Well….this article started because Angel taught me a few important words in Yucatecan Spanish. Some I can use in public while others are best used only at home. The words are regional, just like in the U.S. or other countries. Actually it surprised me that absolutely, positively, in no way, shape or form that my Spanglish did NOT work in Mérida. The purpose of this Guide to Yucatecan Words is to:
- prepare you for your trip
- help you learn words and phrases you may not know
- include additional words from contributors as a community project
- serve as interesting information (my favorite)
This article was updated in May of 2023.
Needless to say, four years of Spanish in high school, traveling all over the Riviera Maya and living there did not prepare me for the VAST difference in Yucatecan Spanish. Of course, some of these are slang words but these are probably the most important.
This Guide to Yucatecan Words is listed in alphabetical order for ease of use. The definition indicates what type of word or slang it is and how to use it.
I invite you to take a peek and provide comments, updates and additions to email@example.com.
Buena Suerte! Good Luck!
Guide to Yucatecan Words & Phrases – A
This is the end of the year bonus that has been in effect as part of the Mexican labor law since 1970. It is my understanding that the aguinaldo is NOT optional. It is required to be paid by the employer by December 20th so the employee can use it for the Christmas holidays.
The Yucatan Times talks about how the aguinaldo is calculated.
Guide to Yucatecan Words & Phrases – B
Bocadillo & Botana
These two words both mean snack and can be interchanged. You’ll see botanas frequently advertised in cantinas such as Eladio’s (famous in Mérida). Depending upon the number of drinks you order, you receive small appetizers to larger, heavier snacks.
Bocadillos are considered more fancy similar to a canape. Botanas are more like small snacks like peanuts, nachos, chicharron, and chips.
Here’s a cool pinterest board that shows you some of these yummy treats.
Guide to Yucatecan Words & Phrases – C
Capulin is the Mexican cherry. Native to Mexico, many varieties exist. People eat capulines raw or make them into jams, popsicles and sweets including sweet tamales. Interestingly enough, it is also fermented to obtain an alcoholic beverage.
More about Capulin in this article.
The origin of Carajillo is when Cuba was still part of Spain. Made with rum, soldiers fighting in the independence war drank it for courage. The Spanish for courage was Coraje, which became Corajilo. Eventually, Corajilo became Carajillo. Notably, courage is necessary to drink this strong coffee cocktail.
The classic recipe: 1 cup espresso, 1.5 – 2 oz. Licor 43 and 8 ice cubes. Shake vigorously in a martini shaker with ice to create a beautifully foamy top. Serve and enjoy!
I just had a carajillo for the first time recently at San Bravo. WOW! It was incredible!!! Of course, I would have to include this article on the Classic Mexican Drink featured in the Dallas Morning News!
Served roasted and seasoned with chile powder and lime, grasshoppers make a traditional Mexican snack. They are frequently used in gourmet dishes in restaurants all over Mérida.
Early Mexicans used them for a source of protein starting in the early 16th century. Of course, the best-known region for chapulines is Oaxaca. Vendors in street markets pile them high and sell them by the scoop.
Find more information on this site.
You’ll hear many people refer to Ciudad de Mexico or Mexico City. Additionally, it is called D.F. or District Federal. Chilangos are people from Mexico City with a notable “personality” and way of speaking. For me, it’s a live version of a tela-novela or soap opera.
Chilangos give off a larger-than-life presence and can be quite noticeable both in their language and hand gesturing.
Wikipedia provides a great definition of Chilango.
In Mexico, there is a nickname for everything . . . yes, I mean EVERYTHING!
Chelas are, however, just plain beers. But, you can add “ita” on the end if you want a small beer called a chelita.
I’ve been told that it is frowned upon to advertise and promote drinking alcoholic beverages through marketing purposes. So, you will find many bars and cantinas announcing 2 x 1 chelas vs. beers.
Chelada, chela, michelada, ojo rojo, glass has salt and lemon on the rim. Add is
More about Mexican beers.
While a caguama is a type of sea turtle, for this example it is the best deal for beer drinkers in Mexico. A caguamas is a large, returnable 32 to 40-ounce bottle.
When I lived in Dallas, this was the most popular size of beer. We called it a Forty, for 40 ounces. It was sold in a paper bag. Then, the customer would roll the top of the bag down to expose the top of the bottle. Voila! They drank it just like that.
Another cool article on Mexican beers.
Another word I’ve never heard, this is the term for foreplay with words and actions when a man is courting a woman. In Mexico, courting is real and amazing! Cursi can be anything from flowers to a romantic dinner to a love note to a Yucatecan trova serenade.
Recently, Angel and I were on the Paseo de Montejo. We noticed 18 members of a true Yucatecan trova serenade in front of El Colon, the wonderful ice cream shop.
Serenading a young woman with beautiful songs, after several songs her boyfriend arrived. He proposed to her in the most romantic way. I’m grateful that we witnessed this beautiful and intimate proposal.
To understand the feeling of cursi, read this article from Yucatan Today.
Guide to Yucatecan Words & Phrases – E
I’ve had these and they are . . . . gulp . . . . D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S!!!!
Once considered a delicacy by the Aztecs, escamole is ant caviar. Yes, you read that correctly. ANT caviar!
Harvested from maguey plants, light-colored ant eggs resemble white-corn kernels or pine nuts. With a slightly nutty taste, they are crunchy when fried or a bit puffy in texture if stir fried.
When pan-fried with butter and spices, escamoles are delicious in tacos, omelets or as a topping for guacamole and chips. It’s definitely a memorable taste and one I surprisingly, love.
Learn more in this overview from Slow Food Foundation.
Guide to Yucatecan Words & Phrases – F
Notably, the literal translation of fresa is strawberry. In the Yucatan and other parts of Mexico, especially Mexico City, a fresa is a superficial, spoiled person. It can also be interchanged with high maintenance.
Keep in mind when you hear the word fresa, look around . . . the reference may be to a person NOT the fruit!
Mexperience has a great read on Fresas vs. Nacos (see below).
Guide to Yucatecan Words & Phrases- G
If you’ve spend any time in Mexico and you have light skin, the term güera or güero is probably familiar. The cute terms are güerita and güerito.
Actually, this word is hard for me. I always spell it juerita or juerito because that’s how it’s pronounced (the j is silent). Werita
This article has interesting comments about this word.
Guide to Yucatecan Words & Phrases – H
Most commonly, huevos are eggs. But in Mexican slang, the term huevo is used much more widely. One of my favorite slang terms is ¡A huevo! translated as: of course! hell yeah! absolutely!
Other terms you hear: tengo hueva (feminine) translated as I feel lazy. Another favorite is: que huevo (masculine) translated as how boring.
Most importantly, never, ever, ever ask a male waiter, do you have eggs in Spanish “¿Tiene(s) huevos?” (TRUST ME!)
Instead, ask Say instead: ”¿Hay huevos?” translated as ”Are there eggs?” (You’ll thank me, I’m sure.)
It’s also worth noting, proceed with caution when ordering eggs. Read this article first!
Mande is the Mexican way to ask What? Please, don’t use Que? unless you are familiar with the person you say it to. Mande and Como are much better used when you don’t understand what someone said.
On the other hand, in some regions of Mexico, it is considered quite rude and disrespectful. I learned very quickly that Mande? and Como? are both respectful and widely used.
Take a look at these comments on the use of Mande? and Que? for more context.
Dating back five centuries, Malinche was both Hernan Cortés’ indigenous translator and lover during the conquest of Mexico. Notably she, to this day, is widely regarded as a traitor. Therefore, a malinchista is someone who symbolically betrays Mexico.
By adopting the values or another culture, notably the U.S., malinchistas seek to prove themselves as exceptions to their own culture. Typically, the term Malinchismo is defined as the pursuit of the novel and foreign combined with rejection of his own culture
Mexperience addresses the malichista quite notably in this interesting read.
Guide to Yucatecan Words & Phrases – N
This is a deregatory term that is the exact opposite of Fresa. You may hear this word spoken between workers or walking around in local areas. Originating in colonial times, naco (masculine) or naca (feminine) described the indigenous servants of the Spanish gentry.
See article for Fresa above for the history of these two terms.
Slang for no way or no way Jose . . . ja ja ja!
Without a doubt, when you say no manches, you need to say it with passion and expression.
another reaction to surprising information is to say ¡No manches! — No way! or Come on! The literal translation, Don’t stain, is ridiculous because it’s simply a euphemism for the vulgar no mames. Head down the list to Bad Words for other vulgar expressions in Mexican slang.
After reading the story of the famous pink house called El Pinar on Calle 60, No manches will be your response.
Guide to Yucatecan Words & Phrases – P
Did you know, China invented the pinata? I definitely did not. Even more surprising, the Italians gave it the name. Then, is was adopted by Mexico for all time.
One of the most common pinata shapes has 7 points. Importantly, the 7 points represent the 7 deadly sins: greed, pride, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and laziness. The pinata is suspended by a rope and pulled up and down to tease the person trying to break open the pinata.
Subsequently, this symbolizes the way people are tempted by the 7 deadly sins.
As the pinata is broken and releases the goodies inside, the symbology is attributed to breaking the 7 deadly sins. Therefore, releasing the blessings of humanity as a reward.
Here’s more on the fascinating history of the pinata.
Angel and I hosted my first posada with his work mates at the end of last year. It was a delightful experience and one I will never forget.
Most importantly, being part of this celebration made me feel like a local. Traditional pastor, side dishes, music, laughter and sharing stories spread the vibe of family, friends and colleagues.
Posadas are for families and work colleagues and is the Mexican way to gather, have fun and celebrate!
More about posadas here.
Guide to Yucatecan Words & Phrases – Q
A Mexican, Central and South American cultural ceremony, the quinceañera celebrates a young woman turning 15. This important milestone in a girl’s life, began in Spanish colonial times. Notably, the young quinceañeras were auctioned off to potential suitors as brides.
In keeping with this (rather barbaric tradition), it symbolizes the girl’s entrance into womanhood showcasing her purity and readiness for marriage. Beginning with mass at a Catholic Church, a reception and party follows. It is the U.S. equivalent of a Sweet 16 celebration.
Guide to Yucatecan Words & Phrases – R
The Mexican word for rosemary is romero. That’s where the main ingredient in this traditional Christmas dish is found. While the simple dish is economical, in many areas of the country it is more that a day’s wage.
You’ll also find that it is common to add “ita” or “ito” to words to denote either cute or small. The literal translation of romeritos is little rosemary.
More about the different kind of romeritos on The Spruce Eats.
Guide to Yucatecan Words & Phrases – S
One of the most charming aspects of this culture, Sobremesa is lingering after a meal to connect, chat, relax and enjoy the company you are with, even if the company is your own. No matter where you are, you are never rushed to finish your meal or your cup of coffee. This is both a different and refreshing change of pace.
Notably the longer you linger, it is customary to tip appropriately.
Your check is called “la cuenta”. Importantly, learn to ask for it like a local. Your waiter or waitress will appreciate your attempt to learn a few words in Spanish. This culture is respectful of your sobremesa and will not rush you.
Remarkably, wait staff will not bring your check until you ask for it. Be sure to tip accordingly.
Want to know a secret?
I absolutely LOVE the ability to relax at a local restaurant while people watching or even writing a blog post like this one. I never feel rushed and I get to enjoy the flavors and sounds of this magical city!
Mexicans, like Spaniards, believe sobremesa is magical as this article from the BBC explains.
Guide to Yucatecan Words & Phrases – T
See Bocadillos & Botanas above – all of these are terms for snacks.
Tepache vendors drive a large tricycle with an orange and blue barrel. You can’t miss them as they announce their arrival via a bicycle pump converted into a horn.
A unique fermented beverage, tepache is made from the peel and the rind of pineapples. It is then sweetened with piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar) with a little cinnamon and served cold.
After fermenting for several days, this is a refreshing drink in the hot summers. Fortunately, it does not does not contain much alcohol.
This article from Shape Magazine discusses the health benefits of tepache in comparison to kombucha.
Guide to Yucatecan Words & Phrases – W
Wey, pronounced as way means dude, friend, or mate. Typically, it is used more in Mexico City. However, at times, you will also hear it used in Mérida.
Unquestionable, it is almost always used at the end of the sentence. For example, no manches wey. Or que paso wey?
It is also spelled guey (there is a shop here called Guey) with the same pronunciation.
This colorful article from the LA Times explains more about this word and other Mexican slang.
Guide to Yucatecan Words & Phrases – X
The ancient breed of Xoloitzcuintli, or Xolo (“sho-lo”) for short, has roots from the Aztecs making it approximately 3,500 years old. The name is a combination of the dog god Xolotl and the Aztec word for dog which is Itzcuintli.
Known as the “Mexican hairless dog,” Xolos have a calm disposition which may be one of the reasons they were favored by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Learn more and see photos of Diego Rivera’s Xolo.
Guide to Yucatecan Words & Phrases – Z
In Aztec times, the zócalo was a multi-purpose location. It was a gathering place, the place for rituals, and the site for ceremonies and parades. The the zócalo is the main plaza in the center of the city and usually has a park and/or monuments in the middle.