Top Colombian Idioms Explained


Idioms are found in every language and they help to explain the common customs and beliefs of a culture. Quite often idioms also help to provide a deeper understanding of societal values. Join us as we explore Colombia,  the land famed as tierra querida, and see what sort of implicit messages are hidden below the surface.

Time to get notepads out for the following:

1. Dar papaya

Literal translation: To give papaya.
Meaning: Don’t put yourself in a position where others can easily take advantage of you. For example, don’t be an easy target if people ask you for money.

English idiom “Don’t get caught with your pants down.”

2. Darse picos

Literal translation:  To give each other a peck.
Meaning: To kiss someone.

English idiom: It is usually used for dates for example in British English “to pull” someone or in American English “to hook up”.

3. Echar los perros

Literal translation: To throw out the dogs.
Meaning: Anyone with any intentions to date, had better get a pen out. In other words, to court, seduce or flirt.

English idiom: Chirpsing in the UK or chatting up in the US.

4. Estar amañado/a

Literal translation: To be settled.
Meaning: For example any tourist or expatriate living in Colombia is likely to be be asked “¿estas amañado aquí?”, which means “are you settled here”?

English idiom: To be rooted somewhere.

5. Estar buena/o

Literal translation: To be good.
Meaning: A common phrase to say a female/male is good looking. For example a few male friends may say: ‘parece, esa chiquilla está muy buena’ meaning that girl is really attractive. On the other hand,‘estar bueno’ can be used in the same way for attractive men.

English idiom: That girl/guy is hot.

6. Por si las moscas

Literal translation: For if the flies.
Meaning: In the same way that we say “just in case.”

English idiom: Just in case.

7. Hacer la vaca

Literal translation: To make/do the cow.
Meaning: For everyone to split the bill.

English idiom: “Whip around” in the UK, “to chip in” in the US, or to split the bill.

8. Poner/montar los cachos

Literal translation: To put on/ride the horns.
Meaning: To be sexually unfaithful to one’s partner.

English idiom: To cheat on someone.

9. ¡Que pereza!

Literal translation: What laziness!
Meaning: When you’re forced to do something you don’t want to do.

English idiom: What a bore!/What a pain!/This sucks!


GIF via Giphy

10. Estar tragado/a de alguien

Literal translation: To be swallowed off of someone.
Meaning: When you’re really into someone or have fallen in love.

English idiom: Literally, thanks to Queen B, “Drunk in Love.”

Whether you’re on a business trip or planning your sabbatical abroad to Colombian then it’s best to come prepared with a few phrases in mind.  This will definitely stand you in good stead, by helping you to ingratiate yourself into the local community more. Whether you’re bartering at a market for a cheap soccer jersey of the national team, los cafeteros, or making some friends whilst sharing a bottle of Aguila beer in the sweltering heat of Barranquilla, or perhaps trying some of the local delicacies such as an arepa, a corn-based bake, make sure you incorporate some of these idioms into your speech and just wait and listen to the locals’ reactions!