellin, this would mainly be the area around Parque Lleras in the city’s upmarket Poblado district.
”¿Sí o qué?” / “¿sí o no?”
Two beautifully Colombian ways of: 1) turning a statement into a question; or 2) encouraging whoever you’re speaking with to agree with what you are saying.
The literal translations sound pretty funny: “¿sí o qué?” is “yes or what?”, while “¿si o no?” is “yes or no?”. To understand them properly, it is best to give an example of the context in which they are used.
Get into a taxi in Medellin, for instance, and your patriotic taxi driver is all but certain to talk about their beloved Colombia by saying things like: “La gente es muy amable aquí, ¿sí o no?” (“People are really nice here, don’t you think?”) or “Las mujeres aquí son muy bonitas, ¿sí o qué?” (“The women are really beautiful here, aren’t they?”).
A shorter version – just “¿…o qué?” – makes a frequent appearance in Narcos as a way to emphasise that a question is being asked e.g. “Don Pablo, vamos a hablar con ese man ¿o qué?” (“Don Pablo, are we going to speak to that guy or what?”).
Vos and Usted
While not technically slang, the unusual uses of “vos“ and “usted” are aspects you might also pick up when watching Narcos. Basically, in Medellin, these two terms are often preferred as the word for “you” over the more internationally common “tú” form.
This can sound a little odd, especially as we’ve probably all been taught that “usted” should be reserved for formal situations, while “tú” is for use with friends etc. In Colombia, you’ll find that a dad might address his daughter using “usted” and a guy may talk to his girlfriend in the same way.
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The reality is that the three terms (“vos“, “usted” and “tú“) are all pretty much interchangeable in Medellin and locals flip between them fairly frequently. The main exception, as shown in Narcos, is that guys tend to avoid addressing other men with “tú” as they claim that “el tuteo” is too intimate for use with another man.
Hopefully, you won’t have much cause to use some of the below terms in your own life, but they may prove a useful reference source in any case.
Note that these words are mainly heard among mafia groups so are not representative of the speech of the population as a whole.
The name of the show itself, as you may well already know, is shorthand for the Spanish word “narcotraficantes“, meaning “drug dealers” / “drug traffickers”.
The (mob) boss. Those lower down in criminal gangs have given alternative names, such as the term “traqueto” given to street level dealers.
A disrespectful term for a policeman; similar to referring to them as “pigs” in English. Best not used within earshot of one. Another word used for the same purpose is “aguacate” – the Spanish word for “avocado”.
Literally, a “toad”, but in ‘Narcos’ it refers mainly to informers and is much like the term “rat”. The verb “sapear” is to “rat someone out”.
A “hitman”. Not generally the highly trained type featured in the movie Leon, but rather a couple of teenage guys firing wildly from the back of a motorbike.
The verb “quebrar”, meaning “to break” is also used by the criminal underworld to mean killing someone. Generally, “quebrar” is used in this way only when talking about killing another gang member.
“Tumbar” is another euphemism for killing someone heard in the series. It’s English equivalent would be something like “to take someone down”.
Darle plomo / plomazo
“To give someone lead”; not a gift you’d really like to receive as it means you’re going to get shot.
Plata o plomo
A threat that was regularly used by the Medellin Cartel in real life, meaning that you could either accept their money or they’d kill you. Either way, they’d get what they wanted.
It literally translates as “silver or lead”, with “plata” being the way that Colombians refer to “money” or “cash” in everyday situations (e.g. “tiene mucha plata” is the most common phrase to say that someone is very rich). A better contextual translation of this expression might be “cash or a coffin”.
A term generally used in Colombia to mean “an errand”. In the criminal context it is a kind of code word for a “job” or a “hit”.
A large amount of money. So, “se ganó un billetico con esa vuelta”, would be “he got himself a serious payday from that hit”.
Technically just the name for a sub-district of a Colombian city, but often used to refer only to the poorer districts. Maybe similar to saying the “projects”.
Colombian Curse Words
Mafia types are not famed for minding their language. Swear words litter their conversations. Here’s an explanation of a few of these:
A swear word often used by the criminal types in this series. In its literal translation, this word doesn’t actually sound all that bad – it comes from combining the words “mal” or “bad”, and the verb “parir” or “to give birth”. So, it technically just means “badly born”.
However, to a native’s ears, this sounds much harsher and is, in fact, one of the strongest curse words found in Colombian Spanish.
The term “gonorrea” (v.) is used for the same purpose, both in the Netflix series and in real life. Unlike being described as “badly born”, however, no English speaker is ever going to think that being referred to as a venereal disease is anything less than terrible.
When used in anger, “güevón” (also spelt huevón) is an insulting term that roughly translates as “asshole”.
Strangely enough, though, if said between (mainly male) Colombian friends, this same word becomes a synonym for “dude”, “mate” or “buddy”.
Me importa un culo
Not much additional explanation for this one is needed beyond the rough translation of “I couldn’t give a rat’s ass”.
A slightly more Colombian version of the internationally used swear “hijo de puta” or “son of a bitch”. “Hijueputa” is essentially the same expression, except some of the syllables are run together when pronounced.
A swear word that literally translates as “eat shit”. An alternative is “come mierda“, which uses the conjugation in the more familiar “tú” form, rather than the polite version of “usted“.
Well, I guess if you’re going to tell someone to “eat shit” you might as well treat them respectfully while doing so.
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There are plenty of ways to say “cool,” but some are decidedly less cool than others.
For example, is it really cool to say “neat-o,” “nifty” or “groovy” in English?
Your Spanish skills are already pretty cool if you’ve mastered the slang of Mexico and tried out slang from Spain, especially so if you’ve worked on your South American slang from Argentina, Chile and Ecuador.
But now, it’s time for something way cooler. Some would even say the coolest.
It’s high time you learn the 30 coolest Spanish words for “cool.”
Why Learn “Cool” in Spanish Slang?
If you need a reason to learn new slang other than the sheer pursuit of “cool,” there are plenty of reasons from which to choose.
First and foremost, learning “cool” slang is fun. Let’s face facts: any slang is inherently fun. It’s more colorful than conventional language. But “cool” slang is even more fun in that you can use it all the time. Which brings us to our next point…
Slang for “cool” is also a great conversational tool. You’ll be using these terms whenever you see something you like, whenever you agree with something or even when you want to describe someone. These words are tremendously versatile.
Last but not least, learning this slang will make you sound like a native speaker. Anyone can learn textbook Spanish (and indeed, many people do in schools every day). Slang, on the other hand, is a bit more unique. Most schools don’t teach much slang, so being able to use these terms appropriately will make you sound and feel more like a native speaker. What’s cooler than that?
The 30 Coolest Words That Mean “Cool” in Spanish Slang
In Chile, Colombia, Peru and Cuba, bacán is used to describe something as cool.
In Colombia in particular, it may sometimes appear as bacano.
Este hotel es bacán/bacano.
(This hotel is cool.)
Be careful with this one, though. In other parts of the Spanish-speaking world, this word can mean anything from “lover” to “boss” to “steep” to “posh” because we live in a strange and confusing world.
This word literally means “barbarian” or “barbaric,” so you’d think it would be a negative. Indeed, it’s often used to describe something terrible. However, in Argentina, it’s frequently used to mean “cool.”
¿Te has comprado un convertible? ¡Qué bárbaro!
(You bought a convertible? How cool!)
3. Buena onda
Onda literally means wave or ripple, so buena onda is “good wave.” Buena onda is used in Argentina, Chile and Mexico to mean “cool” or “good vibe.”
Ella es buena onda porque siempre va a todas las fiestas.
(She is cool because she always goes to all the parties.)
Used in Ecuador, Costa Rica and Peru, buenazo is the equivalent of “cool” or “really good.” It’s generally used to describe inanimate objects rather than people.
Ese coche es buenazo.
(That car is cool.)
It can be also used to speak about people, but in that case it can mean anything from “really good looking” to “kindhearted person who is a bit too soft,” so before using it, check its meaning in the country where you are.
While cachete literally means “cheek,” it‘s used in Chile and Costa Rica to mean “cool.” It’s often used with a todo.
¿Vas a Chile? ¡A todo cachete!
(You’re going to Chile? How cool!)
This word is used in Chile to mean “cool” or “nice.”
Este lugar es muy cachilupi.
(This place is really cool.)
Calidá is Guatemalan slang for “cool” or “excellent.”
Esta playa es calidá.
(This beach is cool.)
For Spanish students, this is probably one of the more familiar words for “cool.” It’s used throughout Latin America.
Qué chévere, no tenemos tarea.
(How cool/awesome, we don’t have homework.)
Chido is a Mexican slang term for “cool.”
Las vacaciones fueron muy chidas.
(Vacation was really cool.)
Choy is used as “cool” in Peru.
¿Has visto Machu Picchu? ¡Es choy!
(Have you seen Machu Picchu? It’s cool!)
While it literally means “tufted,” copado is used to mean “cool” in Argentina and Uruguay.
La clase es muy copada.
(The class is very cool.)
Descueve is used to mean “cool” or “fantastic” in Chile.
El Valle de la Luna es el descueve.
(The Valley of the Moon is very cool.)
13. Es una pasada
In Spain, es una pasada is used colloquially as “cool” or “nice.” Hint: it stays feminine even if you’re using it to describe masculine nouns.
Este artículo es una pasada.
(This article is cool).
This term is used widely throughout Spanish-speaking countries (though somewhat less often in Colombia and Ecuador). It literally means “great,” but it’s often used to mean “cool.”
Ella es genial.
(She is cool.)
Guay is another common slang term that many Spanish students learn in school. It’s popular among children and teenagers in Spain.
This Puerto Rican term can be spelled either way. It can be used to describe people or objects.
Tu teléfono nuevo está gufeao/gufiao.
(Your new phone is cool.)
While the noun molar means “molar,” as in the tooth, the verb molar means “to be cool” in Spain.
La camiseta mola.
(The t-shirt is cool.)
This word is mostly used in Spain. It means “cool” or “neat.”
Esta película es molona.
(This movie is cool.)
While nítido literally means “vivid” or “clear,” it’s used to mean “cool” in Puerto Rico.
¿Arepas para el desayuno? ¡Qué nítido!
(Arepas for breakfast? Cool!)
As you’ve probably already realized, this word literally means “father.” In Mexico, however, it’s also used to mean “cool.”
Mi padre es padre.
(My father is cool.)
Pichudo is commonly used by Costa Rican teenagers to mean “cool.”
Tus gafas son pichudas.
(Your glasses are cool.)
22. Piola/quedarse piola
Piola literally means rope or string. In Argentina and Chile, though, piola means “cool” as in “calm.” Quedarse piola is “to stay cool.”
Ese invento está piola.
(That invention is cool)
Él solo quiere provocarte. Quédate piola.
(He just wants to provoke you. Stay cool.)
23. Poca madre
While it literally means “little mother” or “motherless,” in Mexico, poca madre can mean “cool.” Sadly, it can also be an insult, so be careful—don’t direct it at a person.
¡Qué poca madre!
Mostly used by poor residents of downtown Santiago, Chile, pulento means “cool.”
Tus pantalones nuevos están pulentos.
(Your new pants are cool.)
25. Pura vida
While it literally translates to “pure life,” this popular Costa Rican phrase more often means something similar to “cool.”
No hay problema. Todo pura vida.
(There is no problem. Everything is cool.)
26. Qué chilero
This Guatemalan slang for “how cool” is so popular that a children’s show is named after it.
¿No hay huracán? ¡Qué chilero!
(There isn’t a hurricane? How cool!)
Suave literally means “smooth,” but it can be used in some Spanish-speaking countries to mean something similar to “cool.”
George Clooney es muy suave.
(George Clooney is very cool.)
In Chile, topísimo means “cool” or “hip.”
El concierto fue topísimo.
(The concert was cool.)
Tuanis is a a term used in Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. It’s very similar to pura vida.
Tu reloj es bien tuanis.
(Your watch is cool.)
In Argentina, zarpado is often used to mean “cool.” That being said, zarpado can also refer to someone who has stepped out of line, so use it with caution.
¿Fuiste a la fiesta? ¡Zarpado!
(You went to the party? Cool!)
So put on your shades, lean apathetically against a wall, whip out your new slang and you’ll be “cool” in no time!
And One More Thing…
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