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Local Lingo: How to Talk Like a Poblano

Definition of “pachanga,” from the book ¡Ah, Qué Chida es la CH!You’ve just arrived in Puebla, and you feel good. You’ve read your guidebook, so you know at least a little bit about Mexican culture, and you spent weeks brushing up on your Spanish. Confidently, you head out onto the streets of the historic center, ready to converse with the locals. As two women pass by you, you overhear one say: “Compré la bolsa por sólo cien varos.” The other replies, “Guau, que ganga! Se ve bien fresa.”

Hmm. Someone bought a purse that looks like strawberries? Weird. But you weren’t going to talk to them anyway, so you shrug it off. Next, a young man walking behind you answers a call on his cell phone. “¿Bueno? Hola, mi Jorge! ¿Que onda? Güey, estoy chambeando porque necesito lana. … Sí, nos vemos al rato en la pachanga. Y después vamos al antro! … Orale … Vas a comprar unas chelas? … Va que va. Nos vemos.”

Say what? You didn’t understand a word he said. You didn’t think your Spanish was that bad.

Finally, you arrive at a restaurant that looks charming and offers a lovely view of the zócalo. You decide to grab a bite and sit down at a small table in the corner. At least here you can practice Spanish, right? A waitress appears, hands you a menu in English, and says, “Good afternoon. What would you like?” Humbled, you order a meal in your native tongue.

Sound familiar? Many travelers to Puebla have had an experience like this. Although it’s nearly impossible to prevent people from trying to speak English with you, learning some Mexican slang can really go a long way toward helping you converse with locals. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common, family-friendly slang words.

A Brief Guide to Mexican Slang

antro No, we aren’t talking about anthropology here. An antro is a nightclub. You’ll find an abundance of them in the Los Sapos and Avenida Juarez areas of downtown Puebla and near the UDLA campus in Cholula.

chamba and chambear Chamba is another word for job and chambear is its verb. The verb is mostly used as in the example above, estar chambeando.

chelas No fiesta is complete without beer, or chelas.

chido Used to describe something that’s “cool” or desirable, as in ¡Que chido!

dos que tres Slang for más o menos or “more or less.”

fresa vs. naco Entire books could be written about these two gems, but essentially a naco is an uncultured, uneducated, or low-class person (similar to a “hick” in English), and a fresa is a snob or someone who fancies themself as a person of high class or status. Neither is typically a compliment, so use with caution.

ganga This isn’t a word you’ll hear a million times a day, but it’s good to know, especially if you plan to go shopping. If something is a ganga it is a bargain.

guácala Guácala is synonymous with gross or disgusting.

güey Use this word when you want to say “dude” or “dudette.” You’ll hear it frequently whenever young people are talking.

lana and varos Literally “wool” and “bars of gold,” these words simply mean “money.” You may also hear plata, or “silver,” which is popular elsewhere in Latin America. Of course, all three can be used for their other meanings, too. The context should make it pretty clear whether the speaker is talking about textiles, precious metals, or moolah.

me cayó el veinte People use this phrase when they want to say, “I suddenly realized.”

¿Mande? This loosely translates to “Could you ‘send’ that to me again?” or “What did you say?”

mero This term, often repeated for emphasis, is often used to mean “the best” or “the exact” one. If a product says mero mero on its label, then it is calling itself the best. Note that if someone is giving you directions and says, “Está en meritito en la esquina,” then they are saying the place is precisely on the corner.

neta This word generally means “the real deal,” but it can be used as a question for confirmation. In conversation, a person might ask, “¿Neta?” which is kind of like asking, “Really?” Then if the person responds with “¡Neta!” they are basically saying, “Yes, what I just said is true.” If someone tells you that you’re la neta del planeta is means “you’re the best.”

órale If people are surprised about what they hear, in a good way, they say órale. It can also be used as an affirmation, particularly when you are about to say goodbye on the phone. The reaction for when something is bad is hijole.

pachanga This word describes a huge, often drunken, party — a rager.

padre Like chido, padre (literally “father”) is used to describe something that’s “cool,” as in desirable. Avoid expressions that contain the word madre (literally “mother”), most of which are negative and offensive.

¿Qué onda? What’s up?

se me fue el avión A Spanish equivalent of the expression “I lost my train of thought.”

For more Mexican slang, check out the fun paperback dictionaries of “mexicanismos” by Maria del Pilar Montes de Oca Sicilia, El Chingonario and ¡Ah, Qué Chida es la CH!

—Laura McKelvie

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7 Responses to “Local Lingo: How to Talk Like a Poblano”

  1. Greg says:

    Interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

    I have a few pieces of advice to add. We have lived full time in Mazatlan for four years and have a sixteen year old son. I hear all kinds of things. These comments relate to what I hear here, which may or may not relate to Puebla or other areas of Mexico.

    Chido is used by the younger folks, and padre is used by the older generation. Young people who say padre only do so in front of older people. If they use it amongst other young people, they are fresas. Nobody wants to be called a fresa, so don’t do so. You can talk about other people as fresas, but you better know what you are talking about.

    Young people use güey all the time as do primarily lower class uneducated people. I would say that any foreigner who tries to use this expression will look way out of place. It’s okay as a joke or a humorous greetings, but I would not try to make it part of your day to day vocabulary.

    Thanks again – always learning!


  2. Jessica says:

    I think this is so chido! I am married to a Poblano and him and his primos talk like this all of the time! I don’t mind the words they say and I am happy that they have some slang there because it makes life more interesting!!! You can like it or not but it makes them different and special at the same time! In the USA we have too many slang words and people from other countries use ours. Some are bad and some good! I love Mexico and always have and I can’t wait to go back! I feel like a Mexican because my heart lives in Mexico! Viva Mexico y Viva Los Poblanos!!!!

  3. Laura says:

    Hi guys,

    Thanks for commenting on the article. There’s so much one can say about slang that it won’t fit in one article, so your comments really help enrich the conversation.

    @Greg: The idea was to help foreigners recognize certain slang terms so that following a conversation would be easier. You are right in that it might seem odd to locals if non-native Spanish speakers start rattling off a lot of these words. My advice as a language teacher would be for people to notice how and when these words are used and then decide if they want to incorporate any of these phrases little by little into their speaking.

    Also, I think you are right about chido and padre. It seems younger people say chido more often than padre. But when it comes to güey, that is used by all classes here in Puebla, especially younger well-to-do students. A food stand where I eat esquites is commonly visited by students from the Iberoamericana and UDLAP universities, two of the most expensive in the country, and literally every third word I hear from them is güey. Literally.

    @Jessica: Hope you can come back soon. Puebla will be here, waiting for you!

  4. Margie Hord says:

    Great comments! I have seen a lot of changes since I came here in the 70’s, when “fresa” seemed to mean more like “square” and “padre” was the in word… “órale” is also used a lot for “wow!”, as each time someone opens a cool gift at Christmas, for our gang. “Está cañón” means something like “that’s tough,” etc.

  5. Most of the words you add to your list are part of the lingo used in the Central part of the country -mostly “formed” in Mexico City. For the lingo experts out there I would suggest to hear the song Chilanga Banda (the most popular version is sung by Café Tacvba).

    And I would add just one word that I believe is as poblano as you can get: “tole”. I’m poblano myself and I don’t use it and I’ve heard it just a few times. It’s something like “brother” but in a homo-erotic way if I understand it right. As you might have noticed, the homo-erotic words in the “Mexican” language are no extrangers.

    As usual, really nice post 😉

  6. Reading your list again, here two contributions to it:

    – The origin of “Me cayó el 20” goes back to the time where a phone call in a payphone costed 20 cents. You had to wait untill the coin dropped -“cayera el veinte”- to start talking.

    -Mande: Literally “you order”. This word was used since the Colonial times by the servants, and it remained as a common phrase. People who use it don’t realize its true origin.

    And one more:

    -Aguas. Literally “waters”. This is used to say “watch out”. Once again, in Colonial times, there was not drainage so people would take their bedpans every morning and through its “waters” out of the windows. They would prevent the pedestrians yelling: “aguas”.

  7. Rebecca says:

    Those are great additions, Alonso. Thanks!

    The song “Chilanga Banda” is fun — who doesn’t love Cafe Tacvba? — and uses so much slang from Mexico City that even my husband, who is Poblano, had to look a few things up! Here it is, for anyone’s who is interested, with the lyrics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=MX&v=n_BFvuIWuaw