This is the first of a multi-post series dealing with Colombian slang. As with any language, there are innumerable slangs that are invaluable for both language students as well as foreign travellers mingling with locals or itching to practice their language skills. In this series, I’ll focus on phrases I think are both commonly used and useful for travellers or expats in Colombia.
So, let’s get to the slang…
“¡Qué chévere!” “¡Qué bacano!”
Every Spanish-speaking country has its own way of expressing that something is great, fantastic, wonderful, and all around a good thing. In Colombia, there are two extremely common phrases used: ¡Qué chévere! and ¡Qué bacano! I’d say the most common is ¡Qué chévere!, but rest assured that you’ll hear them both if you’re hanging with Colombians. You’ll hear Colombians use these phrases to describe everything from a good meal out, a new movie they’ve seen, a recent trip they’ve taken, a book they’ve read, new clothes they’ve purchased, to giving someone compliments about their new hair cut or their new nail polish colour You may even hear people use the two phrases as discourse markers during conversation. They are definitely two phrases you’ll need to be familiar with if you want to fit-in or practice your Spanish in Colombia.
“¡Qué gueva!” (guevón-male or guevona-female)
We all have “that phrase” we fall back on when we are trying to describe someone as stupid or lacking common sense. For Colombians, that phrase is often “¡Qué gueva! This isn’t a phrase you’d want to use in front of your grandmother or maybe not even in front of your mother, but rather a phrase you’d use among friends and peers of similar age and interest. You might use it to refer to your friend who paid his neighbours bill because he didn’t pay attention to the name or address on the bill. Or, you might use it to refer to your co-workers who are venting about the new boss in the bathroom, as the new boss walks out of the stall, having heard everything.
You might also hear Colombians use the gender sensitive descriptive nouns that go along with the phrase. For males, they’d use “guevón” and for females they’d use “guevona.” These nouns are used to mean the same thing, but instead of referring to the situation, you’d use these them to refer more to the person or people. Sometimes, using these descriptive nouns can be more offence as they are often thrown around during arguments or “verbal fights,” and tend to have a stronger connotation.
And, even though you may not feel comfortable using this phrase or these nouns, I am more than sure it will come in handy to know what it means.
Like the expression(s) used for describing something great, salutations are also varied in Spanish-speaking countries. In Colombia, especially in Bogotá, people quite frequently use the informal greeting “buenas” instead of “hola” or “buenos días,” “buenas tardes,” or “buenas noches.” It’s not so common to use on the phone, but rather is a greeting typically used in face-to-face interactions. When entering a store in Colombia, for instance, it is polite to greet the employee(s). Some Colombians do rely on and use the formal greetings you’d learn in any Spanish course, but many Colombians will simply enter the store and say, “buenas.” Or, for example, when Colombians order dinner in a restaurant, they might greet the waiter with a “buenas,” instead of “buenas noches.” It’s comparable to saying “hey,” instead of the formal “hello,” and functions at any hour of the day. Having tried the use of “buenas” in other Spanish-speaking countries, I can say it’s definitely a Colombian slang. So, when in Colombian, do as the Colombians do…
I hope these first three slangs will come in handy during your time or travels in Colombia, and that these short explanations will give you the confidence to use them and add them to your Spanish slang.
Until next time,
Paige M. Poole
About the author:
“Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, travelling relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie. You can see more of Paige’s travelling experiences in her personal blog www.trotamunda.wordpress.com
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- Colombian social media campaign wants you to stop misspelling their country’s name (washingtonpost.com)