Learning Spanish will help you communicate with the estimated 500 million Spanish speakers around the world. But one of the things that makes Spanish so interesting is its linguistic diversity and the ways in which it varies so much from place to place.
If you plan to visit Cuba, or want to speak more fluently with Cuban Spanish speakers near you, then learning about this particular variety of Spanish is a must.
From regional expressions to modern slang, these Cuban slang words and phrases will give your Spanish some local colour and help you sound more like a native speaker.
Plus, they will help you understand idioms, pop culture references, and other expressions that may not have word-for-word translations.
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Why Learn Cuban Slang?
Cuba is home to over 11 million residents, while over 1.5 million Cuban American live in the U.S., primarily in Florida. This makes Cuban Spanish one of the most widely spoken varieties of Spanish in the Caribbean region.
But Cuban Spanish has some notable differences from Latin American Spanish, partly because of the large number of immigrants from the Canary Islands who arrived in the 1800s and 1900s. They brought along many words of French and West African origin that aren’t found in other dialects of Spanish.
This can make Cuban Spanish hard to follow for speakers of other Spanish dialects. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to speak with a wide range of colorful, creative Cuban slang expressions that aren’t found anywhere else!
The Cuban Accent
Before we get into specific Cuban slang words and phrases, it’s important to understand how the Cuban accent differs from other varieties of Spanish. One notable difference is that Cuban speakers often drop or weaken the final consonant of a word, especially the letter s. This means the word esos may sound more like esoh.
Another difference, shared with some other Caribbean dialects, is that the diminutive ending -ito and –ita is more likely to be formed using -ico and -ica.
Cuban Spanish is also more informal than other dialects, with tú used more frequently than usted, including with strangers.
So, now you've had your primers, let's discover these 35 Cuban slang words and phrases.
1. ¿Qué Bolá?
One of the most common phrases in Cuban Spanish, that translates to “What’s up?” or “How’s it going?” Alternatives include “¿Qué bolero?” and “¿Qué vuelta?”
¿Qué bolá? – What’s up?
Acere is a term of friendship, similar to “dude”, “buddy”, or “mate”. You wouldn’t use it in more formal settings, but you’ll hear it often among friends. This word originally comes from the Efik language of Nigeria and isn’t found in other Spanish dialects.
¿Acere, qué bolá contigo? – Dude, what’s up with you?
Yuma is similar to the word “gringo” and refers to foreigners, especially those from the U.S. Cubans don’t mean it offensively, so don’t take it personally if you hear it!
Esos turistas son yumas. – Those tourists are foreigners.
Spanish has several different words for “car,” including carro, coche, and auto. In Cuba, it’s máquina, which is the Spanish word for “machine.”
Cuba es conocida por sus máquinas antiguas. – Cuba is known for its antique cars.
This word comes from the Canary Islands and is how Cubans refer to a bus, instead of the word autobús, which is used in other Spanish-speaking regions.
¿Vamos a ir en guagua? – Are we going by bus?
Literally the word for “bottle,” in Cuban Spanish, it refers to hitchhiking or giving a ride to somebody.
¡Vamos a coger botella! – Let’s catch a ride!
7. Le Ronca El Mango
This colorful expression literally translates to “the snore of the mango,” and is used to say that something is too much or too extreme.
Le ronca el mango estar lejos de casa. – It’s so hard to be far from home.
This word is a colloquial way of talking about a bra.
¿Dónde está mi ajustador? – Where is my bra?
This is a common expression used to mean that something is cool.
¡Que chévere! – How cool!
Cubans use this word to refer to the tropical fruit papaya. (In Cuban Spanish, the word papaya refers to a part of the female anatomy instead.)
Para el desayuno, quiero jugo de frutabomba. – For breakfast, I want papaya juice.
In other Spanish-speaking countries, a lighter is called an “encendedor.” In Cuba, it’s called a “fosferera” instead.
¿Tienes una fosforera? – Do you have a lighter?
12. Por La Izquierda
This translates literally as “to the left,” but is more accurately translated as “under the table.” It’s used to refer to something shady or less than transparent.
Los vendo por la izquierda. – I sell them under the table.
This translates to “guy” or “girl,” and usually refers to a person that the speaker doesn’t think very highly of.
No me gusta ese chico. – I don’t like that guy.
Jamar means “to eat,” but has a slightly different connotation than comer. It’s most literal translation is “to stuff oneself with.”
¡No podía dejar de jamar en la fiesta! – I couldn’t stop stuffing myself at the party!
This common Cuban phrase can be used to mean “let’s go,” “hurry up,” or any number of similar phrases, depending on the context.
¡Dale, vamos a llegar tarde! – Come on, we’re going to be late!
16. Voy A Hacer Café
In some parts of the world, “I’m going to make coffee” might be taken as an invitation to stay for a cup. In Cuba, it’s a roundabout way of suggesting that it’s time for someone to leave! If you hear this phrase, you may have overstayed your welcome.
Voy a hacer café ahora. – I’m going to make coffee now.
17. Me Piro
This is a casual way of saying, “I’m off” or “I’m going to get going” and is the perfect way to respond to “Voy a hacer café”!
¡Adios, me piro! – See you later, I’m out of here!
18. Tremendo Mangón/Tremenda Manguita
This phrase means that someone is “super hot” or good-looking. It comes from the days when mangos weren’t available in Cuba and hard to find.
¡Ella es tremenda manguita hoy! – She is smoking hot today!
19. Tremenda Muela/Muelero
Muela translates literally to “tooth” or “molar,” but the expression means that someone talks too much or flirts too much.
El da tremenda muela en en el teléfono. – He talks too much on the telephone.
In most varieties of Spanish, pinchar is a verb that means “to puncture,” but in Cuba, it means “to work.” La pincha refers to your job or the place where you work.
Tengo que pinchar hoy. – I have to work today.
21. El Chivo
El chivo translates to “the goat,” but in Cuba, it refers to a bicycle.
Quiero alquilar un chivo. – I want to rent a bike.
This refers to a “home” and can be used in place of casa.
Estoy en gao. – I’m at home.
23. En Talla
This translates to “in size” and means that something is the right fit. You can use it to refer to people to things that go well together.
Esos amantes son en talla. – Those lovers go well together.
24. Buscar Balas
Literally, this means “to find bullets,” but it’s a way of saying that you need to find a job or make some money.
Necessito buscar balas pronto. – I need to make some money fast.
25. Tu Maletín
This means “your briefcase,” and is a colloquial way of saying, “It’s your problem!”
¡No me mires, tú maletín! – Don’t look at me, it’s your problem!
This refers to someone who likes to gossip. It comes from the word bemba, which means lips.
Cuidada, ella es un bembelequera. – Careful, she’s a gossip.
Spanish for “monster,” Cubans use this word to refer to someone who is skilled or talented at something.
Él es un monstruo cocinero. – He is a monster chef!
Locals use this word to refer to hustlers who sell rum or cigars to tourists, especially in popular tourist spots like Old Havana.
Cuidado con los jineteros en la ciudad. – Watch out for the hustlers in the city.
This is a colloquial term for a police officer who rides on a motorcycle.
¡Hay muchos caballitos aquí! – There are a lot of motorcycle cops here!
30. Tremendo Paquete
This is used to express sympathy or exasperation at a dramatic story, and translates to something like “that sounds heavy” or “that’s so dramatic.”
¡Tremendo paquete! – That’s so dramatic!
A slang word for underwear, essentially “undies” or “panties”.
¿Necesitas blúmes nuevos? – Do you need new underwear?
From the English “pullover,” this means T-shirt in Cuba.
¿Te gusta mi pulóver? – Do you like my T-shirt?
33. Echar Un Patín
Literally, “to throw a skate,” but essentially “to run as fast as you can.”
Estaba asustado, así que eché un patín. – I was scared, so I ran as fast as I could.
34. No Te Rajes
This phase means something like “stick to the plan” or “don’t change the plan.”
¡No te rajes! – Don’t break the plan!
35. No Dispara Un Chícharo
This translates to “don’t shoot a pea” but refers to someone who’s lazy and doesn’t get anything done.
¡No dispara un chícharo en casa! – You don’t do anything around the house!
Using Cuban Slang Words And Phrases
Introducing Cuban slang words into your vocabulary can be intimidating, since you don’t want to say something awkward or use an outdated expression. But the more colloquial expressions you know, the more you’ll sound like a native speaker and the easier it will be for you to understand everyday speech.
Fortunately, there’s so much Spanish-language media out there that it’s easy to expose yourself to various Spanish accents and expressions. You can listen to Cuban music or watch Cuban movies to pick up regional accents and turns of phrase.
Before you know it, you’ll be able to hitch a ride, rent a bike, catch the guagua, order frutabomba juice, and more. ¡Que chévere!