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Panamanian Slang Expressions – Learn “Street Spanish” used in Panama

Posted by | May 29th, 2013

Slang is the use of informal words and expressions that are not considered standard in the speaker's language or dialect but are considered acceptable in certain social settings. Slang expressions may act as euphemisms and may be used as a means of identifying with one's peers.

Obviously it should be your priority to know the correct or proper way of expressing yourself in the Spanish language, but becoming familiar with the most popular slang expressions is equally as important in order to communicate effectively (understand others and be understood). At Habla Ya Spanish Schools you will be introduced and exposed to slang expressions from all over Latin America (and you will be told what is slang and what is the "proper way") because at the end of the day, the purpose of language is communication and without knowing the most common slang expressions, you simply won't be able to communicate with everyone.


Kafu Banton “Habla Como Pana” (speak like a Panamanian) video

Now, having set the record straight, I have to say that personally I LOVE Panamanian Spanish. Although I’m not a perfect Spanish speaker (I can’t roll my rr’s), I’m pretty good at Panamanian Spanish. I’ve discovered three tricks to help any "gringo" out who wants their Spanish to be more "street wise":

  1. Learn the art of dropping the “s” on words ending in “s”. For example, vamos = vamo’ (“let’s go”)
  2. Exchange the ending “-ado” with “-ao”. For example, cuidado = cuidao (“be careful”).
  3. Learn the street vocab!!

Panamanians are extremely respectful to westerners, affectionately called “gringos”. Panamanians aren’t racists, but if your skin is white and you have any hair color that is not black and eyes that are anything but dark brown, then you will be lovingly referred to as a gringo/a, no matter where you're from (even if you're a Panamanian you can easily be mistaken for a gringo).

If you don't look like a local, you're a gringo. Not a lot you can do about it unless you learn real Panamanian Spanish. And if you're British, please don't take offense: even though you're not from the USA, in Panama you're a gringo too!
If you don't look like a local, you're a gringo. It's just how it is. Not a lot you can do about it unless you learn real Panamanian Spanish. And if you're British, please don't take offense: even though you're not from the USA, in Panama you're a gringo too!

BUT if you want real respect as a gringo in Panamá, you need to learn the street lingo.

Now, don’t start off too fast! You’ve gotta get basic Spanish under your belt first and make some friends before you just start spitting out these fascinating words. Otherwise you could easily say something that you didn’t mean and find yourself in a whole lot of trouble...

I've heard of people trying to order trout at a restaurant by saying: quiero chucha (more on this particular word below), when in fact they should have been saying: quiero trucha
I've heard of people trying to order trout at a restaurant by saying: "quiero chucha" (more on this particular word below), when in fact they should have been saying: "quiero trucha". Be careful with what you say!

I’m going to break this into steps for you, from Beginner to Advanced, because that’s really the best way to learn any new thing, right? Stick with me and you’ll be invited to all the cool parties.

LEVEL 1 - Beginner’s Slang

  1. Vaina (vine-a): This is a noun that means “thing”. It’s used to refer to any sort of thing that you don’t want to outright label (either because you don’t know what the thing is, you want to keep it a secret, or you’re just too lazy to think about the correct word). Pásame la vaina. Pass me that thing. ¿Dónde está la vaina? Where is the thing?
  2. ¿Qué cosa? (kay co-sa): This is a question which means “what?” It’s more common to say than the polite “¿Cómo?” or the outright “¿Qué?” (which is kind-of rude and aggressive).
  3. Joven (ho-ven): This is a noun that is used to refer to anyone that you are trying to get their attention and you don’t know their name. Joven translate to "young person" and thus is used mainly to refer to young people. Joven, ¿me podría dar un vaso de agua? Excuse me waiter, could you please get me a glass of water? Joven, ¿está en la fila usted? Excuse me miss, are you in this line?
  4. Dale pues (dah-lay pwace): This is a phrase that means “Go for it” or "OK". It’s very commonly used and is super Panamanian. Person 1: Vamos pal cine. Person 2: Dale pues. Let's go to the movies. Let's do it.
  5. Qué sopá (kay so-pa, the stress/accent is on the a): This can be a question or a phrase which means “What’s up”. Probably Panamanians won’t take you seriously when you say this but they will laugh and appreciate that you are using their slang. It can be used in casual situations or when angry. Hey ¿qué sopa loco? Todo cool. Hey what’s up man? Nothing, all good. Sopá is actually pasó reversed and many other slang expressions are normal words reversed such as mopri wich is primo (cousin) reversed.

LEVEL 2 - Intermediate Slang

  1. Chuleta (chew-le-tah): This is an interjection that means, “Shoot!” or “Damn!”. Used when in shock or disappointed. ¡Chuleta! ¡Mi salsa se está quemando! Shoot! My sauce is burning! ¡Chuleta! Bocas perdió de nuevo. Damn! The Bocas baseball team lost again.
  2. Chévere (chev-re): This is an adjective that means “cool”. When you want to comment that something is really cool or nice or great, you can say, “¡Qué chevere!” How cool! or That’s great!
  3. Offi (o-fi): This is an adjective that means “ok, cool, yes”. ¿Está bien si regreso mañana? Offi. Is it ok if I come back tomorrow? Sure.
  4. Pelao (pe-lau): This is a noun that means “dude”. It’s used to refer to any guy in a casual situation. Ages 18 - 40. Younger is “pelaito”, older is “viejo”. ¿Dónde está ese pelao? Where’s that dude?
  5. Bastante (bas-stahn-te) and Demasiado (dim-ahsi-ado): Bastante is an adjective that means “lots, tons”. Demasiado is the next level up and means “too much”. Hay bastante arroz. Es demasiado. There is a lot of rice. It’s too/so much.

LEVEL 3 - Advanced Slang

  1. Chucha (chew-cha): This is an interjection that means “Fuck!” Women should really not use this term! It is very derogatory because it also means a woman’s vagina (although many people who use it don´t know what it really means). Men frequently use it, or versions of it (chuchi, chuzo). It’s frequently expressed when someone is pissed off, disappointed or shocked.
  2. De repente (de reh-pen-teh): This is a phrase that means “Possibly” (although literally it means suddenly). There are many phrases that can mean “maybe” or “possibly” (tal vez, quizas, es posible) but the phrase “de repente” being used like this is strictly Panamanian. ¿Vas con nosotros a cenar mañana? De repente. Are you going to eat dinner with us tomorrow? Maybe. De repente él no llegó porque estaba ocupado. Maybe he didn’t show up because he was busy.
  3. Cabrear (cahb-reh-ar): This is a verb that means “to be angry, fed up”. It is conjugated normally. It is very commonly used in place of “enojar”. Me tiene cabreao este man. This guy is really pissing me off. *Remember that many times the -ado ending is replaced with -ao.*
  4. Pa (pa): This is a preposition that is derived from the Spanish word “para”. They just shortened it. Vamos pa'lla. Let’s go over there. *”lla” in this case is the shortened form of “allá”.*
  5. Ahuevao (a-way-vow): This is an adjective that means “stupid”. It can be used derogatorily, but mainly it’s used casually when someone does something dumb or if someone is being an idiot. ¡¿Estás ahuevao?! Are you stupid man? What are you thinking?

Easy words that were derived from English:

  • Fren (frin) = friend
  • Pritti (pri-ti) = cool, awesome
  • Pamper (pahm-pear) = diapers
  • Cornflake (korn-flaek) = cereal
  • Macaron (maca-rohn) = pasta
  • Ta cool (ta cool) = It’s cool, it’s ok
  • Bucu (boo-coo) = Lots
  • Chanti (shahn-ti) = house, crib (shanty)
  • Focop (fo-coap) = Fucked up

There are hundreds of slang words in Panama and if you want to find more exhaustive lists check out this Glossary of Panamanian Spanish or do a Google search for Panamanian slang. I hope this article was a helpful start to navigating the exciting world of Panamanian Spanish! Plan your trip now to try out your new skills!

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT PANAMANIAN SPANISH... »

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4 Responses to "Panamanian Slang Expressions – Learn “Street Spanish” used in Panama"

  1. Ana says:

    En los tiempos de atras habian muchos antillanos que vivian en Colon y Rainbow City que hablaban frances . Yo me acuerdo que aprendi a hablar el frances simplemente escuchando a muchos de los viejitos. En el Colegio Abel Bravo habia una estudiante oriunda de Chiriqui que vino a vivir a Colon ; ella aprendio a hablar en ingles por una viejita Jamaicana del edifico donde ella vivia que siempre le hablaba en ingles. Realmente es “buco” que viene del frances beaucoup que significa bastante.

  2. Aya says:

    Why do you keep on saying ‘lovingly refer to whites as gringo’. It’s a mere term for blancos, it’s no term of endearment or a little crown of glory. Many Panamanians don’t care. This is a recurring phenomenon in many Hispanic countries and other ethnic countries you guys decide to travel to. We don’t care.

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