Cuba is a country with exquisite gastronomy, a unique rum and Havana cigars of great quality. Its particular way of speaking the Spanish language makes identifying a native not a problem and in this post, we will teach you some of the most representative Cuban slang words and phrases.
Cuba is an island full of history, music and much flavor. For many years this Latin American country has been considered an enigma in the Caribbean and the curiosity to wander the mythical streets of Old Havana is made present in citizens of all countries.
The political situation in Cuba is complex, for more than 60 years, with the arrival to power of Fidel Castro, thousands of Cubans have left the island, establishing their communities in other countries of North and Latin America, especially in Venezuela in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and in South Florida in the United States where, for some decades, they have formed the basis of the Latin culture in that country.
So, it is very likely that you have ever come across a Cuban, checking out his characteristic joy and his peculiar way of speaking. Cuba has given the world incredible artists, whose talent put the Cuban dialect on all the stations in the world.
Names like Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefan, la Sonora Matancera and more recently Pitbull are among the great figures of this country and are probably on the Playlist of some party you have attended.
Cuban slang is incredible and definitely very difficult to understand the first time you hear it, however, mastering it will allow you to explore the wonders that the people of Cuba have to offer, and why not, share an exquisite rum in an evening with friends, while checking the quality of their famous cigars.
So do not worry, in this post we have collected the most complete selection of typical Cuban slang words and phrases that you should know in order to learn Spanish… in a bad way.
40 Cuban Slang Words and Phrases you need to know
As we have mentioned, the Cuban Spanish slang is very characteristic and colloquial, and even though the first time it may confuse you, once you learn the meaning of its typical words and phrases, you will be delighted. These are the most common ones, pay attention to them to sound like a native.
Curiously, if you look it up in the Spanish dictionary its definition literally means “Smelly monkeys”. But in Cuba, this word is used to refer to an ordinary person, a colleague or a friend. You can really say it in almost any context.
- ¿Asere cómo has estado? Tiempo sin saber de ti: Friend how have you been? Long time no hear from you.
- Acere, ¿vas a publicar las fotos?: Dude, are you going to post the photos?
2. Qué bolá/Qué Bolero
Bola is a very common word in Cuban Spanish. It is used to ask a person how they are or how they feel.
- Fernando, ¿que bolá contigo?: Fernando, how have you been?
- Asere, ¿que bola?: Buddy, how are you?
You may also find it written as “que bola”, “qué volá”, “¿Qué bolaita?” or “¿Qué vuelta?”.
To talk about Cuban is to talk about the “Guaracha”, a popular music genre very characteristic of the island that has made everyone dance, that’s why it is used to refer to a party or to go to a party.
- Vamos a la guaracha de Carlos: Let’s go to Carlos’ party.
- Hoy me voy de a Guarachar: Today I’m going to party.
It’s common among the Spanish slang words used throughout Latin America to refer to a foreigner from the US or Europe, but in Cuban slang is used only for Americans.
- Hay gringos en el juego de Beisbol: There are Americans in the game of baseball.
5. Tu maletín
It means “Your problem” without more or less. This is not an expression you’ll be able to find in another Spanish speaking country.
- Asere, lo que hagas con tu vida, es tu maletín: Dude, what you do with your life is your business.
6. No dispara un chícharo
It refers to lazy people who don’t like to help at all. Next time you get the opportunity, speak like a local and use this term but only around your Cuban friends, of course.
- Maria no dispara un chícharo: Maria is very lazy.
7. ¡Chao pescao!… ¡Y a la vuelta picadillo!
Cubans use it to say goodbye in an informal conversation, and has its origin in the Cuban ration book, where in the first 15 days of the month it offered fish and the remaining 15 days meat.
- ¡Chao pescao!… ¡Y a la vuelta picadillo! : It is a simple, see you soon.
8. Qué fula
The word refers to something ugly, badly made or disgusting.
- Que fula el olor de la basura: How disgusting the smell of garbage..
- José estaba en un carro Fula: Jose was in a poor quality car.
9. En talla
When something fits perfectly, it can be something literally or figuratively. The translation would be “in size” but this doesn’t work here.
- Alejandra y Sofía en tallan muy bien: Alejandra and Sofia understand each other very well.
Cuban slang for some typical buses of Havana, which like camels have ugly humps, are very uncomfortable.
- Me tocó irme en Camello: It was my turn to leave on that ugly bus.
It is another popular way to call the buses in Cuban Spanish; it is typical of many Latin American countries.
- Vamos a esperar la guagua para ir a la escuela: We will wait for the bus to go to school.
12. Coger botella
It’s a typical way for Cubans to move around, at traffic lights they ask for a ride from the cars in the direction they are taking. It means a ride in a car but recently it’s not so widely popular anymore, only women and some professionals manage to get it.
- Voy a la calle a coger botella: I’m going to the street to ask for a ride.
Its literal translation refers to eating excrement, however in Cuba it has a completely different connotation, it means to tell someone that they are being cheated or that they are very stupid.
- Maria es muy comemierda: Maria is very stupid.
It’s one of the many names for cab drivers on the island. It’ll be really easy to hear your friends using this word once you are in Cuba.
- Llama a un botero para que te lleve: Call a cab driver for a ride.
15. Echar un patín
In Cuban slang, it means running. You know you are getting this one from people when it’s already late. As for what it literally means, the translation doesn’t make much sense.
- Echar un patín a la oficina: Running to the office.
This is one difficult word in the Cuban slang you do not want to forget. It’s used with people who like gossip, people who would easily get you in trouble whatever you say. Cubans don’t like bembelequeros.
- No vayas a casa de Jose, su mamá es muy Bembelequera y puede meterte en problemas: Don’t go to Jose’s house, his mom is very gossipy and can get you into trouble.
In Cuban Spanish, it’s the way to call the papaya, a rich tropical fruit, but don’t try to call it that on the island. You’ll find out.
- Quiero un jugo de Frutabomba: I want a papaya juice.
That’s what people call the vagina in Cuba, you would have figured it out if you asked for a “papaya” juice in a restaurant. Spanish words like this one are used so much with another specific meaning that they become something completely different.
19. Tumbar la guara
It would translate to “take down the guara”. The language used in Cuba is just weird.
This is Cuban slang for the time when the level of trust and friendship is broken. You don’t want to get this phrase from a good friend; it’s heartbreaking. People don’t usually like letting their friends down.
- José y Luis van a tumbar la guara luego de esa discusión: Jose and Luis are going to break up their friendship after that discussion.
20. Voy a hacer café
It means “I’m going to make coffee” literally, but in the Cuban context it’s a phrase used to make visitors understand that it is pretty much the moment to leave. You’ll hear your mother say these words if your friends are in your house. Of course, they will know what to do.
- Voy a hacer café: It’s time to go.
And this is very rare, but in Cuba, it’s common for people to arrive unannounced at other people’s homes.
21. No te vayas, espera café
It is another version of the previous sentence in Cuban slang and it means the same thing: It’s time to go.
Café looks like a rude word in this language as the meaning literally expresses they’re kicking you out, you would think. However, it’s completely different, you’ll learn this is the polite way to ask you to leave.
Well, it could also refer to a hot girl but it’s not right if you are in front of her. I’m sure you’ll read her face if you do and you’ll understand.
- Esa jeva es bonita: That young woman is beautiful.
- Maria es la jeva de Luis: Maria is Luis’ girlfriend.
Mango, in Cuban slang, is used to express that someone is very hot in a sexual way. Mango is a fruit so the word doesn’t mean the same among Spanish speakers, this is only for Cuba.
- Brenda es un tremendo mango: Brenda is very hot.
- Pregúntale qué bola al mango ese: Ask that sexy girl how she is doing.
24. Tremendo mangón
It’s related to the previous slang word, this time it is to say that someone is very sexy or attractive.
- Brenda es tremendo mangón: Brenda is very sexy.
- Asere, no pierdas ese tremendo mangón: Bro, don’t lose that hottie.
This one refers to foreigners with an American or European appearance, others use it expressly to mean the United States.
- Tienes cara de Yuma: You look like a foreigner.
- Ahí están llegando los Yuma: There are foreigners coming.
It would literally translate to “little horse”. However, it’s used with a different meaning (as usual in Spanish).
Use it in Cuba to identify a motorcycle cop.
- Llama a los caballitos: Call the police.
- Llegaron los Caballitos: The police arrived.
Cuban slang for all those old vehicles that circulate on the streets of the island, they are very popular and for years they have been an unquestionable icon to identify the avenues of Havana.
- Qué bonito almendrón tienes: What a nice old car you have.
28. Tremendo paquete
If you want to refer to a heavy and unnecessary drama, this is the right Cuban slang term. We all know someone who likes hot discussions that are not really necessary!
- Tremendo paquete el de esa parejita: What a drama that couple has.
Just as mango this one is not for the Spanish language in general but for Cuba only. If you travel to Latin America, you’ll learn it doesn’t mean the same everywhere and you really need to pay attention not to make a mistake.
29. Por la izquierda
Use this one when you want to describe a shady event, a bribe or some illegal act that nobody wants to express directly.
- Lo resolvimos por la izquierda con esos funcionarios: We solved it by giving a bribe to those officials.
As for the translation you learn from dictionaries, know that it’s also correct to employ the expression in Cuba to indicate people to move through by using the left side. Context is everything in the language!
Cuban slang to identify women’s underwear. If you are not with your friends, we recommend you don’t use it. It doesn’t really mean anything if you go for the translation.
- Qué bonita Blume tienes: What beautiful underwear you have.
31. Desmaya esa talla
It’s the phrase Cubans use when they need to express it is the moment to leave things in the past, for example: to overcome a breakup, a bad experience at work or a strong fight with someone.
- Desmaya esa talla y vuelve a hablar con él: Forget what happened and talk to him again.
- Desmaya esa talla, lo mejor fue lo que paso: Leave that in oblivion, the best thing is what happened.
- Desmaya esa talla, esa mujer no era buena: Forget about her, that woman was no good.
32. Está volado
It expresses something incredible, a really amazing fact. You can read this comment from Cuban people when you post your travel pictures on your social media.
- La experiencia estuvo volada: The experience was amazing.
- Está volada la fiesta: The party is so good.
33. En candela
Cuban slang alluding to a stage of calamity or a difficult moment with no apparent solution in sight. Use it with your friends right after you read their sad faces.
- José está en candela: Jose is having a hard time.
- La familia está en candela: The family is not having a good time.
34. Tirar un cabo
Well, it has many meanings in Cuba, the most common of which refers to reaching out to a person and helping them with any problems they may have.
- Necesito que alguien me tire un cabo: I need someone to help me.
- Luis le está tirando un cabo a Fernando en este duro momento: Luis is helping Fernando in this hard time.
If you already know some Spanish, it’s similar to dar una mano (to give a hand).
In Cuba, it means: Eat, without more or less.
- Voy a jamar: I’m going to eat.
Other Spanish speaking countries don’t use this word.
36. Jamando un cable
In this case, the Spanish phrase refers to a period of bankruptcy, when someone is broke, unemployed and does not have enough money to cover their expenses.
- Quiero que sepan que no voy a poder acompañarlos a la fiesta, estoy jamando un cable: I want you to know that I’m not going to be able to come to the party with you, I don’t have any money.
- Si me quedo sin trabajo, me tocará jamar un cable: If I lose my job, I will lose my money.
It pretty much means to be excited or very animated by something or someone. This Spanish word is well employed not only in Cuba but in several countries in Latin America.
- Si ganamos el campeonato, todos van a embullarse: If we win the championship, everyone will be excited.
- Luis está embullado porque verá a su novia: Luis is happy to see his girlfriend.
38. Buscar balas
Know that it has nothing to do with weapons in Cuba, it simply refers to the fact of looking for some money, either looking for a job or doing any momentary activity that produces money.
- Estoy buscando balas para poder ir de viaje: I’m looking to make money to go on a trip.
It means monster in the literal sense, but in Cuba and other parts of Latin America you can also use it to describe when a person is very good at what they do, for example a baseball player who breaks a home run record, someone who in his job finishes faster than the rest, among others.
- José es un monstruo arreglando vehículos: Jose is very good at fixing vehicles.
- Margarita es un monstruo con las matemáticas: Margarita is excellent at math.
40. Mantén tu latón con tapa
It’s used to tell someone that they should not reveal a secret or remain silent if it is not their place to speak.
- Escuché quién es el ganador del concurso, pero debo mantener mi latón con tapa: I heard who the winner of the contest is, but I must keep my mouth shut.
- Te voy a decir algo importante, mantén tu latón con tapa. I’m going to tell you something important, you must not say anything.
You know that not saying much is sometimes beneficial.
41. Me resbala
It means that something doesn’t matter to you at all.
- Me resbala que Maria piense mal de mí: I don’t care if Maria thinks badly of me.
Justo después de leer el título, me di cuenta que me resbalaba el contenido: Right after I read the title, I realized I didn’t care about the content.
Other Commonly used words and phrases in Cuban Spanish
- Pinchar: Work.
- La pincha: The work.
- Dichabar: Betraying trust.
- Nos pillamos: See you later.
- Tumba eso: Forget the subject.
- Me piro: I am leaving.
- El chivo: The bicycle.
- Singar: Disturb.
- El gabeto: House.
- Echar pila: Flirting.
- Tipo cuadrao: An uncompromising person.
- Surnar: Sleeping deeply.
The Cuban dialect is very particular, its particular use of the S and the inversion of the R by L at the end of each word, achieving a characteristic accent very easy to identify.
Cubans are beginning to form part of social circles in practically the whole world, they are very friendly, so starting a conversation with them will not be a problem, and we guarantee you a pleasant experience if you follow the rules given in this post.
And if you are planning a trip to the island, don’t hesitate to try its gastronomy, its rums and the best quality cigars in the region, a unique experience that will give you a new perspective on one of the best known and yet little explored cultures of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Cuban Spanish is unique, and learning it will not be complicated if you are accompanied by a Spanish teacher trained to explain each of the situations where you must apply all of these phrases.
In addition to the competitive advantage that learning Spanish will give you, you will be able to meet and interact with amazing people no matter where you are.
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