Madrid Slang

Madrid Slang

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A visitor to Madrid relying on rusty high school Spanish may not hear much slang, known as "argot" or "jerga," while in Spain's capital. Not because it's rare, but because people tend to speak so fast that unless you're born and bred here you'll struggle to make out individual phrases amid a machine-gun babble of speech. Madrileños (residents of Madrid) delight in flouting the restrictions imposed by the venerable Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy), which tries to enforce standards for the Spanish language. So put down your high-school textbook and bone up on this list of common Madrid slang terms and phrases.

1. Spanglish

Madrid is an ultra-cosmopolitan city where people from all over the world congregate in bars, restaurants and busy streets and workplaces. No wonder Spanish and other world languages have merged at the edges. The most popular manifestation of this is "Spanglish," in which English words are given Spanish endings and/or blended with a Spanish sentence. Common Spanglish slang terms in Madrid include "parquear," which means to park (a car) and "chequear," which means to check (something). And you'll often hear women shouting to one another: "Voy a hacer un poco de shopping" (I'm off to do a bit of shopping).

2. Ciao

In Madrid's local language, Spanish hasn't just adopted English words but those of other languages, especially French and Italian. The most common example is "ciao," or "goodbye" in Italian. You'll often hear 20- and 30-somethings saying goodbye to one another with a quick "ciao" and a peck on each cheek.

3. Surfear el Internet

Madrid is a global center of business and IT, so many new Madrid slang terms are related to technology. "Surfear," meaning to surf (the internet) is one of the ugliest according to traditionalists, but other phrases pop up all the time. Business people generally use "mail" for email, instead of the clumsy official term "correo electrónico," and they pronounce BlackBerry with a long Spanish rolling "r."

4. Eat Your Words

My high-school teachers used to tell me that all Spaniards speak fast, but that in Madrid they speak the fastest. The other day I heard a radio presenter use an interesting slang phrase to describe how words and phrases get shortened in the babble of speech: in Madrid, he said, speakers tend to "comer las palabras" (gobble up their words). For instance, people often shout "talué" instead of "hasta luego," which means see you later. If they're really in a hurry, you'll just catch "ta-ló" as they disappear around the corner.

5. Rhymes and Rhythms

Like Londoners with their cockney, Madrileños like to play with rhymes. One Spanish friend said goodbye to me the other day with a cheery "Ciao pescao," which has no real literal meaning, but is the Spanish equivalent of "See you later alligator."

6. Diminutives

A big feature of Madrid local language that is hard for non-native speakers to grasp is the use of diminutives. When someone adds "ito" or "ita" to the end of a word, it means two things: a) something is smaller than usual; b) it adds a sense of affection or other friendly nuance. For example, a dog is "perro," but a puppy or small dog would be a "perrito," particularly if it's cute. If a child is overweight, he/she wouldn't be described as "gordo" (fat), but as "gordito" (chubby). When in a bank or office in Madrid, you'll often hear people say "un momentito, por favor," which means, "just a little moment, please."

7. Exaggerate for Effect

If speakers of Madrid local lingo like their diminutives, they also like to exaggerate for effect. So listen out when a friend is telling a tall story – endings like "ísimo" and "ísima" will be thrown in all over the place to emphasize just how far away (lejísimo), tall (altísimo) or late (tardísimo) something or someone is.

8. Me Piro

"Me piro" is a common Madrid slang phrase meaning, "I'm off, I'm going." When it's 3am in a nightclub in hip Plaza Santa Ana and the party's only just getting started, you can tell your friends: "Lo siento pero estoy cansadísimo, me piro" (Sorry, but I'm terribly tired. I'm leaving).

9. Turkeys & Green Ones

If you want to talk about a U.S. dollar in Madrid, don't use the boring word "dólar." Madrid slang for dollar bills is either "pavos" (which actually means turkeys) or "verdes" (which means green, as dollar bills are green). "De los grandes" means thousands, like the use of "grand" in English. "Tres de los grandes" means "three thousand" in whatever currency you're talking about.

10. Palabras Sucias

Palabras sucias (dirty words), otherwise known as "tacos" in local lingo, make up much of Madrid slang. They change all the time and vary between social groups and ages. You're best off avoiding them yourself, if only because swearing in a foreign language always sounds strange. If you're with friends and a particular bad word keeps coming up, ask discreetly what it means.
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