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15 Mexican Expressions Travelers Need to Know in Mexico

Mexico Insider Guides
by María Eugenia Chinchilla Jun 23, 2017

YOU MAY have taken a Spanish course in high school, then continued your studies of the language in college. You are proud of that excellent grade your teacher gave you at the end of the semester. You think you know Spanish…Until you visit Mexico, and discover that you don’t understand a single thing. ¡Ay, madre!

Here you can find a list of some of the most awesome expressions used by Mexicans:

1. Órale

This is a tricky one because it can be used in different contexts. It is commonly used to express that you are on board with something. Confusingly enough, it can also mean “Please”, “Wow!”, “Let’s go”, “Hurry up!”, “Watch out!”

2. Provechito

You’ll be hearing this a lot when you go out to a restaurant. It’s the friendliest way to wish someone “Bon appétit” in Mexican style (because we love adding –ito to every word in the dictionary)

3. Pancho

As a proper noun, Pancho is the nickname of your friend’s uncle Francisco. As an abstract noun, pancho means an unfounded and unnecessary drama or tantrum. “Bájale a tu pancho.”

4. Escuincle

Mexican moms call their kids escuincle when they are misbehaving. The literal translation is “brat”.

5. Güey

Definitely the most popular expression by young Mexicans. If someone calls you “güey”, there are three possible connotations:

  • The person sees you as a close friend. It is the equivalent of “dude”. “¿Todo bien, güey?
  • To describe a random person. “Ese güey”
  • The person is saying you’re not very smart. “¡Qué güey eres!

6. Chingón

You should not say chingón in formal situations. It is considered a very rude by some people, especially senior adults. It means “Great”, “Awesome”, “Cool”, but is derivated from the F-word.

For a PG-13 version, better try “padre” or “chido“.

7. ¿Bueno?

Before you do any phone calls in Mexico, you should know we don’t answer the phone with a conventional “hello.” If someone calls us, we commonly answer ¿Bueno? It is important to clarify that only the person on the receiving end can use it. Bueno translates as “Good” or “OK”.

8. Cruda

I believe it is essential to know this one, especially after a night filled with tequila. Cruda is Mexican slang for hangover. This magical word can help you get the best tacos to cure last night’s bad decisions.

9. Cuate

Generally, only Mexican men use cuate. The word refers to their guy best friend. Oddly enough, in some parts of the country, it is used as a synonym for twin.

10. Chela, Cheva

It’s a hot, sunny day in the middle of summer in Cancun, and the waiter at the beach offers you “a very cold chela/cheva ” You don’t want to say no to that, believe me. Why? Chela/cheva means beer.

11. Cañón

We use this word to express something that is really tough or difficult “¡Está cañón!” Also, if someone does something impressive or unbelievable “¡Estás cañón!

12. ¿Qué onda?

Sometimes it means “Hello!” or “What is up?”, other times it means someone is mad or confused as in, “What the hell?”. There is one for every occasion, so choose your “qué onda” wisely.

13. Neta

You’re telling a crazy story at a reunion with Mexican friends and when you finish someone says “¿Neta?” This word can mean “really” or “truth”. It’s all about expressing certainty, or lack thereof.

14. Desmadre

You decided to host a party at your place. The next day there are broken things in your living room, someone lost their phone, and your dog now has pink hair. The situation can only be described as a “desmadre“, or “a really big mess. It can also be applied to a person, “¡Eres un desmadre!

15. Ahorita

I could say this word describes a lot about Mexican culture, and how we don’t like to say no. The exact translation is a diminutive of “now”. Best case scenario, if someone says he/she will do something ahorita they will do it right away. The truth is we use it (mostly) to delay that “now” for a little while. “Ahorita lo hago”, “Ahorita voy.”

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