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.


14 responses to “Favorite words in Spanish (The Bogotá Post)

  1. Dolores Gutierrez

    Great collection. Most of them are quite familiar to be since I have a brother in law, a daughter in law, a son in law and a granddaughter in law. Treasuring it. Thanks!


  2. Great list! Some of the words you mentioned made me think of some I like too. Close to the empiyamado universe, I like “encamado”, which in Colombia will not necessarily convey the idea of being sick, like it does in Spanish from Spain.
    And to go together with pecueca (I love this word too!), I have to mention “tener chucha” (having bad armpit smell). Pecueca y chucha, a winning combo!


  3. This was a good way to start my day, thank you. Here are some words that came to mind after reading your list:

    zutano (complements fulano, and mengano and perengano)
    paparote (fool)
    granuja (rascal, rogue, scoundrel). When I use it people tend to laugh.

    I always thought it was gordiflón. I now see that both gordiflón and gordinflón are in the dictionary. Also, very funny that you included ya and tampoco :)

    Good to have you back!


    • Hi Ed, thanks! Reading your comment is a great way to start my afternoon.

      Another favorite word came to mind earlier today: apellidar.

      Yes, the whole ful/meng/zut/perengano family is nice. I’ve only seen granuja once, and it was in a book from Spain.

      And, ha, gordi(n)flón. I actually think many of these words sound “better” in the feminine version: gordinflona, bobalicona. I guess palabras esdrújulas can sometimes be more pleasing to me (though sometimes less) than palabras agudas.

      I think I like the extraordinary usefulness of ya (despite its brevity), and I like the way tampoco is used for emphasis (especially with how it’s pronounced). Like, “pero tampoco es que…” So often it’s used in ways that would not be translated as either/neither, even though that’s how the word is taught. The word can definitely have a real edge to it, either openly or subtly.


      • Tampoco, tampoco. Mérmele con lo de las esdrújulas. Those words became graves when use in the feminine (not that you said that they turned into esdrújulas).

        I agree with you, granuja is pretty much something you see in books and the like. Same thing for the English versions. I really like scoundrel, and I think I am going to start using it. It will be funny. The father of one of my friends used to say bellaco; he is the only person I remember ever using that word, other than us making fun of it. I recently heard the word ragamuffin and I immediately liked it. I also like the words that Dolores wrote below, which inspired me to contribute a triad of words that are unrelated to one another in meaning but share some phonetic traits:

        arruncharse (to cuddle)
        acurrucarse (to squat)
        ronronear (to purr)


        • You are so right. My rust is showing.

          Scoundrel is great (the word always kind of makes me think of a snarling, sneering dog). I associate atarván with it. You should use it. What a scoundrel! Don’t be a scoundrel. Only a scoundrel would X. Are you going to vote for that scoundrel?

          Ragamuffin is also great, and very descriptive. Moms use it with their kids- you can’t go out like that; you look like a ragamuffin. Go run a comb through your hair and put on something that matches.

          I have long thought of doing a post on arruncharse and runchos!


  4. Dolores Gutierrez

    I just remembered three words I like:
    Chandoso (dirty, fleebag)
    Enclochar (put on the clutch)
    espichar (to press down)


  5. Dolores Gutierrez

    un par mas…
    encargo bugueño ask someone to bring you something and promising to pay when you receive what you requested
    pordebajear put something or somebody down


  6. Great article, as usual! My new students will benefit from your insights into our Spanish!


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