51 Lively Cuban Slang Phrases: Fish, Mangos, Camels, Papayas and More

Maybe you’re one of the 2.5 million tourists descending on Cuba each year for the year-round warm beaches, ropa vieja (shredded beef) and parties.

Or, maybe, as is the case with me, more and more Cubans just seem to be popping into your social circle.

I’ve learned a lot of unique Spanish slang words and phrases from my Cuban friends, so I’ve decided to share some of my favorites.

Just note that I’m focusing on Cuban Spanish from Havana, regional and personal differences abound, and spellings and not standardized (especially when it comes to choosing between B or V and S or C).

Contents

You might also find it useful to check out this post, where we’ve compiled all the posts we have on Spanish slang:

 


Speak Like a True Spaniard: 14 Spanish Slang Phrases You’d Be Crazy Not to Know

Heading to Spain? Want to sound like the locals? Here are 14 Spanish slang phrases you’re gonna hear all the time in Spain!

1. ¿Qué bolá contigo?

What’s up with you? How’s it going? Bolá is also frequently spelled as volá.

2. ¿Qué bolero?/¿Qué bolaita?/¿Qué vuelta?

These are variants of the above for asking someone how they’re doing.

3. Acere

A friend, a dude. This is an informal way of addressing anyone, just like colega or amigo. So, “¿¿Acere, qué bolá??” finally makes perfect sense, right?

4. Yuma

This is a word used to describe a foreigner and especially a white or blonde one. It would usually not be used for foreigners from elsewhere in Latin America.

5. Gringo

This refers only to a person from the United States. Unlike in some other Latin American countries, this word isn’t used for Europeans.

6. Un mate

A French kiss.

7. ¡Tu maletín!

That’s your problem (literally, your briefcase)!

8. ¡Me resbala!

I don’t care (literally, it slides off me).

9. Mantén tu latón con tapa.

Keep a lid on it (literally, keep the lid on your trash).

10. ¡Chao pescao!

¡Adiós!

11. ¡Chao pescao!…¡Y a la vuelta picadillo!

This cutesy two-person exchange of expressions is just like, “see you later alligator!” and “after a while crocodile!” It literally means, “goodbye, fish!” and “next time, minced meat!” It comes from the way that the first 15 days’ ration card of the month gives you fish, and the next time it gives you meat.

12. Nos pillamos

This is essentially saying “¡nos vemos!” or “see you later.” This phrase can be sexually suggestive, or not.

13. Tumba eso

Let the subject drop (literally, knock that over).

14. En talla

Literally, this means “at the size,” and the closest English equivalent is “it’s a good fit.” It could mean that things literally or figuratively fit, or that people are understanding each other well or are in the know.

15. Me piro

I’m getting going, I’m out of here.

16. Jamar

To eat.

17. Jamar un cable

To be really struggling financially to get by, to be homeless, out of work, etc.

18. Surnar

To sleep deeply.

19. El chivo

The bicycle.

20. La pincha

The job.

21. Pinchar

To work (literally, to poke or stab).

22. El gao / El gabeto

Home.

23. Echar pila

To flirt.

24. Está volao

That’s amazing.

25. Tipo cuadrao

A square (type of person), someone who’s inflexible (e.g., very communist).

26. Prieto(a)

A black person. This word is considered to be more polite than negro.

27. Camello

The odd, beastly buses in Havana have “humps,” so they’re referred to as “camels.” Passengers suffer quite a bit to ride one.

28. Coger botella / Va en botella

This very Cuban mode of transport means going to up to cars at stoplights and asking for a ride in the general direction that you’re headed. A botella (aside from “bottle”) used to mean a good personal connection for getting work, but then became just a connection for a car ride.

The practice is falling out of favor as there are now many competing unofficial taxis. It’s much easier for women, doctors and soldiers to coger botella, so it’s wise to emphasize one of those in your form of dress. The practice was common on motorcycles as well until a helmet law was passed.

29. Boteros

Fixed-route taxis.

30. Bembelequero(a)

A person who gossips or spreads non-official news. Bemba on its own is slang for “lips.”

31. Jamonero

A creepy, touchy-feely guy.

32. Frutabomba

Papaya. Why don’t they just call it a papaya? Well, because papaya in Cuban slang means something a little different.

33. Papaya

Vagina. Yup, I told you so!

34. Embullarse

To get excited, wound up.

35. Tumbar la guara

To interrupt, to break off an established level of trust and camaraderie.

36. Pégate al agua, Felo

This expression means “don’t leave off the subject” or “let’s come back to the subject at hand.” It’s considered more than a bit insensitive, as it comes from Cubana de Aviación Flight 455, which was bombed, killing 73 people in 1976.

Cuba blamed Cuban exiles and the Venezuelan secret police, with a complicit CIA, for the attack, and has frequently since broadcast the audio recording of the pilots’ last words “pégate al agua, Felo” (land on the water, Felo).

The phrase stirs up hard memories for an older generation, but for younger people it’s just a phrase they’ve heard over and over, and it thus gained its current slang meaning. As a foreigner, you probably shouldn’t risk using it, but it’s interesting to know.

37. Voy a hacer café

Literally, “I’m going to make coffee,” but really this stock phrase is said by a host to indicate to the visitors that it’s time to go. People tend to drop by one’s home unannounced all the time in Cuba, so it’s important to know that serving coffee is how you get rid of them.

38. No te vayas, espera café

If you’re concerned that your visitors might be a bit thick, and you really want to ensure that they leave, use this variant of the phrase above (“Don’t go (yet), wait for the coffee”).

39. No me vayas a dichabar

Dichabar is to betray someone’s confidence by spilling the beans or revealing a secret, so you say this phrase when you want to order someone not to repeat a word of what you’re about to tell them.

40. Deja la singae

Stop bothering me!

41. Singar

Like joder, to fuck.

42. No te rajes

Don’t you just hate it when everyone makes plans and then someone doesn’t follow through? Say this one after making a plan with some friends of acquaintances. It means “don’t abandon the idea” or “don’t ditch the plan.”

43. Te sueno la cara

I hit you in the face.

44. Jeva

This can mean either a girl or a girlfriend. So mi jeva is “my girlfriend.”

45. Mango 

Hot. As in, “esa jeva es un mango!” (that girl is super hot).

46. Echar un patín

To run. Literally, to throw a skate

47. Mete tremenda muela

This is said about someone who talks a lot or way too much, especially about things that aren’t that interesting. Almost everyone in Cuba chats endlessly about nothing, so if a Cuban says this about another Cuban, you know it’s really someone who will chat your ears off.

48. Se destimbaló

He/she fell down.

49. No dipara un chícharo

She/he is lazy. For example, he doesn’t do anything around the house to help out. Literally, it translates”he doesn’t (even) snap a green bean.” This is a case of the disappearing S mentioned in the introduction, as the formal Spanish spelling of dipara is dispara.

50. Estoy en la fuacata

I’m broke.

51. Esqueleto rumbero

Very thin (literally, a dancing skeleton).

That’s quite a list already but, of course, there’s always more to learn. Once source is movie clips on the Internet. This genius has taken to dubbing movie clips into Cuban Spanish for comic effect.

 

That’s all for now.

¡Chao pescao!

And…do you remember the response?

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