Learning Spanish might seem easy, but even as a native speaker we can face some confusing and curious words when talking to other Spanish-speakers around the world.
As you may know, it is the first language for 74 countries. Thus, it is only natural that we find some discrepancies. The same words can have multiple meanings when shifting from one region to another. In some cases, this has to do with the so-called “idioms” or country’s slang; but in other cases, the meaning changes entirely.
Therefore, I thought, what better way to practice our Spanish than by acknowledging a list of unique words, that depending on where you stand or with whom you are talking to can mean one thing or another.
This one is a hack! When ordering a ‘torta’ in Venezuela, Colombia or Panamá, you are asking for delicious chocolate, vanilla or coffee cake. A little bit further up, in Mexico, if you ask for a ‘torta,’ you will encounter a traditional fried sandwich with ham or meat filling. But ‘torta’ does not only have a wide array of culinary meanings, in Spain this word is informally used to describe when someone falls or gets smack.
If you look for the meaning of ‘mono’ in the dictionary, you will see it stands for monkey. Nonetheless, several different purposes are found around Spanish speaking countries. In Colombia, for example, ‘mona’ stands for a blonde girl. Meanwhile, in Cuba, you will find that a cute little baby will be called ‘mono.’ In Spain referring to something as ‘mono’ also means lovely or sweet. However, in Venezuela, ‘mono’ can be a sweat pant – or in some cases, it is also used as a pejorative term to describe someone who is low-class or skanky.
This word is a very tricky one. In countries like Argentina, Chile, and Spain it may be used to describe a straw. In Venezuela, a straw is a ‘pitillo,’ and a ‘pitillo’ in Spain is a cigarette. Confusing right? Well, it gets even more complicated. If you are traveling to Central America (Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua), you don’t want to shout out ‘pajita.’ In these countries’ pajita’ means to masturbate quickly. So, you must be very careful when using this particular word around America.
Usually, ‘fresa’ only means one thing: a juicy strawberry. However, in Argentina, strawberries are called ‘frutillas.’ In Mexico, they use ‘fresa’ in an ordinary sense to describe someone who acts preppy, egocentric or superficial.
In most Spanish-speaking countries a ‘rubia’ is a blonde girl/woman. But in a few countries, such as Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina a ‘rubia’ refers to an icy and refreshing beer! Presumably because of the beer’s color.
This is also a very particular word. It is typically a synonym of diver. But in Costa Rica and Chile they will use ‘buzo’ when referencing sweatpants. In Argentina, a ‘buzo’ is commonly used to describe a sweatshirt, not pants. Also, in Venezuela, it is ‘slang’ for a man that stares sassily at women.
In some countries like Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba the ‘guagua’ is a bus, but if you go down to Ecuador, Peru or Chile you will find that ‘guagua’ stands for baby. So basically, you could ride the ‘guagua’ with your ‘guagua’ if you were to use these words with different meanings.
In most countries, ‘coche’ is simply put a car. Spain, Mexico, and Uruguay use it as such, but in Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, and Peru you will use ‘coche’ to describe a baby stroller. Meanwhile, in Guatemala, ‘coche’ is the informal term for pig.
This is a personal favorite! In Central America, ‘chucho’ means cheap and might also be used to describe an unreliable person. In some other countries, you will find that it is slang for joint. Panamanians used it as a warm term for people named Jesús or to refer to God’s son. However, Chucho in Chile means jail and in Argentina is an adjective used to describe ‘cold weather.’ Moreover, in Mexico, the term is used for someone who is a very skilled person. In Spain it is used for dogs in a despective way.
Its female counterpart ‘Chucha,’ can have different meanings as well. In Argentina it means vagina. In Colombia, it is used to describe odors or rancid smells. In Chile, it will be used when something that is very far – e.g. ‘Queda en la chucha.’
Is a widespread word in the Spanish language, but with different meanings; in Spain is a sandwich, in Cuba, you will use ‘bocadillo’ for a sweet coconut treat, as well as in Colombia you will use it to describe a sweet guava treat. Uruguayans use ‘bocadillo’ for a particular intervention in a theater play when an actor in a non-main role says only a few words.
In most countries, ‘pana’ refers to the material that is commonly used for making shirts, pants or skirts. However, in Colombia and Venezuela it is a way to refer to a very close friend or relative.
As you can see, one word can have multiple meanings among Spanish-speaking countries. Proving, that Spanish is not only one of the most used languages in the world, but it is also one of the richest. Especially if you keep in mind that we are talking about countries that, in some cases, are only a step away from one another.
Today we learned a very important lesson. We need to be aware of the meanings of the words we learn to be able to use them accordingly when traveling, interviewing for a job, or even when making friends at a bar. Also note, that some of these words can become very offensive or inappropriate depending on the place you use them.
I hope this article can help you better understand the language and its vast vocabulary.
- Escobar, Carina. “10 Spanish Words That Have Different Meanings in Different Countries.” Diáfano, 14 Aug.2018, diafanomethod.com/10-spanish-words-that-have-different-meanings-in-different-countries/.
- “Learn a Language Online.” Italki, www.italki.com/article/380/spanish-words-that-have-different-meanings-in-different-countries?hl=es.
- “List of Languages by Total Number of Speakers.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 9 May 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_total_number_of_speakers.
- “Spanish Words with Completely Different Meanings in Different Countries.” ALTA Language Services, 19 Oct. 2018, www.altalang.com/beyond-words/spanish-words-with-completely-different-meanings-in-different-countries/.