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Feature photo: clinkerPhoto: Felixe

Want to get to know the locals in Mexico? Brush up on your slang.

Mexico has its own language untaught by Spanish schools and phrase books. It’s a language whose meanings shift in a heartbeat from insults to compliments, a language Mexican people manipulate deftly and instinctively in all sorts of contexts.

It’s, in a word, cabrón.

Here’s a primer of your essential Mexican slang:

Cabrón.

This sounds like a cliché. Sure, a cabrón is a guy who’s a sort of badass, right?

Sure, that’s one interpretation. But this guy can be a real jerk, someone you talk about with disgust or fear, or this guy could be, say, an internationally renowned artist who’s just completed a photo exhibition about indigenous cultures.

Either one is a cabrón. And don’t forget about the feminine version, cabróna. Same standards apply: there are the bitchy, detested cabrónas and the revered, awe-inducing ones.

Then there’s que cabrón, which is used to describe a thing or situation as opposed to a person. This, too, can be positive or negative, but it’s gotta have a particular edge to it. Real life examples:

a) Narcos entered a popular restaurant and collected the cell phones of all the customers, warning them not to make any phone calls or act out of the ordinary. The narcos ate peacefully, returned the cell phones, paid everyone’s bills, and continued on their way. Que cabron.

b) You ran out of water, and the government isn’t sending more water to the Centro Historico for three days. You just had a party and now have a sink full of beer glasses, skillets full of chipotle sausage residue, and greasy plates. Que cabrón.

Insider tip: For added flair, add an “ay” before cabrón when used for people, and mix it up with an “esta cabrón” instead of “que cabrón” in the case of situations.

Madre

In the quintessential Mexican read, The Labyrinth of Solitude, Octavio Paz has a great passage about the significance of la madre (the mother) in Mexican slang and culture.

The madre is identified with all things negative, the padre with all things positive. This, argues Paz, is a reflection of two historical and cultural factors in Mexico.

The first is the idea of the “long-suffering mother,” the passive recipient of pain and burden who is, to use another classic Mexican slang term, chingada (screwed, for a polite interpretation).

Photo: descamarado

The second is the historical resentment and resignation towards the woman whom Paz claims is the mother of modern Mexico—La Malinche. La Malinche was a Nahuatl woman who aided Cortéz in the colonization of Mexico, translating for him, offering insider information, and…giving him a son, one of Mexico’s first mestizos.

So la madre is not treated kindly by Mexican slang. Whether you feel squeamish about it or not, be prepared to hear at least one of these expressions on a daily basis:

Que madres: what the hell? As in, the sudden explosion of firecrackers on any random street corner, the drunken antics of your friend after so much mezcal, the thing floating in your soup.

Que poca madre: literally, how little mother, as if mother was a quantity added with an eye dropper to a particular experience. The less mother, the better. So if Mexico kills in soccer with a 5-0 victory, it’s definitely poca madre.

Or, on the flip side, it’s padre—meaning cool, awesome, interesting.

Hasta la madre: utterly sick of something. Your boyfriend’s behavior could drive you to feeling hasta la madre, and so could consistent rain every afternoon or the incessant barking of the dog next door. You’re at the end of your rope, the breaking point—you’re literally, to translate the phrase directly, almost to the point of motherhood.

Huevos.

Photo: procsilas

There’s a whole linguistic universe surrounding huevos here, so I’ll just stick to my personal favorites.

Que huevon/huevona: What a lazy egg. This expression is one of the principal reasons for my deep affection for Mexico. The mental image rocks, and the insult rocks. It is soft and prodding and so accurate in so many situations (particularly for describing the morning after 10 peso beers and a night of salsa).

Similarly, there’s the expression que hueva, which translates literally as “what egginess.” Eggs here have the same association with laziness with an additional component of boredom. For example, you could toss out a que hueva at the suggestion of starting up a soccer game, and you could toss out a que hueva at the suggestion of watching one on T.V.

Que huevos! A brilliant expression that translates most accurately as “what balls” but really, contextually, means so much more. In the most literal “what balls” sense que huevos can be used to express admiration for some great courageous act; for example, throwing your half-eaten mango at that guy who whistled at you in the street.

It can also be used, however, to express repulsion for rude behavior, such as tearing around a corner in your SUV and nearly killing a couple of pedestrians.

And finally, it can be used without the “que” to lament a minor tragedy—spilling beer all over yourself, tripping over the sidewalk, forgetting to buy the one thing you went to the supermarket to buy.

You can’t really go wrong with these three overarching expressions—cabron, madre, huevos—used in one variation or another. (Obviously, when you’re having a chat with the polite grandmotherly señora on the corner you don’t want to bust out with “ay, cabrón!”….common slang sense applies in Mexico as in most places).

So the next time you find yourself grappling with the differences between ser and estar, why not sprinkle some huevos into the conversation and save yourself the effort?

Community Connection

Planning a trip to Mexico? Check out the three part series on Mexican cantinas: Wrestling, Pig Skin, and Beer, Life is Worth Nothing, and Tequila and a Song. Also, take Matador editor and Mex-pat Teresa Ponikvar’s advice about spending summer in Baja California Sur. And if urban life is your thing, read up on the top 10 nightlife spots in Mexico City.

Language Learning


 

About The Author

Sarah Menkedick

Matador Contributing Editor Sarah Menkedick has traveled, lived, and taught on five continents, and is constantly in pursuit of spicy food, dark beer, and new places to run. She is an MFA student at the University of Pittsburgh.

  • http://www.nomadicmother.com Fran

    Love it! And so timely too! I’ve been in Mexico for six weeks now and my Spanish is still lousy, though I do know how to say ‘Save yourselves!’ and ‘You throw like a girl!’, now I have some more great slang to use!

  • http://www.tvrotsyourmindgrapes.com/ Marissa

    So many uses for “huevos.” I love it!

  • http://thetravelersnotebook.com david miller

    que chido

  • http://www.bearshapedsphere.blogspot.com eileen

    Huevón (said weón) is a major staple in Chile, but like your description of cabrón, it could take several paragraphs (or pages) to explain.

    I was glad to see this, and will file it away for any future trips to Mexico. For now I’ll just pasarlo chancho (fig: have a great time) in Chile.

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/rsw Tim Patterson

    Mastering a few pieces of humorous slang is a great way to start learning a language – imagine a beginning English speaker who could only say “right on!” – they would probably do just fine.

  • http://www.sobrelafotografia.com JlSantiago

    Great post Sarah! está de huevos!

  • http://musictravelwrite.wordpress.com Michelle

    Oh, the mother-with-an-eyedropper thing made me laugh…great article!

  • Pingback: Huevos a la Mexicana » Blog Archive » Only in Mexico

  • Jill

    Absolutely loved the opportunity to expand my knowledge of Mexican slang. Now, I need to plan a trip to use it!

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/rsw Tim Patterson

    I can’t wait to get to Oaxaca….someday.

  • http://travelojos.com/ Steven Roll

    “Madre” and “huevos” are two words I make every effort to avoid when speaking Spanish. I just choose not to go there.

    When I overhear “Madre” I feel the hair stand on the back of my neck. It might as well mean “danger” or “peligro.” While the phrase is tossed around a lot, I suspect that there are a few people out there who are pretty sensitive about it.

    With huevos, if it means looking around a little bit longer for some eggs in the super mercado so be it.

    When I first saw your blog I thought “Huevos ala Mexicana” was a play on words. But I actually ordered some in Guadalajara. Not bad, but a tad spicy for first thing in the morning. That’s one of the things that Mexico and Spanish have in common: spice! Muy picante!

  • http://global-culture.org Juan Gonzalez

    Ay, que cabrona! Esta guía está de poca madre. De veras que hay que tener huevos para tratar de racionalizar tanta pendejada que decimos los Mexicanos. Nomás te faltó entrar en el territorio de lo “chingón”.

  • http://www.huevosalamexicana.com Sarah Menkedick

    Gracias Juan! Iba empezar con lo de chingón, pero no mames, estaría otro articulo! Y tambien quisé incluir cosas como “Ah poco!” y “Orale!” pero simplemente hay demasiadas expresiones chidas…

    • Carlos

      As I went thru the ‘mother’ term description, I came to remember there’s a -rather recent- positive use of it, ‘con madre’; say, “la película está con madre!”, as in ‘the movie is awesome!’. I’d say it’s a thing from the northeastern states of Mexico, the likes of Monterrey and around.

  • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

    “Cabrón” isn’t Mexican slang, they use it in Spain as well. Besides, it’s “cabrona”, without an accent.

    Also, you forgot accents on several other words, like “qué” (“que” has a different meaning) and exclamation marks. For example: it’s not “que madres” but “¡qué madres!”.

    Sure be sure to put up something that’s correct ;-).

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/rsw Tim Patterson

      Sure be sure? ;)

    • http://www.huevosalamexicana.com Sarah Menkedick

      Hey Ramses,

      Perhaps it’s different in Spain, but here “que” doesn’t have an accent mark when you use it to say “que madres” or “que poca madre,” for example. Also, the exclamation marks are optional.

      And they might say cabrón in Spain, but I’d be interested to know if it’s used in the same way. My point here was that cabrón can be used in Mexico in a wide variety of contexts…is it used similarly in Spain?

    • Aquaria

      I know this is four years old, but this moron is too stupid to be for real.

      Before an ojete like this instructs people on how to write, he should learn not to write stupid things like “Cabrón isn’t Mexican slang” (when it is), and should have written “Cabrón is not only Mexican slang but also used in Spain.”

      Furthermore, when writing for non-Spanish speakers, the exclamation marks aren’t necessary.

      What a loser for not knowing these basic things!

  • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

    Well, officially it’s with an accent, but it’s not the first time I see errors in Mexican Spanish. And yes, they use it in the same way in Spain, but it’s mostly just an insult.

  • http://www.huevosalamexicana.com Sarah Menkedick

    Actually, this isn’t an “error”–it’s a particularity of Mexican Spanish in the same way that the spelling of “centre” is a particularity of British English. You might be learning Spanish from Spain, and as a non-native speaker I’d be careful making condescending statements about seeing “errors in Mexican Spanish.” There are whole courses devoted to Latin American Spanish because it differs in many ways from Spanish from Spain.

  • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

    Well not being a native speaker doesn’t matter, because my level sure is high enough to be near native. But you’re right, I don’t know that much about Mexican Spanish because I don’t care that much. But officially it looks like an error. But still, it’s slang so it might be different (I know slang in Spain is somethimes spelt different).

    • Aquaria

      If you don’t know the various regional differences in Spanish, then you’re not that fluent, loser.

      My sister IS fluent in all the various dialects of Spanish. She’s not a self-proclaimed expert in Spanish–she’s an actual one. You know, the kind who doesn’t puff herself up as something she’s not, but makes a LIVING at being a professional translator.

      She just laughed at you for presuming to instruct anyone in Spanish. You’re too stupid for that.

  • http://www.illadvisedadventures.com Adam

    All accents aside, it’s funny to note that what cabrón actually means is “big goat” (or something along those lines). Here in Argentina, you don’t hear that a lot – everything is “hijo de puta”

    • Aquaria

      The reason cabrón is associated with being a jerk or a manwhore isn’t merely because manwhores are usually jerks but also because goats are a) rather ill-tempered and b) notorious for humping anything that moves.

      English has a similar term for manwhores: “randy as a goat”, for this reason.

  • chela

    i just wanted to say that your wrong about the “madre” statement the more madre the better…it would be “que atoda madre” if mexico would win..and “que poca madre” if they would loose.. :) or if someone does you wrong you would say..”que poca madre tienes guey, ahora ten los huevos para agarrarnos a chingasos cabron”..lol

    • Miguel

      I imagine any colloquialism in Spanish with ‘mother’ in it developed from the reverence for Mother Mary.

      • http://chrisjh.com chrisjh

        the mother is such a loaded, rich & diverse symbol in mexico.. from la virgencita, la llorona, la malinche, to la chingada.. que madres confusas

  • http://www.huevosalamexicana.com Sarah Menkedick

    Hey chela! Actually, I said that the less madre, the better!

    And thanks for bringing up another essential Mexican slang term–guey. Maybe I need to do a Part 2 of this article! ;)

    • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

      ¡¿Guey?! I think you mean güey. Or did you want to say gay?

      • Aquaria

        Look, ojete, there could be two reasons for not using the umlaut (see what an idiot you are for not knowing the PROPER terminology?):

        1) In Mexican-American Spanish, the umlaut is often left off, stupid.

        2) She may not have the capability to use the umlaut on her keyboard, moron.

        So let it slide, you arrogant piece of filth.

  • http://www.huevosalamexicana.com Sarah Menkedick

    No, actually Ramses, I meant guey. As you’ll see, chela above spelled it without the accent, and there are two acceptable spellings–guey and güey. Again, since you’re not a native speaker and you don’t seem to have much understanding of Latin American Spanish (which you condescendingly and often ignorantly assume is full of “errors”) than I’d be careful leaving presumptuous comments.

    • http://evaholland.com Eva

      Heh. It’s the same obnoxious dynamic with European French speakers. I had a Belgian prof in university, and when a student of Acadian descent asked if we would be studying any Acadian literature (since our college was, after all, in one-time Acadian country), the professor answered: “Acadian literature? Isn’t that an oxymoron?” I’ve been told in France that my Quebecois French is “vulgar,” too. It’s a shame that so often their minds are so closed to regional variations that they can only see errors.

      • http://evaholland.com Eva

        Sorry. I should say it’s the same obnoxious dynamic with SOME European French speakers. :)

    • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses

      Being a native or not says nothing. I achieved a near-native level the last two-three years, and my university professors (who actually are natives) say that my writing is native. Heck, many natives often ask me to correct their writing because they make silly orthographical mistakes, so I know what I’m talking about.

      • http://evaholland.com Eva

        How do you say “modesty” in Spanish?

      • bhall

        hahaha… nice job but you left out the slang word most appropriate for people like Ramses – pendejo!

    • jon

      Well, Ramses might be a little bit full of himself, but he is right. Where do you take the authority of how a word is spelled? Güey always needs to spelled that way; otherwise it´d be pronounced like “gay”. There are of course differences between Mexican Spanish and Castellano, but doesn´t justify spelling mistakes. BTW, there isn´t such a thing as “Latin American Spanish”, it´d be like saying “English-from-the-Americas” and thinking Jamaican English and US American English are the same thing. Please…

      • Aquaria

        Let it slide, asshat. Most people don’t know how to do the umlaut on their keyboards.

  • http://www.lenguajero.com August

    Awesome article Sarah! I can’t wait for part two.

    I was hanging out with a friend in Oaxaca this afternoon and he used the phrase “echar la hueva” to mean “chilling out” (in Colombia they say hacer locha).

    Intrigued and slightly confused I asked him to elaborate on the phrase. If I understand correctly, and I believe I do, the phrase translates to “let your balls hang out”.

    Comments?

  • Miguel

    jajajaja Hijo de puta !

  • Miguel

    Its the same everywhere:

    British English vs American English
    Iberian Spanish vs Latin American Spanish
    Quebec French vs Franco French

    and on and on…

  • http://twitter AngelineM

    Then there’s being so conflicted about ordering eggs in a restaurant….”quiero unos huevos, por favor”….and then I burst out laughing. I resort to saying “blanquillos”.

  • Daniel

    Ramses enough with your pompous lecturing on your exquisite command of Spanish and the accolades you receive from your professors. We are all very happy that you speak Spanish like a native speaker and are using your new found skill in such a humble and selfless manner.

  • http://chrisjh.com chrisjh

    cabron is a male goat :) cabra is the female. great post here, and these comment threads are hilarious

  • Amanda Chanfreau

    Love it!! I live in Mexico since 2 years back, and am using the slang daily ofcourse, but I never read such a fun and good explanation to it! I will send this to my family so they can practise before coming to visit me! :)

    Thank you!!

  • Olga

    Great post! There are some inaccuracies, though. The use of the word “madre” is not always negative, you can say  a song is  “poca madre” meaning  that it is a grat song. You can also use the phrase “no tiene madre” to convey the same meaning.
    Also the word “huevos” by itself  is not used to “lament a minor tragedy”, it is used as an insult. Say, someone tells you suck at a random activity, your answer could very well be “huevos”. It’s pretty much like giving the finger.

  • John43

    suck my dick hahahaha

  • Jboehme19

    Is it used the same way in Spain? Indubitably. I have lived in Barcelona for the last 6  months… I can honestly say all of these are used here. I have consulted my Spanish friends to read this and they agreed. Not to be a condescending prick, but this is just what I am told.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=558292550 Rubén Martínez Alonso

    About Poca Madre there are two different view. You can say “Esto esta poca madre” or like you said The soccer team won “Ahh poca madre !!!” And that is good. But if I say someone “Que poca madre tienes” Its bad !! Is an insult !!!

  • Linton Robinson

    Anybody with interest in Mexican Slang should check out the best-selling book on the subject, Mexican Slang 101.
    http://slang101.com

  • Vianney González Márquez

    Hello, I´m mexican… I enjoyed reading the article, I just wanted to make a note with the expression “Que poca madre”.

    Both examples are right, but only if you say “poca madre”.
    When you use “Qué poca madre”… that´s what you say when someone says or does a despicable thing, when someone is being cruel or simply doing something bad.

    example:
    I worked all night in my project and my classmate stole it. ¡Qué poca madre!

    Read more at http://matadornetwork.com/abroad/a-quick-and-dirty-phrasebook-of-mexican-slang/#jUbI0z7JAzlqeJVA.99.

  • Luanna Guerrero

    Sas

  • darcy j

    where can yu get that book mexican slang 101 nd how much would it be.

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