WHEN in Rome, do as the Romans. And when in Panama, learn to speak like a Panamanian! So how can you make your Spanish more Panamanian and come across as a native? Check out this list of 20 Panamanian Spanish slang words and sayings!
1. A cualquiera se le muere un tío.
If your uncle were to suddenly die, it wouldn’t be your fault; it is a random event over which you have no control. That’s why locally it means: “It could happen to anybody.” The Crítica newspaper wrote: “A cualquiera se le muere un tío, y Justin Bieber no es la excepción, pues por segunda vez en dos años, el cantante se estrelló contra una pared de vidrio.” Translation: “Nobody’s perfect, and Justin Bieber is no exception. For the second time in two years the singer smacked right into a glass wall.”
2. alborotar el congo
This popular phrase literally means to stir up a wasp’s nest. A congo is a type of black wasp whose sting is especially painful. Imagine the poor fool who takes a stick and hacks away at the nest! Soon hundreds of angry wasps will be in hot pursuit. For that reason, alborotar el congo means to stir up trouble. “Cuando el diputado llegó a la fiesta con su quitafrío, se alborotó el congo.” Translation: “When the congressman showed up at the party with his girlfriend, it caused quite a ruckus.”
3. barriada bruja
There is no spiritism here! In Panama, if someone lives in a barriada bruja, he is in a slum. If he’s in a casa bruja, it is a shack. In such circumstances, it is possible that the occupants are using luz bruja, that is, they are illegally connected to the electrical grid.
Locally a bate is not just a baseball bat; it’s also a slang term for a lie. “Estoy harto de tanto bate.” Translation: “I’m fed up with so many lies.” Another form of lying is cheating. For that reason, a cheat sheet is known as a batería. “Por debajo de su manga de camisa, tenía pegada una batería.” Translation: “He had a cheat sheet up his sleeve.”
Are you a fan? Do you lose track of time with your favorite hobby, with music, or maybe your sports team? Are you an unbalanced enthusiast? Then you will be dubbed a birrioso. A sportswriter tweeted: “¡Tremenda Serie Mundial! Yo birrioso desde chico.” Translation: “Great World Series! I’ve been a fan since I was a kid.” “Nadie en la escuela era birrioso de estudio.” Translation: “No one at school was crazy about studying.”
A reed is a tall, thin grass that grows in the wetlands. In Spanish a reed is carrizo, and the natives adopted it as the term for a drinking straw. “Pela’ito, toma este carrizo para tu bebida.” Translation: “Boy, take this straw for your drink.” So make you use this word when you are at a restaurant in Panama and you want a straw. If you get it wrong, watch out! It could be the last straw!
7. estar en la cama de los perros
If you get into trouble with your significant other, in English you are in the doghouse. But in Panama, if you are in the dog’s bed, you have no money. If someone asks to borrow ten dollars, just answer with this saying. It means: “Look, man. I’m totally broke.”
A cartucho in most Latin countries is something you put into your printer when the ink runs out. But in Panama, it’s the common word for a plastic bag. “¿Me prestas un cartucho por favor?” Translation: “Could you lend me a plastic bag please?”
Even though this term literally means pork chop, this exclamation is 100% vegetarian! ¡Chuleta! means: Wow! Unbelievable! Incredible! whether for good or bad. When it was discovered posthumously that the Cuban singer Celia Cruz had once performed secretly for Fidel Castro, a Panamanian daily wrote: “¡Chuleta! A estas alturas todavía no dejan descansar a Celia Cruz en paz.” Translation: “Unbelievable! At this late date Celia Cruz still can’t rest in peace.”
In most of Latin America the standard term for a stapler is engrapadora, because the staples are called grapas. But, not in Panama, where the de facto word is clipsadora. The verb is clipsar, to staple. To me it sounds like some Italian opera singer. “Oh Clipsadora…be mine tonight…”
When the Panamanians saw for the first time chewing gum, pronouncing it in English proved far too difficult. And chingongo was born.
12. Eso es chicha de piña.
A chicha is any blended fruit drink. But what if you are in a hurry and guests are coming? What’s the easiest thing to do? Make chicha de piña! It’s a no-brainer. Slice up some pineapple, throw it in the blender with some water and sugar. Pulverize, and bingo! You’re ready. Because of the ease involved, if a Panamanian says, Eso es chicha de piña, it means: It’s a piece of cake. A similar phrase, though not limited to Panama, is: Es pan comido.
How do you feel when your children throw a temper tantrum in public? How embarrassing! Your chiquillos, or children, are putting on a show, but not one you are proud of. That’s why in Panama a chiquishow is a public scandal. “Yolanda comenzó a gritarle a su marido en el mercado y le hizo el chiquishow.” Translation: “Yolanda started screaming at her husband in the market and made quite a scene.”
14. hacer una vaca
In English a cash cow is a business venture that allows you to milk the profits for years to come. In contrast, locally hacer una vaca means to make a collection for a cause, that is, to crowd-fund. Speaking of one Little League baseball team with limited resources, a newspaper commented: “Para llegar al juego tienen que hacer una vaca para buscar un taxi.” Translation: “To get to the game they have to take up a collection.” So if you need funds for a good cause, this might be your best moooooove!
15. hacerse el chivo loco
Goats are aloof and happiest left alone. So if someone se hace el chivo loco, it means he is ignoring you. “No te hagas el chivo loco, que contigo estoy hablando.” Translation: “Don’t give me the cold shoulder; I’m talking to you.”
This literally means to act like a turkey, a bird that likes to strut his stuff. And students who skip classes do the same. So locally pavearse means to play hookie. “Un jovencito era buen estudiante, pero de la noche a la mañana comenzó a pavearse y a bajar las notas.” Translation: “One young boy was a good student, but out of the blue he started to play hookie and his grades went down.” A student who skips class frequently is a paviolo.
In many Spanish-speaking countries a pipa is a water truck, but in Panama it refers to a far more organic container: a coconut. On the other hand, if your friends start to refer to you as pipón, you’re going to have to lay off the beer. Pipón means pot-bellied. You look like you have a coconut stuck inside your shirt! Oops!
18. perro tinaquero
At one time most trash cans in the country were made by Tin & Co., which stands for Tin & Company. But to a Spanish speaker, it looked like tinaco. That’s why locals call trash cans tinacos. The neighborhood mutts would often scavenge for food in these cans. So to this day a perro tinaquero is a stray dog or a mutt. “Hay un perro tinaquero que el año pasado ocupó el primer lugar en la graduación de rescatistas caninos.” Translation: “There is a stray dog that last year won first place in the canine rescue graduation.” Some anglicize the word as tainaker.
19. ¡Ponte mosca!
Ever try to kill a fly with your bare hands? It’s nearly impossible. Why? Because flies have amazing reflexes. So if someone tells you, ¡Ponte mosca!, it means: Be on your toes! or Stay alert!.
Always sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong? If so, in Panama you’ll be called a vidajena. “Si no fuéramos tan vidajena, no hubiera tranque.” Translation: “If we weren’t such rubberneckers, there wouldn’t be a traffic jam.” Another complained: “Ya casi me duermo y mi hermanita no me deja; vidajena mirando mis chats.” Translation: “I’m almost ready to fall asleep and my little sister doesn’t let me—the busybody is looking at my chats.”
Want to learn more? Then check out our latest guide: Panamanian Spanish: Speak like a Native! . The richly-illustrated volume explores the most common words, expressions, and sayings common in Panamanian Spanish today. Written in an easy-to-read style, Gringo Guide 200’s latest foray into Panama’s country-specific Spanish will help you tailor your vocabulary to fit in with the locals. Hear an unfamiliar word or phrase? A comprehensive index will direct you straight to the entry, so that you might quickly discover its meaning. So why wait? Start learning Spanish… one country at a time!