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19 Dirty Spanish Words You Thought Were Harmless

19 Dirty Spanish Words You Thought Were Harmless

Why are they laughing at me? What the heck did I just say?

If you’ve travelled to a Spanish-speaking country, without learning how to speak Spanish, then you’ve experienced the embarrasement that comes with saying the wrong Spanish word. Especially if it’s a dirty one!

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    All languages come with their own words that have an “alternative” interpretation to native speakers, and it’s often these humorous words that bring us close together.

    Learn them all, and you’ll be in “the know” next time you get laughed at while speaking Spanish. Heck, you might even start laughing when other people say them—and that’s when you officially know you’re a Spanish speaker rather than a Spanish student.

    1. Sapo

    Clean meaning: Toad

    Dirty meaning: A lady’s hoo-ha

    This one is number one of my list, because I’ve had people laugh at me when actually speaking about toads in the context of ongoing biological research.

    There’s no way to avoid the crassness, no matter your context or technically perfect Spanish. If you’re not speaking to biologists, maybe you could pretend you only know the word for frog (rana). I say you tackle this head on, though. No fear. Make the scientific community (and me) proud by unabashedly using precise language regardless of the consequences.

    2. Concha

    Clean meaning: Seashell

    Dirty meaning: Map of Tasmania

    If you didn’t know that Tasmania is shaped like that, now you do—forever. You’re welcome. This word makes appearances in many explicit phrases used to curse people out, such as “¡Concha [de] tu madre!” and the weirder “¡Concha [de] la lora!”

    3. Perra

    Clean meaning: Female dog

    Dirty meaning: Floozie

    This darn gendered language seems like it’s designed to cause these problems on purpose. You automatically have to define a dog as a male or female dog when speaking, either a perro or perra.

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    In English, we have our own vulgar word that technically means “female dog” but is almost never used for that reason. Spanish uses “female dog” for another insult, namely “a woman of loose morals” or “a loose woman who’s had many lovers.”

    4. Comerse

    Clean meaning: To eat (reflexive)

    Dirty meaning: To do the deed

    This one caused my personal, all-time favorite Spanish embarrassment story. While talking to my Ecuadorian homestay family about a Spanish class assignment involving “La caperucita roja,” I did a metaphorical faceplant after talking about how the wolf eats the grandmother. Talk about reinventing classic stories. I will never forget the sound of eight Quiteños laughing hysterically at my Spanish blunder.

    5. Rica

    Clean meaning: Wealthy (when referring to people), delicious (when referring to food)

    Dirty meaning: Delicious (when referring to people)

    You can make a similar mistake if you’re still confusing ser and estar and want to describe someone as “a good person.” If you say that “Ella está buena” instead of “Ella es buena,” look out for some raised eyebrows—you just said that “She’s a hot piece of tail,” not that “She’s a good human being.”

    6. Culo vs. Nalga vs. Trasero

    Clean meaning: Butt

    Dirty meaning: Butt

    Okay, the dirtiness here is caused by a common mix-up between the two words listed above. Culo is a raunchy word that impressionable Spanish learners often pick up by listening to too much reggaeton.

    Nalga is a more benign word which means something akin to “butt,” “butt cheeks” when plural and “lil’ butt cheeks” when phrased more diminutively as nalguitas—but despite being more anatomical it’s still moderately crude.

    Stick with trasero, which comes out sounding more like the English “behind,” and you’ll be polite in anyone’s company.

    7. Grasa

    Clean meaning: Fat, oil

    Dirty meaning: Fat

    Again, this is another case of word mix-ups. You may have learned that grasa technically means fat, but that doesn’t mean you should refer to your own body fat or someone’s else’s that way. Instead say, “Tengo unas libras de más” (I have a few extra pounds), rather than pointing to yourself and talking about nasty, greasy lard.

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    8. Huevos

    Clean meaning: Eggs

    Dirty meaning: The two amigos

    You can always use huevitos if you want to make sure you don’t bungle this one up. In some countries—I myself am only aware of this happening in parts of Mexico—some native speakers defer to blancos when they’re discussing eggs.

    9. Pelotas

    Clean meaning: Smaller balls (as opposed to balón or bola which refer to a larger ball) used in sporting events

    Dirty meaning: The two amigos

    You may be talking about tennis equipment, but this will never not be funny.

    10. Bolas

    Clean meaning: General ball-shaped items, balls used for sporting events, edible balls of food

    Dirty meaning: The two amigos

    There is no Spanish word for sports-related balls that isn’t funny. Sorry. This particular word is twice as bad because you can also eat bolas in many parts of the Spanish-speaking world. Suddenly, “¿Qué comiste hoy en el almuerzo?” becomes a dangerous question.

    11. Chorizo

    Clean meaning: Sausage

    Dirty meaning: Exactly what you think it means

    Your home country doesn’t matter—it’s part of human nature to identify vaguely phallic-shaped items and laugh at them. We all know what a sausage looks like, and we all know what that word can mean in the right (or wrong) context.

    12. Pechuga vs. Pecho

    Clean meaning: Chicken breast/human chest, human breast

    Dirty meaning: Breasts

    Let’s clear all this up right away: Pechuga is for talking about chicken breasts and pecho is a more technical term for a human chest. Pecho can be used when speaking about medical issues, physical fitness, breastfeeding and any other usual topic of conversation.

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    Pechuga, when used in reference to a person, conveys that you think of that person as a slab of meat. Pecho, used when talking about meat, conveys that you don’t know how to speak Spanish.

    You don’t always want to say pecho when talking about people (or yourself), since that can be awkward if you’re in the midst of a girls’ night out or something. If you actually want to talk casually about boobies (and not the blue-footed kind) with friends, in Ecuador you can use chichis in a playful sense and avoid sounding totally awkward.

    13. Bolsa

    Clean meaning: Bag, shopping bag, sack

    Dirty meaning: Sack

    Say funda instead, for the love of God.

    14. Pájaro/Pajarito

    Clean meaning: Bird, little bird

    Dirty meaning: Homosexual (offensive)

    This totally innocent word becomes an offensive slur when used in the wrong country. In many places, ave sounds heavy, awkward or is simply less-commonly used, and that’s where you’ll want to use pájaro to talk about our winged, flying friends.

    In other regions, namely the Caribbean and perhaps a few others, you should only ever use ave. Pay attention when people speak or ask your hosts if you’re unsure! Honestly, you can never go very wrong with ave, so it’s the safe choice no matter where you are.

    15. Ganas

    Clean meaning: Desire, urge; to have the desire or urge to do something

    Dirty meaning: Animal urges (ahem)

    Sure, you can say “Tengo ganas de comer una hamburguesa enorme” (I feel like eating an enormous hamburger), but don’t pause after “Tengo ganas.” If your conversation exchange partner thinks the sentence ends there, funny looks will abound.

    16. Coger

    Clean meaning: To grab

    Dirty meaning: To do the deed

    In many countries and contexts, this verb is A-OK. The internet will expressly forbid you from using it in most Latin American countries, but Ecuadorians and Colombians (citizens of countries that are supposed to only know of the dirtycoger usage) can be heard innocently saying things like “Voy a coger un taxi” (I’m going to take a taxi) all day long.

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    It’s pretty much a toss up when you’ll get someone snickering at you for using it, no matter where in the world you are—though I’ve heard the word is actually off limits in Chile and Peru, so you might want to ask when you arrive at your Spanish-speaking destination.

    17. Me cago vs. me caigo

    Clean meaning: I fall (me caigo – caerse)

    Dirty meaning: I sh*t myself (me cago – cagarse)

    Even if you’re not clumsy and falling down all the time, me cago is a great phrase to have on hand, particularly for the expression “Me cago de [la] risa,” which is roughly equivalent to ROFL. You may also want to describe how you’re falling in love with “Me cago en el amor.” Now, these phrases come from the irregular (and seriously vulgar in every possible context) verb cagarse, not caerse (to fall).

    Beginning Spanish language learners have been known to accidentally mix these up or simply mis-conjugate or mispronounce their intended verb. Urban Dictionary can’t even tell the difference between these phrases, which shows you just how deep this goes.

    Even if you always say “Me caigo” perfectly, you may well have immature jokesters play off your words, twist your words around for jokes at your expense or chuckle at you de la nada.

    18. Vaina

    Clean meaning: Thing

    Dirty meaning: Thang

    This is possibly the most frequently-used word in the Dominican Republic. Absolutely everything is a vaina, so leave cosa behind once you’ve set foot on Dominican soil. Since everything can be a vaina, it’s no small wonder that it can be used to casually refer to one’s private parts—mostly for ladies.

    You’ll get some giggles if you say this one with misplaced emphasis, silly context where it could be somehow construed sexually or if everyone has had enough Presidentes (popular brand of Dominican cerveza nacional) that night.

    19. Estoy caliente

    Clean meaning: There is no clean meaning, this is just an all-around sexual thing to say—but lots of Spanish learners say it.

    Dirty meaning: I’m hot/smokin’/feeling quiggly

    Classic. The ol’ “Estoy caliente” instead of “Tengo calor” switcharoo. Many Spanish learners have fallen to this phrase before you, and it never fails to elicit a sidelong glance or giggle from native conversation partners. You were trying to say that you feel hot due to the current temperature or climate, and instead you boasted about your hot bod or eagerness for intimate encounters.”

    Where to go from here?

    You can always learn more Spanish words by checking out free Spanish classes online, using Memrise to memorize more words, or working with a private Spanish coach on websites like Rype.

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    Sean Kim

    Sean is the founder and CEO of Rype, a language learning app. He's an entrepreneur and blogger.

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    Last Updated on October 14, 2020

    The Art of Humble Confidence

    The Art of Humble Confidence

    To be confident or not to be confident, that is the question. I’m not sure about you, but I’ve been a bit confused about all this discussion about the subject of confidence. Do you really need to be more confident or should you try to be more humble? I think the answer is both – you just have to know where to use it.

    East VS West – Confidence, It’s a Cultural Thing

    In typical Western countries, the answer to the confidence debate is obvious – more is better. Our heros are rebellious, independent and shoot first, ask questions later. I think this snippet of dialog from The Matrix sums it up best:

    Agent Smith – “We’re willing to wipe the slate clean, give you a fresh start. All that we’re asking in return is your cooperation in bringing a known terrorist to justice.”
    Neo – “Yeah. Well, that sounds like a pretty good deal. But I think I may have a better one. How about, I give you the finger”
    [He does]
    Neo -“ …and you give me my phone call.”

    In Eastern countries, the tone is often considerably different. Elders are supposed to be revered not dismissed. The words ‘guru,’ meaning a teacher, and the philosophy of dharma, loosely translated to mean ‘duty,’ come from here. In Eastern cultures humility and respect are more important than confidence.

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    These perspectives are generalizations, but it shows how the confidence debate goes back deep into our culture. I think that both extremes of pure confidence or pure humility are misguided. Instead of rectifying this situation by simply blending the two: becoming somewhat humble, somewhat confident all the time, I believe the answer is to know when to be confident and when to be humble.

    Humble Confidence – Know When to Use It

    I’m going to make another broad generalization. I believe that virtually every relationship you are going to have is going to fit into one of two major archetypes, either master or student. In peer relationships this master/student role may switch frequently, but it is extremely rare that the relationship never leans to one side.

    In the master role, you are displaying confidence to get what you want. This is public speaker, leader or seducer. Being the master has advantages. You have more control and ability to influence from this role.

    The student role is the opposite. You are intentionally displaying humility. This is the student, disciple or follower. Being the student has advantages too. You can learn a lot more in this role and are more likely to win the trust of the other person.

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    Know When to Shut Up and Learn

    If you are a typical Westerner, you are probably already thinking about which role you prefer. Being the leader is great. You get respect and a higher status. Most of all you get a greater degree of control.

    But the problem is that you can’t and shouldn’t always try to be the leader. Trying to assume that role without the skills, resources or status to back it up will lead to conflict. More importantly, there are many times when you purposely want to display humility. Some of the benefits to the student role include:

    • You learn more.
    • Smooths relationships.
    • Makes others more willing to lend a helping hand.

    Knowing when taking the humble route is to your advantage. It is far easier to get mentors and advisors if you use humility rather than arrogance. A small sacrifice to your ego can open up the potential to learn a lot.

    Confidence to Persuade, Humility to Learn

    In reality almost no relationship is as clearly defined as master/student. Within our connections, people have overlapping areas of expertise. I might be an expert in blogging to a non-blogger, but they might be an expert in finance. In each area there are different roles to take.

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    Before any interaction ask yourself what the purpose is. Are you trying to learn or persuade?

    Persuasion requires confidence. If you are trying to sell, instruct or lead you need to display the confidence to match your message. But learning requires humility. You won’t learn anything if you are constantly arguing with your professors, mentors or employers. Taking a dose of humility and temporarily making yourself a student gives you the opportunity to absorb.

    Persuade Less, Learn More

    Persuasion is great for immediate effect, but learning matters over the long-haul. Instead of washing over all your communication with pure confidence, look for opportunities to learn. Persuading someone to follow you may give you an immediate boost of satisfaction, but it doesn’t last. Learning, however, is an investment for the future.

    Whenever I make a connection with someone and realize they have a skill or understanding I want, I am careful to express humility in that area. That means listening with what they say even if I don’t immediately agree and being patient with their response. This method often drastically cuts down the time I need to spend on trial and error to learn by myself.

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    Confidence/Humility Doesn’t Replace Communication Skills

    This approach of selectively using confidence and humility for different purposes doesn’t replace communication skills. Humility isn’t going to work if the other person thinks you’re an irritating whiner. Confidence won’t work if the entire room thinks you are an arrogant jerk. Knowing how to display these two qualities takes practice.

    The next time you are about to enter into an interaction ask yourself why you are doing it. Are you trying to persuade or learn? Depending on which you can take a completely different tact for far better results.

    Featured photo credit: BBH Singapore via unsplash.com

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