Favorite words in Spanish (The Bogotá Post)

It’s been quite a while, I know, but I’d like to get back into the swing of things without too much ado. To start, I want to post some of my columns from The Bogotá Post over this past year. This one combines two of my most popular blog posts, and the definitions are much improved. Which one is your favorite?

I just got back from vacation, we’re all busy watching the Olympics now, and we’re in the languorous dog days of summer. So, these summer doldrums are the perfect time to heed the advice of my chief linguistic takeaway from my recent visit to Colombia’s coast: cógela suave. That is, let’s take it easy in this column.

Therefore, para variar un poco, I hereby present you some of my favorite words in Spanish. Some of them because they’re beautiful, others because they’re fun to say, others because I like how they’re used or their meaning, others because I get a kick out of their translation in certain dictionaries (indicated by quotes), and others because they just have a je ne sais quoi about them. All are words that I’ve gradually come across via conversations, books, and life over the years—no cheating and thumbing through the dictionary or looking up someone else’s list of favorite words. A few are Colombian Spanish or particular to other regions; others may be highly literary or old-fashioned. The definitions are not exhaustive. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy this tantalizing smorgasbord of the Spanish language.

(I know that many native Spanish speakers also read this column, some of whom speak outstanding English, so I tried to include some really rich and colorful English words in the definitions for your linguistic pleasure and learning.) 

acuarela (watercolor)

acuatizaje (water landing)

albaricoque (apricot)

almohadilla (ink pad; paw pad; small pillow; pincushion)

amanecer (dawn; to dawn; wake up in the morning; spend the night somewhere; stay up all night)

andariego (full of wanderlust, footloose; wanderer)

apenas (barely, hardly; as soon as)

ay (oh; ow, ouch)

bambalina (stage curtain)

bobalicón (nitwit, twit, dolt)

(a) borbotones (bubbling, gushing; abundantly)

cacharrear (to fiddle with something until you figure it out, tinker)

cachimba (smoking pipe; hookah)

cachivaches (knickknacks, odds and ends; junk)

cantimplora (canteen, flask)

casquisuelto (sexually promiscuous person, womanizer, Don Juan, floozy, man-eater)

chichiguas (pittance, petty amount)

colindar (to adjoin, abut)

cumbamba (chin)

curiosear (to poke around, snoop; to glance at, look around)

decembrino (related to December)

diluir (to dilute)

embebecer (to fascinate)

empiyamado (in one’s pajamas)

ensimismado (lost in thought; absorbed, engrossed; self-absorbed)

escuincle (kid, child)

feligrés (parishioner)

flojera (laziness; weakness)

floripondio (“gaudy decorative flower,” “great flowery thing”; rhetorical flourish)

friolento (cold-natured)

fulano (whatshisname; some random person)

golosina (treat, candy; incentive)

gordinflón (fatty, fatso; chubby, tubby, pudgy)

hediondo (smelly, foul, reeking)

hijueputa (son of a bitch, bastard)

horripilante (hideous; horrifying)

imagínate (just imagine)

inmiscuirse (to interfere, meddle, stick your nose into)

kumis (kumis: kind of yogurt)

lentejuela (sequin)

locuacidad (loquacity, talkativeness)

maracuyá (passion fruit)

memorioso (having a good memory)

mequetrefe (good for nothing, schmuck; busybody)

mermar (to reduce, turn down)

mijo/mija (my son/daughter, “sonny boy”; sweetie, darling)

mismísimo (the very same, itself/herself/himself)

mojigato (strait-laced, goody two-shoes; holier-than-thou, self-righteous; hypocrite, two-faced; prude, prig)

murciélago (bat)

nalgadas (spanking)

natalicio (birthday; commemoration/observance of a famous person’s birthday)

ningunear (to ignore, brush aside; to look down one’s nose at, treat like dirt)

noctámbulo (nocturnal; night owl)

ojalá (let’s hope, hopefully, God willing)

papanatas (sucker, dupe)

papeleo (paperwork; red tape)

parvulario (nursery school, kindergarten)

pecueca (stinky feet smell; bad; brat)

piquiña (itching; envy)

pluviosidad (rainfall)

porquería (junk; dirt; mess; filth, smut; shoddy work)

primíparo (college freshman; first-timer, newbie; primípara: first-time mother)

pues (well; um; then; because, since)

quiubo (what’s up?; hey)

renacuajo (tadpole; nosy)

rosaleda (rose garden, rose bed)

tampoco (neither, nor; come on)

tararear (“to la-la-la”; sing to oneself)

tertulia (get-together, gathering; cultural/literary salon, circle)

tinieblo (secret lover; unofficial or unannounced partner)

tiquismiquis (petty details; bickering, squabbles; fussy, finicky, persnickety; stickler, fusspot)

tulipán (tulip)

vaina (thingamajig, whatchamacallit; headache, drag; pod; sheath, case)

verdulería (produce store; vegetable stand; mayhem, chaos; obscenity)

ya (already; now; enough; right)

Now you have 75 splendid words to season your Spanish with! I hope you enjoyed them and are now thinking about the words that have always struck you as lovely or nifty. What a treat to be able to speak such a beautiful language.


Sick as a frog’s tail (The Bogotá Post)

As we continue playing catch-up with my newspaper columns from the past few months, here’s the next installment from The Bogotá Post: being sick in (but never of!) Colombian Spanish. Much of the information can also be found in this post that I wrote in 2012. And if you don’t know what chikungunya is, look it up–I didn’t choose that sickness because it has a cool name but rather because it regularly pops up on the Colombian news (also written chicunguña).

Last week I felt a cold coming on, a friend had to cancel lunch plans because he too had come down with something, and one of my boyfriend’s cousins was also feeling under the weather. It seemed like a great excuse to write about how to talk about feeling sick in Colombian Spanish, so, from the sniffles to chikungunya, here’s how to cope, Spanish-wise.

I’m sick is Estoy enfermo (think of sending someone to the infirmary), but a very common way in Colombia to say that you’re feeling bad is Estoy maluco or Me siento maluco. The noun form of this adjective is maluquera: Tengo una maluquera also conveys that you’re feeling lousy. Tengo un malestar is more formal way of saying the same thing. Estoy indispuesto is a more formal and elegant way of saying that you’re sick and out of pocket, like saying, I’m ill. I’ve never found a convincing way of saying that someone feels sick as a dog in Colombian Spanish, but you can compare how bad you feel to what it must feel like to have the plague: Tengo una peste horrible, Tengo la peste, or Estoy apestado.

So, what do you have? A cold? The flu? Here in Colombia and in some other countries, these are treated as pretty much the same animal: la gripa. Note that it’s gripa and not gripe, as it is in most countries. So, you say Tengo gripa, or Estoy agripado, or Me dio gripa. I caught a cold. Resfriado or catarro–common words for a cold in other countries- are not words you’re likely to hear in Bogotá.


Medicines are called medicamentos far more than they’re called medicinas, and you can also say drogas or remedios. Pills are almost always called pastillas, not píldoras. You can see that pastillas is the diminutive form of pastas, so if you hear someone ask for pastas at the farmacia or droguería, there’s no need to tell them that the Italian restaurant is around the corner.

¡Que te mejores! is your standard way of telling someone to get well soon. If you know that someone was sick and you want to check in on them, you can ask them ¿Cómo sigues? or, more specifically, ¿Cómo sigues del ojo/estómago? or whatever body part was ailing them.

Losing your voice is always a pain in the neck, and economy of words becomes of the utmost priority. When this happens, you’ll say, estoy afónico. Estar ronco means that your voice is hoarse. Tener carraspera is another way of saying this, kind of like saying that you have a frog in your throat.

Speaking of frogs, there’s this great little rhyming chant in Spanish that parents say to little kids when they get a boo-boo and think that the world is going to end: Sana que sana colita de rana, si no sanas hoy sanarás mañana. Basically, get better, little frog tail, if not today, then tomorrow.

sana que sana colita de rana

What are the best local remedies to take when you get a cold in Bogotá? Their versions of chicken noodle soup include: aguapanela with lemon and cinnamon, honey with milk, and the like.

There are many old wives’ tales here that revolve around not mixing hot and cold, for fear of causing anything from a cough to crippling you permanently. Some examples are not opening the refrigerator right after coming home all hot and sweaty after exercising, or not running your hands under cold water right after ironing. You and I might roll our eyes, but Colombians take this folk wisdom extremely seriously.

People also tend to be a little OCD about cold air. Quick, quick, close that window; you’ll let el chiflón in! El chiflón being a draft that can have all kinds of pernicious effects. And don’t go from a warm inside environment to the cold outdoors unprepared, or you risk the danger of el sereno, or, a deadly chill. Very much talked about as a sort of bogeyman, the dreaded sereno is also infamous for increasing the effects of alcohol on the brain. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

May you never have the need to use any of this vocabulary, but it’s always good to have it in your back pocket just in case. Make sure you’re always properly bundled up (especially your feet), if not for your own wellbeing then at least for the sensibilities and concern of the Bogotanos around you. When in Rome…

Welcome party

Someone left me a comment the other day, and a teeny-tiny mistake she made gave me the inspiration for this post. I’ve already made it known that I need requests and ideas from all of you (when you’ve written over 200 posts about the nooks and crannies of the Spanish language, the inkwell gets a little dry at times), and mistakes definitely count. Almost all of the posts are born of my own various and sundry mistakes, so I hope no one takes it personally if their own error can serve as a teaching moment for all of us.

This person greeted me by saying “¡Bienvenido!” and then went on to leave a kind and interesting comment. Now, it was fabulous to receive her warm welcome, and I don’t want to quibble . . . but that greeting needed a little tweaking. If I were Bob, “Bienvenido” would have been appropriate. If I were Bob and Jerry, “Bienvenidos” would have been correct. Were I Laura and Sally, “Bienvenidas” would have to be used. However, as I am just Vocabat, you have to greet me with “Bienvenida.” I have a feeling you’ve probably already cottoned on to the reason, but let’s go over it quickly.

Bienvenido is an adjective (and an interjection in this particular case- Welcome!), so you have to make the ending (feminine v. masculine, singular v. plural) agree with the noun/person it modifies, as you are really saying “(you are) welcome!” That’s why she should have said “¡Bienvenida!” when greeting me. When used in general, like on a sign, you’re going to see “Bienvenidos,” as the welcome is extended to everyone, i.e., both men and women.

bienvenidos sign la paz

To my surprise, bienvenir as a verb doesn’t exist in Spanish. There’s only the noun bienvenida (dar la bienvenida means to welcome someone) and the adjective bienvenido with all its gender and number derivations. Also to my surprise, I had never before realized that bienvenido is the exact same structure as in English: bien + venido = well + come.

Bienvenido isn’t solely for people; just like in English, you can welcome anything with the meaning of happily received.

Cinco hoteles en los que tu perro será bienvenido – Five hotels where your dog will be welcome

¡Cualquier sugerencia será bienvenida! – Any and all suggestions would be most welcome!

tarjetas bienvenidas

I vaguely remember picking up on this rule through observation after long assuming that “bienvenidos” is just how you say welcome. So, if you too thought welcome was bienvenidos in all cases, you’re not the only one. Thankfully, it’s a very easy mistake to fix.

Wearing out the welcome? We could always take a cue from Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web and say “Salutations!” A hale and hearty salute to all of you.


Fit for Spanish (The Bogotá Post)

As I mentioned in the last post, I’m still happily writing a Spanish language column for The Bogotá Post, which is published about every three weeks. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share the posts that have come out since I put down my keyboard back in January and let the blog take a breath, interspersing them with new posts.

This column came out in January, I think, when we were still ringing in the new year and initiating our resolutions with vim and vigor. If you too set goals to eat healthier and get in better shape, this column will help you with the related vocabulary in Spanish. Feel free to share your progress in the comments. I’ve been working on toning my arms, and I’m also trying to make a Colombian equivalent of “an apple a day…” and eat a mango a day, or at least just increase my consumption of all the local delicious fruit in general!

Happy New Year! Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? Maybe to improve your Spanish? Maybe to lose weight? I thought we could kill two birds with one stone by talking about one goal that’s very common (losing weight), and teaching you some related useful Spanish de paso.

First of all, a goal in this context is un propósito. If your goal is to lose weight, you’d say: Mi propósito para este año es bajar de peso. If it’s to get in shape: Mi propósito para este año es ponerme en forma. Another way of saying to lose weight is adelgazar; you can see its connection to the word for thin, delgado. Use the preposition para to express a deadline: Quiero bajar cinco kilos para junio. I want to lose five kilos by June.

Maybe you just want to tone up, either in general or a certain body part. To tone is tonificar. Quiero tonificar mis brazos – I want to tone my arms. Maybe you want to eat healthy: Quiero comer sano/sanamente. To go on a diet is hacer una dieta; to tell someone that you’re on a diet, you say, Estoy a dieta.

diet and exercise

If you want to join a gym, you’ll say, Quiero entrar al gimnasio. To work out is hacer ejercicio. Want the holy grail of gym rats, a six-pack? Locally, you call that a chocolatina because it looks like a chocolate bar with its various squares. Ironic, right?

Have a spare tire around your middle? That’s a michelín; yes, just like the brand of tires. A double chin? That’s called a papada. Rolls of fat in general are called gordos. Spanish even has a word for chubby cheeks! They’re cachetes.

You may have noticed that here in Colombia the words gordo and gorda frequently don’t carry the same stigma and insult that FAT carries in other cultures. There are husbands and wives that affectionately call each other gordo and gorda, as well as women who greet their female friends by calling them gorda. It’s all about the tonito. Gordito makes the label softer, obviously, and means chubby or plump.

What are some other ways of expressing that someone is heavy? Your doctor is most likely to say something tactful and technical like Usted tiene sobrepeso or Usted está pasado de peso. If your friends notice that you’re packing a few extra pounds than usual, or if you come back from vacation with your face a little rounder, they might say that you’re repuesto or repuestico. A little stronger than that would be rellenito. Rechoncho is a harsher way of saying that someone is chunky or hefty. One very local way of saying that someone is gaining weight is se ve que se toma la sopita. You can tell they’re eating all their soup! Soups of all kinds being, of course, a classic Bogotá staple for the traditionally cold weather. People even eat soup at breakfast! Speaking of Bogotá food, once I heard an overweight person jokingly called a buñuelo con patas. A walking buñuelo.

campbell's soup

What about when someone has a killer bod? ¡Qué cuerpazo! What a great body! A macancán is a guy who’s really ripped. Acuerpado also means buff or toned (though it can also just mean large), as does musculoso. Delgado is thin, of course, and esbelta (usually for women) means slender, svelte. Flaco carries more of the connotation of skinny, sometimes being underdeveloped and unattractively thin. Not always, though: ¡Flaca, tírame un hueso! is a famously humorous piropo for women. Hey, skinny Minnie, throw me a bone!

If someone’s skin and bones, you can say that they’re puro hueso or that they parece un palillothey’re as thin as a rail, er, toothpick.

One false cognate you run into when talking about bodies is complexión. As someone once wrote, resist the urge to write “cleared up years ago!” when you see this on a form for you to fill out. No, it’s not referring to your skin complexion. Instead, complexión in Spanish refers to your build or body type.

All that really matters is that you’re happy and healthy, and we all know that thinness is not necessarily a guarantee of either. Whatever your size, hopefully 2015 will be a year of joy, success, and increased Spanish fluency!

July greetings

The blog was on vacation for the past several months and is now officially back, refreshed and reinvigorated. I’m still living in Bogotá, and I still have lots of ideas and words to share. Along with translating, I’ve continued writing a monthly column for The Bogotá Post, and despite the silence on the blog I have no problem regularly writing 700 or so words on whatever topic the newspaper requests. Request being the operative word, there; my inspiration has hit somewhat of a wall, and their suggestions make everything so much easier for me. So if you have a request for something you’d like me to write about here on Vocabat, be sure to let me know.

I hope everyone’s Spanish studies are going splendidly and that you’re all enjoying your summer, winter, or in-between season, whatever the case may be. ¡Chau!