Sometimes, words like concha (shell) or almeja (clam) have nothing to do with the sea, and pajarito (little bird) and gusanito (little worm) have nothing to do with animals. Spanish is a language rich in double meanings, and things get even more interesting—and occasionally confusing—when you compare slang between different parts of the Spanish-speaking world.
Whether you’re a fluent speaker or have just picked up a few words here and there, it’s always good to know when a word you’re using—or hearing—might not mean what you think it means. Here are some common words to use at your own risk.
“Cola” isn’t always a soft drink.
In most Spanish-speaking countries, the word of choice for a woman’s butt is “nalgas.” But there are also other seemingly innocent words such as cachetes (cheeks), rabo (tail), queques (cakes), or ancas (haunches).
Thanks to celebrities like J. Lo and Shakira, in Bolivia or Peru it’s trendy to have “un poto grande” (a big calabash). “Retaguardia” (rearguard), “cachas” (hunk), “chapas” (metal plates or buttons) and “fundillo” (back part of pants) are just a few of the other names used in the Spanish-speaking world.
In Colombia and some other Latin American countries, “una buena cola” means a fine backside and many Latinas workout religiously so that they can have “una cola parada” (a firm butt). But watch out—“cola” takes on another dimension altogether in Spain, where it means penis!
Coconuts don’t just grow on palm trees.
Just like in English, there are many names for breasts in Spanish. Some are better-known, like “busto” (bust), “pechos” (breasts), “tetas” (tits), “globos” (balloons), and “bubbis” (boobies). Then there are the not-so-obvious ones like “flotadores” (floats), “teresas” (Theresas), “cocos” (coconuts), “mamellas” (wattles), “gomas” (rubbers), “teteras” (teapots), “parachoques” (fenders), and “toperoles” (studs).
A “buseta (minibus)” and a “papaya” can be the same thing.
Now we’ve arrived at one of the most intriguing parts of the body. That’s right, we are talking about the one and only vagina. There are so many names for the vagina in Spanish that we could fill up a whole page: “Paloma” (dove), “papaya,” “catalina” (Catherine), or “la cosita” (little thing), are just a few. (BTW, there are lots of names in English too.)
You may be excited about that beautiful shell you’ve found on the beach during your travels, but think twice before you telling someone you want to show them your “concha” since this word is commonly used to mean vagina across Latin America (eg. in Uruguay, Argentina, Puerto Rico, and Chile).
In Colombia you may well hear “cuca” (cookie), which gives “me estoy comiendo una cuca muy rica” (I’m eating a delicious cookie) a whole new meaning. In Ecuador, the vagina is called “buseta,” which means minibus in the majority of Spanish-speaking countries.
“Anaconda” or “pajarito”? It’s a matter of taste.
From “el pajarito” (the little bird) to “la anaconda” (the anaconda), there’s no shortage of names for the penis in Spanish. As with most Spanish slang, how people refer to the love missile depends where you are, from “tola” (tag), and “la rata” (the rat) in Chile, to “el tuerto” (one-eyed) and “la sin hueso” (the boneless one) in Argentina; “el chimbo” (fake) and “la monda" (thief) in Colombia, and “pinga” and “bicho” (bug) in Cuba and Puerto Rico, respectively. Want to expand your Spanish vocabulary further? Other names for the penis include “silica” (sausage), “chamotte” (sweet potato), “pito” (whistle), “gusanito” (little worm), “chorizo” (cured sausage) and “el que te gusta” (the one you like).
Some names for body parts are cute or affectionate, others are odd or downright vulgar. Even when their dictionary definition is harmless, some words can be offensive to people from certain Spanish-speaking countries. To help you on your way, here are some words to avoid or use with care.
- Argentina. Boludo/pelotudo (idiot), verga (penis), forro (jerk), sorete (bad person), chanta (shameless).
- Chile. Pico (penis), choro (vagina), maraca (easy woman), tula (penis), balsa (shameless), Federico (ugly), weon (moron).
- Colombia. Chichipato (stingy), guevón (dummy), pendejo (idiot), gonorrea (bad person).
- Cuba. Jinetera (prostitute), pinga (penis), bofe (annoying), crica (vagina), cucaracha (coward), culillo (impatient).
- Dominican Republic. mamagüevada (vile action), bugane (dumb), cabaya (insignificant person).
- Ecuador. Manicho (crazy), labia (sly/liar), lambón (brownnose), coño (stingy)
- Guatemala. Cerote (shit), pisado (stupid), shute (nosy).
- Mexico. Cabrón (bad person), pinche (despicable), retozona/bicicleta/guila (prostitute), mula (impotent), gacho/hocicón (unpleasant person), culero (wicked).
- Panama. Zorrupia (easy woman), menso (dopey), cabreado (in a bad mood), chacalito (thug), rakataka (street woman).
- Peru. Jijuna (traitor), chuchapinga (up for anything), chuncho (dumb)
- Puerto Rico. Bellaco (horny), cofre (vulgar person), charro (stupid), palgao (promiscuous person), bicho (penis).
- Spain. Gilipollas/paleto (moron), mamarracho (dummy), longi (play dumb), follar (have sexual relations), correrse (ejaculate), polla (penis).
- Venezuela. Covero (liar), ladilla (annoyance), arrecho (annoyed), pichinga (anus), mojonero (liar), pajudo (gossip).
So remember that sometimes “salchicha” (sausage), “chorizo” (cured sausage) and “la cuca” (the cookie) may have nothing to do with food, while “una comida” (a meal) may well be a euphemism for sex (Colombia). Speaking of which, for the next time your flower finds itself with a little bird, make sure your birth control is covered.
(This article has been adapted from our Spanish version, but it is not a direct translation.)