A classic area to study in Spanish class is how to describe people. The sad thing is that often the focus is very narrow. Rather than looking at interesting ways to talk of different character and personality traits, more often than not you’re just taught how to describe a few physical characteristics.
The result is that you, as the student, can only ever provide a highly superficial explanation of how somebody is. You can say that they are tall, thin, have blue eyes, and so on, but can’t even hint at what they are really like as a person. And you certainly can’t do much to inject humour into any such descriptions.
Colombians are significantly more imaginative in their discussions of other people and have a perfectly crafted word that neatly sums up near enough any physical characteristic or character trait that you can imagine.
Below are a delightful selection of terms that Colombians use to describe people which end in “-ón”. Roughly, this is the local equivalent of English adjectives that end in “–y” (such as “showy”, “chatty”, “freaky” etc.), but is more common in the Colombian context.
Read a few of the below and you’ll maybe understand me better. Many lack a precise equivalent in English, which makes them harder to get familiar with at first, but all the more satisfying when you eventually do.
Note: most of these words can be made feminine by adding an ‘a’ to the end, and removing the accent from the “ó”. Thus, “cansón” becomes “cansona” etc.
“Cansón” comes from the verb “cansarse”, meaning “to get tired”, and implies that a person is “tiresome” or “irritating”.
It can also be used to describe someone who is a bit of a joker, but not in a good way i.e. they are constantly winding people up without being necessarily being that funny.
The sentence: “¡Qué man más cansón! ” would roughly translate as “that guy is such a pain in the ass!”.
A term very similar to the one above. To understand where it comes from, you’ll need to first be familiar with a few other bits of local slang as background.
“Estar mamado” means “to be dead tired”; “mamar gallo” (literally, “to suck a rooster”) means “to wind someone up” – sometimes to an irritating degree; while the phrase “ay qué mamera! ” basically is a way to say that something is such a pain that you can’t be bothered to do it.
Calling someone a “mamón” carries the same implication; that they are bothersome and that you’re tired of them.
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From the verb “faltar”, which can mean a whole bunch of things, but the one that concerns us here is “to be absent, missing, or failing to comply”.
”Faltón” is a great way to refer to someone unreliable, who constantly promises things that they never follow through with. There’s a fair amount of this personality trait going round in Colombia, so you might be able to get good use out of this particular word.
From “llorar” or “to cry”. A “llorón” is a “cry baby”.
Bocón / Soplón
The first word comes from “boca”, the Spanish for “mouth”, while the second is linked to the verb “soplar”, technically meaning “to blow”, but also it is an internationally-recognised slang way of saying “to rat someone out” or “to tell tales”.
Both are ways to describe “a rat” or “a grass” and maybe used by school children and criminal types alike.
Coming from the verb “lamer”, “to lick”, and more specifically the phrase “lame culos” or “ass licker”.
A “lambón” is, then, a “suck up” or “ass kisser”; a way to describe someone who will do anything to curry favour with their boss, teacher, friend’s parents etc.
There is a fair amount of overlap with the words “bocón / soplón” in that a “lambón” might rat out a skiving workmate in order to win over their boss, say.
As we all know, “tocar” means “to touch”. Thus, you can refer to someone who touches a lot as a “tocón”.
This is not so much applied to the innocently tactile as it is to men of the sex pest variety. The word would best translate as “grabby” or “handsy”, maybe.
Continuing with the theme of sexually inappropriate behaviour, we come to our next term “mostrón” – from the verb “mostrar”. It refers to someone who exposes themselves a little too much.
To be fair, I think I’ve only ever heard this used as a joke e.g. say you accidentally rip your shorts while playing sport, a Colombian friend might jest “¡es que no sabía que eras tan mostrón! ” (roughly: “I had no idea you were such a flasher!”).
Women might also be described as “mostrona” if they’re being accused of wearing something too low cut or revealing. A good comeback to this would be “lo que no se muestra, no se vende” . Literally, it means “what you don’t show, you won’t sell”, but the flavour of the expression is closer to the English “if you’ve got it, flaunt it”.
Armed with the knowledge that a “güeva” is the word for a testicle, you may be able to work out that this isn’t the most complimentary term in the world.
And, indeed, in some situations – notably if said in the heat of an argument – you’d be right.
However, there is a large, and rather strange exception to this, which is in conversations between (mainly male) Colombian friends, where this word is bandied around with reckless abandon.
Far from being an insult, being constantly called an “güevón” (something like “asshole”) by your buddy actually indicates that you’re getting on rather well (they’d have to be pretty sure that you are – otherwise they might get a smack in the face for their trouble).
In these situations, “güevón” is pretty much just another word for “dude”, “mate” or “buddy”.
In dating circles, “cotizar” means “to be in demand” or “to be sought after”. It could be said, for example, of a couple of girls dressed up for a night out on the town: “Van a cotizar esta noche” (“They’re going to be in demand / popular this evening”).
So, a person who attracts a lot of attention from the opposite sex may be called “cotizón” (men) or “cotizona” (women).
A slang term used for the very attractive. Again, it may apply equally to the most beautiful of men (“buenón”) or women (“buenona”).
Culona / tetona / narizón etc.
Other physical characteristics can also be emphasised and described with this same construction.
A woman with a big butt, for example, might be described as “culona” from the word “culo” or “ass”. In some rural areas of northern Colombia, for example, locals have been known to munch on a strange snack called “hormigas culonas” or “big-assed ants”.
A busty woman might be referred to as “tetona” (from the Spanish word “tetas”), a chap with a massive schnozz could be called “narizón” (from “nariz” or “nose”), and a guy who works out a lot and has a particularly wide back might be called “espaldón” (from “espalada”, “back”).
From “tragar”, meaning “swallow”, this is a word used for someone who eats a lot. Something like a “greedy guts”.
This term and the next two don’t precisely follow the pattern above, but as they’re still ways to describe people that end in “-ón”, I’ve included them here for the sake of completeness.
“Patrón” is a term you’ll already be familiar with if you’ve watched the Netflix show ”Narcos” or, better still, the local Colombian equivalent Pablo Escobar: Patron Del Mal. It describes the head of a mafia organisation, like Pablo Escobar was back in the day.
Occasionally you’ll hear Colombian guys from less affluent neighbourhoods using the term (in non-criminal contexts) as a way to show respect to others. A bit like some Londoners refer to others as “boss”.
An “avión” is, as I’m sure you know, traditionally an airplane.
I’ve no idea what the connection is, but in Colombia it may also be used to describe people who are particularly astute and able to make the most of commercial opportunities.
For example, you might be described as this if you bought a load of shares in a company when they were hugely undervalued, and sold them a short time later at a massive profit.
Other ways of saying the same thing include “avispado” and “avispa”.
Used to describe someone from a wealthy family. Usually, it is heard when disapproving of such individuals, basically implying that they are “stuck-up” or “spoilt”.
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Colombian Spanish: A Learner’s Dictionary
One of the problems I faced as a Spanish learner in Colombia was that the meaning of many of the words I heard in everyday conversation didn’t appear to match what the dictionary said they should. Any attempt to translate such things literally proved extremely unenlightening.
The Many Meanings of “Berraco”
Of all the many Colombian slang terms explained on this blog, one of the trickier terms to get your head round is “berraco”. It is extremely easy to get confused with this one. Technically, a “berraco” is a sort of pig, but if you hear this word in Colombia, it is almost certainly not being used to refer to the animal. But it is not always an easy matter to figure out what the word is being used to mean.