We all know that Spanish is the predominant language in Mexico, but there’s actually no official national language in the Estados Unidos Mexicanos (United Mexican States). With more than 68 indigenous languages (and each of those with their own variants), it’s safe to say that Mexico boasts a large linguistic diversity. But when you look at how people speak colloquially, you’ll see that each state has its own words or phrases that define them. Here are just a few that will tell you that you’re talking to a Chilango, or someone from Mexico City.
Disclaimer: These Chilango phrases were chosen by people from Mérida, Monterrey, Baja California and Puebla.
1. ¿Sus tacos con copia o sin copia?
Literally: Do you want your tacos with or without a copy?
This is a phrase you’ll hear in taco restaurants meaning “with or without an extra tortilla.” The “copy” is useful when you have a particularly large or greasy taco because the first tortilla tends to break quite easily.
2. Echar el chal
Literally: To throw the shawl around
A chal is a shawl (or wrap) that women use to cover their shoulders, but echar el chal has nothing to do with the item of clothing, except maybe for the loose association with wrapping up to get warm and comfortable. Here it simply means to gossip.
3. Felipe y con tenis
Literally: Felipe and with tennis
A relatively uncommon and actually quite meaningless phrase, it’s surprisingly still very well known. Despite its confusing wording, it actually means “happy and content.” It’s thought to come from how close the words sound to the actual Spanish feliz y contento (happy and content).
4. Voy a perseguir la chuleta
Literally: I’m going to chase the cutlet
Are you familiar with the feeling of not wanting to go to your job, but knowing you have to go to work to provide for yourself? Inhabitants of Mexico City have a saying just for this. When you’re begrudgingly on your way to work (or back to work), just say “Voy a perseguir la chuleta” if someone asks you where you’re going. Here “the cutlet” is a reference to prehistoric humans going out to hunt.
5. Cuidado con el Torito
Literally: Beware el Torito
El Torito is a detention center in Mexico City (a kind of small jail) where people are taken when they’ve been arrested for driving under the influence. If you hear this from someone, it’s a warning to watch your alcohol consumption — unless you want to fail a breathalyzer test, that is.
6. Dame dos
Literally: Give me two
When a Chilango is busy and someone approaches them to ask something, the response is almost always the same: dame dos. The two (dos) here implies two minutes. Therefore, the actual meaning is something like “I’ll give you my full attention in a moment.” Conveniently, this dos can actually stand for any length of time, much like the notorious ahorita.
7. Aguanta vara
Literally: Hold onto the stick
This is a message of encouragement for someone in a bad situation. Like the English equivalent “Just hold on,” or “Just hang in there,” this message encourages someone to hold onto the metaphorical stick (vara) until the trouble is over.
8. Vamos por unas chelas
Literally: Let’s go for a few beers
Chela is synonymous with cerveza (beer) in Mexico, so this is simply an invitation to go for a round. In other Mexican states, especially in the north of the country, you’re more likely to hear cheve instead.
9. ¿Le entras o no?
Literally: Are you coming in or not?
This is used to ask someone if they want to be involved in something. For example: “We’re going to bet on the final score in the match, ¿le entras o no?” (Are you in or not?).
10. Lo llevaron al tambo
Literally: They took him to jail
Tambo means jail, a bit like el Torito above, but not just for drunk people. This phrase goes well with another popular expression, ya te cargó pifas (literally: “The devil already took you”), where pifas can be exchanged for almost any curse word to imply that something won’t end well for someone.
Obviously, as in English, this is what you use to take pictures, but this word is also frequently used informally. In those situations, it can have all sorts of meanings depending on the context. For example:
- “Cámara, I’m heading out.”
- “Are you bringing the beers?”
- “¡Cámara!” (Meaning yes, similar to “okay”).
- “Hurry up!”
- “¡Cámara!” (Calm down, relax!)
12. Está vaciado
Literally: It’s emptied
When something is vaciado, it’s slang for “funny” or “great.” For example: Esa serie es vaciada (This show is great), or Baila vaciado (She dances amazingly). Of course, this can be quite confusing for those just learning Spanish, because vaciado literally means “emptied.”
13. No se vale apañar
Literally: It’s not worth getting into
According to the RAE (Real Academia Española), apañar means to fix or resolve something. In “Chilangolandia,” however, we use it to mean “taking advantage of something without thinking of others.” We even have a popular saying: Al que apaña, Dios lo acompaña (similar to the English saying “God helps those who help themselves”).
14. Se puso muy salsa
Literally: He/she got really salsa
Someone who se pone muy salsa is someone who gets worked up or fiery (like a good Mexican salsa). It can also mean aloof, insufferable, or downright unpleasant.
15. Es piña
Literally: It’s a pineapple
It’s true: We love changing the meanings of words and using them for our own purposes (if the other examples didn’t already give that away). In this case, piña just means “joke,” not the spiky fruit. That’s why you’ll frequently hear people say es una piña, or “it’s a joke!”