20 Mexican Slang Words You Need to Know Before You Travel
Let’s say that you’ve been studying Spanish for a while. Now you’re ready to visit a Spanish-speaking country to put all that knowledge into practice and measure your progress.
Mexico is a great option. It’s close to the States, it’s cheap and it has great food and a lot of fiestas! All you need to know are a few Mexican slang words and you’ll be ready to mingle with the locals.
In this post, we’ll learn about the origins of Spanish in Mexico, why it has so many words that don’t exist in other Spanish-speaking countries, and some of the most widely used Mexican slang words (and I should know, as a Mexican citizen!).
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Traveling to México
Traveling is one of the most enriching activities you can engage in. It opens your eyes and mind like nothing else does, except for books maybe. But it comes with its own share of challenges, the language barrier being the most obvious one. So, it’s always a good idea to learn some basic words and phrases of the language spoken in your destination.
However, the Mexican version of Spanish has some particularities to take into account.
Mexican Spanish Overview
In the 500-year history of the Spanish language in México, its development is deeply intertwined with its relationship to the indigenous languages that existed before the arrival of the Spanish.
That’s why you see so many words using the ch sound, which is a legacy from the Nahuatl, the Aztec language. This characteristic is also strongly reflected on Mexican slang words such as chido, chafa, chamba and many others. For a quick journey through Mexican slang listen to the famous Café Tacvba song Chilanga Banda.
20 Mexican Slang Words
Chido means cool, awesome. It’s not a bad word, but it almost surely comes from a bad word. Everybody understands it in México. You can also say padre instead, both words mean the same.
¡Están chidos tus tenis!
Your tennis shoes are cool!
These words mean boy and girl, and are understood in most Latin American countries, thanks to the popular Mexican TV show El Chavo del 8.
Aquel chavo de allá trajo la pelota.
That boy over there brought the ball.
In the past, güey used to be a bad word, but not anymore. Nowadays, you can hear it on the radio, on TV ads, and pretty much everywhere. It means “dude,” “buddy,” “mate,” and it’s also widely used as a filler word throughout México.
Oye güey, ¿hiciste la tarea?
Hey dude, did you do your homework?
4. La neta
La neta is the truth, but as explained in the Mexican film Y tu mamá también directed by Alfonso Cuarón, is much more than that. That movie is a crash course on Mexican slang and in it, la neta achieves cosmic significance.
La neta es chida pero inalcanzable.
The truth is cool but unattainable.
Chafa refers to something of low quality. It can be an object like a car or a phone but also places or events. Something not nice. A vacation, a government, or a concert can all be chafas. A similar word in English would be “crappy.”
Está muy chafa la película, mejor vamos por un helado.
This movie is very crappy; we should go for an ice cream instead.
Gacho has a similar meaning to chafa, but they are not exactly the same. It can mean ugly, bad, boring, or not cool. Even though objects can be gachos, the term is usually applied to situations or people.
El profesor de español es muy gacho.
The Spanish teacher is not cool.
7. ¡No manches!
This is the kid-friendly version of another expression that’s not suitable for all audiences. It expresses surprise, disgust, and rejection. Depending on the situation it can mean “really?,” “no way!,” or simply “damn!”
¡No manches! Estuvo muy difícil el examen.
Damn! The exam was really hard.
Literally means “brother,” but as with “bro” in English, it’s used to refer to good friends, too.
María, te presento a mi carnal.
María, this is my bro.
Compa comes from compadre, which is what a kid’s father and godfather are to each other. It means “friend.”
Dejen a mi compa en paz.
Leave my friend alone.
Agua means water, but in this case it’s a warning. In the past, sewage waters used to be thrown out of the window and people would shout ¡Aguas! to alert other people who were passing by. Now, it’s used as a more general warning in Mexico. Interesting how languages evolve.
¡Aguas! Viene un coche.
Watch out! A car is coming.
11. Buena onda
Buena onda is a phrase coined in the sixties and it embodies the spirit of that decade. It means “good vibes,” “groovy,” or “cool.”
No te preocupes, mi papá es buena onda.
Don’t worry, my dad is groovy.
12. ¿Qué onda?
The onda brought a whole vocabulary with it, and there was even a cultural and literary movement based on it. ¿Qué onda? means “What’s up?”
¿Qué onda? ¿Cómo estás?
What’s up? How are you?
¡Órale! can mean “wow!” or “awesome!” It expresses undefined admiration.
¡Órale! ¡Qué grande está este avión!
Wow! This plane is huge!
A pachanga is a party or a simple gathering with friends.
¿Estuvo buena la pachanga anoche?
Was the party last night good?
A chamba is a job. You can go to la chamba, which is going to work. And it’s also a verb—chambear means working.
¡Me encanta mi chamba!
I love my job!
16. Un chorro
To have un chorro of something is to have a lot of it. Remember that the double r in Spanish is a strong sound.
Tengo un chorro de chamba.
I have a lot of work.
17. Un choro
Just by getting rid of an r, the word completely changes its meaning. Un choro is an excuse, a lie, the stuff people say when they didn’t do what they were supposed to do and are now trying to talk themselves out of trouble.
¡Que buen choro te inventaste!
What a great story you just came up with!
Hueva is a term that expresses laziness, a state of being unwilling to do anything. It can be translated as sloth.
¡Qué hueva tengo!
I’m so lazy!
Codo literally means elbow, but in Mexican slang it means stingy.
Préstame 100 pesos, no seas codo.
Lend me 100 pesos, don’t be stingy.
20. Lana, feria, varo
All these words mean “money” in Mexican slang. Think of the American “bucks” or British “quid.”
Se me acabó la feria.
I ran out of money.
La Neta del Planeta (“The Truth of the Planet”)
“The truth of the planet” is that now you are ready to visit Mexico and show off your Spanish skills and Mexican slang mastery. If you know any other Mexican slang word that you consider should be included on the list, leave a comment and start a conversation!
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