10 words with different meanings in different Spanish countries
Published on July 30, 2020 / Updated on November 1, 2023
On your journey towards learning Spanish, you will come (hopefully) in contact with many varieties of the language. Pronunciation and idiomatic expressions change according to which Spanish-speaking country your counterpart is from. And the same is true of vocabulary. There are several words that will have different meanings depending on the variety of Spanish spoken. Worry not, though! We got your back! In this article, we will discuss 10 of these words, clarify what they mean in different countries and how to use them to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation.
If you order a torta at a restaurant, you might get something completely different depending on the country where you and said restaurant are located. In Spain*, you will probably get a sweet cake similar to a birthday cake. In some Spanish regions, torta also refers to all types of round and flat bread that are made without using yeast.
In Mexico, however, you would be served a crusty white sandwich roll garnished with vegetables, ham, eggs, avocado or a meat fillet.
Finally, ordering a torta in the Philippines will get you a special kind of omelet made with eggs or eggplant, ground meat and sometimes minced onion and potato.
*Note: This word can also be used to describe a slap in the face in Spain.
In Colombia, chucha describes bad armpit odor. In Argentina, on the other hand, it describes the female reproductive organ and is, similarly, used as an insult in several Latin American countries. In Chile, the phrase “está a la chucha” is used to say that something is far away.
In most of the Spanish-speaking world, strawberry translates to fresa. However, this fruit is called frutilla in Argentina.
When used in Mexico, fresa describes negatively a young person who is (acting) preppy. Mexican teenagers use it to describe the typical superficial, conceited, egocentric and wealthy Mexican. The opposite of fresa would be naco, a pejorative slang term that describes tasteless, tacky and bad-mannered people.
If you use the word banqueta in Mexico or Guatemala, people will understand that you are talking about the sidewalk. In most other countries, this word describes a bench whereas it is the word acera which translates to sidewalk.
In Spain, coche means car. However, in Guatemala, it is a slang term for the word “pig” and in Chile, it can also be used to describe a baby stroller. Oh, and by the way: there are several ways to call cars across the Spanish-speaking world. In Mexico, people say coche or carro. In Colombia and Venezuela, carro is also the preferred term whereas Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Peru will say auto.
What is the meaning of chucho? In most Spanish-speaking countries, chucho is a slang term for dog or mutt and also means shiver. However, in Central America, chucho also means stingy and can be used to describe a crook or an unreliable person as well. In Latin America, this word is also slang for “joint”. Chucho also means “cold” in Argentina, “jail” in Chile and in Mexico it characterizes someone who is clever and skilled. Last but not least, Chucho is also the nickname that is often given to people named Jesus!
Guagua is a slang term for baby (bebé in standard Spanish). However, in the Caribbean, the Canary Islands and Spain, buses with a fixed route are also called guaguas.
Rato literally means “while” or “bit” – an undefined length of time. However, this term is used differently depending on the country, and this is where things get tricky. In Mexico, it means a short period of time (“one moment”), whereas in Spain, un rato is a long period of time
Mona is the name that characterizes a female monkey. However, this word has additional meanings across the Spanish-speaking world. In Spain, mona describes a cute girl, whereas in Colombian slang, it is a word that is used to characterize a blond or white woman (mono being the masculine equivalent). Lastly, in Venezuela, the word is used to talk about conceited girls.
Buzo means diver in standard Spanish. However, it has several other local meanings. A buzo is a sweatshirt in Argentina, sweatpants in Chile and Costa Rica and in Guatemala, the word is used to define someone who is very good at doing something.
Learning the different meanings that certain words may have throughout Spanish-speaking countries can greatly benefit communication efforts. Being aware of these linguistic variations will help you avoid misunderstandings and foster better connections with Spanish speakers from diverse regions. So don’t hesitate to expand your vocabulary and embrace the richness and diversity of the Spanish language!