All the Panamanian Slang Terms You Need to Know

Panamanian flag | © CC0 Creative Commons / Pixabay
Panamanian flag | © CC0 Creative Commons / Pixabay
Photo of Martina Gili
30 October 2017

Panama has many slang words and idiomatic phrases that you won’t find anywhere else in Latin America. Whether you’re a beginner at Spanish or just hoping to sound like a local, here’s a list of all the slang terms you need to know. Panamanians may not take you seriously when you use them, but they will surely laugh and appreciate that you’re embracing their slang.

The glossary of everyday slang

Vaina (vine-a): a general term for “thing.” Dáme esa vaina. Give me that thing. ¿Dónde está la vaina? Where is the thing.

Qué sopá (ké-sopá): a phrase that means “What’s up.” Sopá is actually pasó reversed as many other slang expressions (for instance mopri wich is primo – cousin – reversed.)

Joven (ho-ven): a noun that refers to anyone whose attention you are trying to get if you don’t know their name. It translates as “young person” and is generally used to address waiters or random young people. Joven, ¿me trae la cuenta por favor? Excuse me waiter, could you please get me the bill?

Diablo Rojo (di-AHB-lo ROW-ho): this literally means “red devil” and it refers to some old school buses that are now used as public transportation in Panama. Covered in graffiti or satirical art, they have big speakers playing loud music and are feared by all other drivers.

Diablo Rojo, Panama City | © Schmuki/ Pixabay

Raspao (res-POW): this is a snow cone, or “scraped” ice, topped with colorful syrups and ultrasweet condensed milk . They are sold in the streets of Panama and are a favorite of children and adults alike.

Chicha (CHI-cha): a fruit juice, either made from freshly-squeezed natural fruits or from concentrate powder.

Chuleta (chew-le-tah): literally meaning “porkchop,” the word means something like “damn!” and is used when surprised or disappointed. ¡Chuleta! Me olvidé mi celular. Damn! I forgot my mobile phone.

Chévere (chev-re): also used in Colombia and Venezuela, chévere means “cool,” “nice” or “great.” ¡Qué chevere! How cool! or That’s great!

© notquitewonderwoman0 / Pixabay

Pelao (pe-lau): this is a noun that refers to a young person but is also used as “dude,” literally meaning “bold.” Preguntale a ese pelao. Ask that guy.

Chucha (chew-cha): this is an interjection that is used as the F*** word, and is very derogatory and rude. It also literally refers to a woman’s intimate parts, so you really don’t want to use it, though many people do when they are angry or in shock.

Maleante (mal-eh-AHN-tay): this refers to a criminal, a gang member, or more generally just a bad person.

Palo (PAL-oh): a “stick” which would translate as “one buck” in English. In other words one dollar.

Expressions you cannot miss out on

When Panamanians are broke, they say they’re “clean.” (Estar limpios)

They don’t get cheated on, they get “burned.” (Le quemó)

When Panamanians have bad luck, they say that they are “salty.” (Estoy salado)

Panamanians say that that “they have glue” (tener goma) when they get a hangover.

Hangover | © Fred Mougignet / Unsplash

When Panamanians make fun of you, they say they are “blowing you up.” (Te estoy reventando).

Panamanians love to drink, it’s more, they “suck” the alcohol (Chupar)

They don’t simply catch a small bus, they are more sophisticated: they “grab a goat.” (Agarro una chiva).

Finally, when Panamanians party hard, they literally “tear off.” (Se arrancan)

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