¿Qué Onda? Its Meaning, Origin, and Common Usage
¿Qué onda? is a question that Spanish speakers and learners can’t escape! This frequently used Mexican expression is a big part of the Spanish-speaking world and essential slang in countries like Guatemala, Argentina, Uruguay, and the United States. Read this blog post to discover the meaning of que onda in Spanish, how it originated, and the many ways to use it like a native Spanish speaker. Let’s explore the intricacies of que onda to understand and use this popular expression.
The Meaning of ‘Que Onda’ in Spanish
Que onda doesn’t have a direct translation in English. It’s a common informal greeting interpreted as “what’s up?”. If you translate que onda in Spanish, it literally translates to “What wave?” in English.
Ondas (waves) in the Spanish-speaking world don’t only refer to waves of the ocean but also vibrational waves. Que onda is an informal way of asking “how are things going?”, “what’s the vibe?”, or “what’s happening?”.
Where Does Que Onda Come From?
According to la Academia Mexicana de la Lengua (Mexican Language Academy), Mexican authors of the so-called literatura de la onda first used the expression “que onda” in Spanish in the mid-20th century. This literary form embodied a language popular among the young people of that era.
It was a period when young people, especially those from Mexico City, used the word onda as a catchphrase in different expressions to refer to a certain sense of belonging, status, a state of mind or being in frequency with a movement or mood. This usage originated from different expressions like mala onda, buena onda, or en onda.
The meaning of onda continued to evolve, ultimately leading to the creation of the expression que onda as a popular greeting during Mexico’s counterculture of the 1960s and 70s.
Mexican author Margo Glantz wrote the book Onda y escritura en Mexico, where she analyzes the origins of the expression and the meaning of que onda in Spanish. The author mentions how the expression boomed among hippie and beatnik young adults who were non-conformists with the social and political situation Mexico was experiencing. Using que onda and other expressions with the word onda meant you were part of the avant garde generation and a rebel demanding change.
The expression kept gaining momentum throughout Mexico, finally becoming a staple of the country like tacos and mariachis!
Que onda found its way to other Spanish-speaking countries including Guatemala, making its way all the way to South America where it is understood but not as common. Due to the proximity to Mexico, que onda also gained popularity within the Hispanic population in the United States, making it an essential part of the Spanglish vocabulary spoken widely in North America.
Ways to Use ‘Que Onda’
The use given to que onda varies according to the tone, mood, and scenario in which it’s used. Let’s dive deep into the frequent meanings for que onda in Spanish.
1. Que onda as a greeting
The basic meaning of que onda is similar to the expression, ¿que tal?. Que onda in Spanish is a way friends and family welcome each other in an informal situation.
Remember, if you’re using que onda as a greeting, it should be with someone you already know or in a casual scenario. Que onda is not acceptable in formal or elegant situations.
¿Qué onda Luis? ¿Cómo te va?
What’s up Luis? How ‘s it going?
¡Hola Elisa! ¿Qué onda?
Hi Elisa! What ‘s up?
¿Qué onda? Hace mucho que no te veo.
What’s up? It´s been a while since I saw you.
2. Que onda as an accusation
In this context, que onda is a direct question that comes out of discontent. In this type of situation, que onda in Spanish can lead to a dispute and be accompanied by hand gestures and hostile body language.
¿Qué onda con que no pagaste la renta? Si yo te pague a tiempo y ahora nos van a poner multa.
What’s up with you not paying rent? I paid you on time, and now we’re getting a penalty.
¿Qué onda con que me estás hablando en ese tono?
What’s the deal with you talking to me in that tone?
No estudiaste y perdiste la clase. ¿Qué onda? ¿Estabas muy ocupado o que?
You didn’t study and you failed the class. What happened? You were too busy or what?
3. Que onda to show surprise
The expression que onda shows surprise or bewilderment in a given situation, often indicating disapproval and disagreement with an action.
¿Qué onda? ¿Por qué no terminaste tu tarea?
What’s up? Why didn’t you finish your homework?
¿Qué onda con que tu y Andrea ya se fueron? No me lo esperaba.
What’s up with you and Andrea already leaving? I wasn’t expecting this.
¿Qué onda con el tráfico? Te dije que teníamos que salir más temprano.
What’s up with traffic? I told you we should’ve left earlier.
4. Que onda for uncertainty
Que onda in Spanish can be used for situations that generate doubt and create distrust and uncertainty.
Mi hermana siempre viene temprano, no se que onda. Ya me preocupé.
My sister is usually early; I don’t know what’s up. I’m worried now.
Esperaba que me llamaras hoy y nada. Quisiera saber que onda contigo.
I was expecting you to call me today and you didn’t. I would like to know what’s up with you.
Quiero irte a visitar en marzo, pero tengo que ver que onda con las restricciones de viaje.
I want to visit you in March, but I have to see what happens with the travel restrictions.
5. Other Variants
Although widely understood in most Spanish-speaking countries, other variants fulfill the same purpose and meaning of que onda in different contexts. Let me show you a few variants that have similar meanings to que onda:
|Spain / Chile
|Y de ahí
Ready to Use Que Onda in Spanish?
Like most Spanish language colloquial expressions, it’s safe to say that the meaning of que onda is complex. You’ll fully grasp it once you get out there and practice it in real-life conversations. If you’d like to improve your skills before jumping into slang, you can sign up for a free trial class with native Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala. It’ll be worth your while and you’ll pick up tons more vocabulary, including more must-know slang expressions like que onda in Spanish!
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