7 Confusing Spanish Words: Travel Around Latin America and Spain through Words

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Same Words, Different Meanings

Nobody said that Spanish words and idioms were easy to learn but at least they are fun! Even as a native speaker I’ve faced some quite curious and confusing situations when speaking with our fellow brothers and sisters from Latin America.

Confusing Spanish Words - Palabras en español que confunden

 

What’s the worst part? Once you learn how to speak Spanish if you move to another region or country, you’ll get lost again! Spanish is official in 22 countries or territories (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela) and that makes it unique and varied. More and more people are becoming aware of the differences but there are still a lot of misunderstandings.

It has happened to me so many times that the first time I went to Latin America I tried to avoid certain kinds of words and adopted localisms. Let’s have a closer look to some of those words:

1. The Verb ‘coger’

This one definitely takes the cake. In Spain it means ‘to take’ and we use it for everything just like in English. However, in most of Latin American countries it means ‘to have sex’.  Imagine how confusing is to realise that we use it all the time.

Real example (it has happened to me):

  • Spanish from Spain (me): Para llegar al centro tienes que coger el metro y el autobús (To get to the centre you have to take the subway/tube and then the bus).
  • Mexican girl: She looks at me like I’m some kind of perv and takes her time to process it. Her final answer is: ¿Y cómo voy a hacer eso? (and how am I supposed to do that?)

2. Pajita

A harmless and simple tool in Spain and Argentina (well, we should stop using them) where it means ‘straw’ but in El Salvador means to masturbate quickly. In the rest of the countries it also means a ‘small blow job’. In Venezuela they use pitillo instead of pajita and pitillo in Spain means cigarette. I know, it only gets more and more confusing! 

There’s no example to illustrate here and I’m glad it didn’t happen to me (yet?).  

3. Fruit

Let’s go with the fruit, such a funny subject! papaya is called papaya everywhere but in Cuba where, you guessed it, it means vagina. They call it ‘fruta bomba’ instead. You better use it right when going to the market or they’ll understand you are asking for something else! 

Dar papaya (to give papaya) in Colombia is to give someone the chance to harm you or steal something from you. It would be like ‘dejar a huevo’ in Spain, doing something obvious so that others can take advantage of you.

Mamón is a small fruit in Venezuela, known as huaya in other countries and very annoying to eat because most of it is seed. In Bolivia and Costa Rica is used for liar, in Chile means mama’s boy and a blowjob (of course). In Colombia is someone annoying or that doesn’t commit. 

In Costa Rica is a football player that never passes the ball (a ‘chupón’ in Spain). In the Dominican Republic is a man that has been cheated, in Honduras a lovebite and in Mexico someone that doesn’t help when needed. A flatterer si what it means in Puerto Rico and a baby pig in Uruguay. In Spain we use it as a synonym of asshole or annoying and for someone that sucks (mamar is to suck) like a baby would. In the Philippines is a traditional sweet similar to a muffin that actually comes from Mexico.

Phew, I’m going to take a break here! That was too much!     

4. Paloma

A pidgeon (eww, nasty) in Spain and Argentina but in Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala they use it for the down-there bird!

In Argentina it is also used for the underwear stains (palomino in Spain) and in Spain it is a very common female name. Imagine if someone from those countries would meet them!

5.Concha

Same goes with Concha, the short version of the female name Concepción (yes, Conception). BUT (there’s always a but in Spanish) in Ecuador, Argentina, Peru and Bolivia means vagina (yay, again!) and in Argentina is especially offensive. In Venezuela is the peel of a fruit.

Imagine these two situations; a Spanish lady named Concha arrives in Argentina and introduces herself or a Venezuelan goes to Argentina and asks for the ‘concha’ of her fruit to be peeled out. Laughter is guaranteed! 

6. Chambear

While in Mexico, Ecuador and Peru they use it as a synonym of working, in the Dominican Republic it also means to sniff cocaine (same thing, right?).

In Puerto Rico it has three different meanings: 1) to start the engine, 2) to load a pistol, 3) to dance reggaeton. What a beautiful and varied language we have!

7. Guachimán

This is by far my favorite one. It comes from English, guess from which word? Yes, watchman! They adapted it the easy way, just how it sounds! It’s used in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Panama, Peru and Venezuela as a synonym of guard.

How did you like it? Do you want more? If you haven’t collapsed yet with so much information you need to watch this video that sums up in a very funny way the misunderstandings that this beautiful language leads to. 

 

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8 Replies to “7 Confusing Spanish Words: Travel Around Latin America and Spain through Words”

    1. I’m glad it did, that was my purpose! You should take it up but remember not to move from region if you want to understand people (just kidding, it’s not that extreme)

      Thanks for passing by!

    1. Hi Jessica,

      Spanish is spoken in 22 countries or territories. Apart from Latin America, Spanish is also official in the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, a partially recognised state that claims the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara.

  1. When I arrived in Venezuela from Cuba at the tender age of 12, back in ‘61, we met with some children whose parents and our (brother and I) parents were friends. They varied in ages from 10 to 16, boys and girls, and they couldn’t wait to tell us Cuban words you couldn’t use in Venezuela.
    Another of my parents’ friend was named Cuca in Cuba, but quickly changed to Cusa in Vzla. Why not Cuca? Well, it means vagina. While in Cuba the street name for vagina was bollo, in Vzla it meant a crusty small bread. I used to love telling my father we had ham and cheese bollos at a friend’s house.
    In no. 7, the author makes mention of guachiman = watchman. So here are a few more: Seibo = side board (table height credenza-type used in dining room; get it? Sei (side) bo (board). Picó 1. Pick up truck , 2. Pick up record player
    I will try to remember more,

    1. Cuca is such a classic! I didn’t know about Seibo, though. Please share if you do remember more words, I’d love to know more.

      Thanks for sharing!

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