Sh** Colombians Say, Part 8: Reading Between the “Vainas”

In the fall (I still operate on New England seasons, even if I don’t live them) people started asking me what I was doing the next year. Once I had committed to my new job, I told them I was moving to the coast, and every Bogotá-area Colombian I met, young or old, immediately responded in the same way. They spit off their most loaded, exaggerated costeño accent, usually some form of “Eche!! No joda!” and giggled to themselves. (Imagine telling people you’re moving to Boston and they all feel entitled to their best “Pahk the cah in Havahd yahd.” Same story.)

You see, costeños are notorious for their distinctive speech, affectionately called costeñol. Distinctively way too fast, cutting letters, syllables and whole words – it’s like a whole new Spanish. There are two volumes: YELLING ANIMATEDLY SO IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO TELL IF SOMEONE IS REALLY MAD or a mumblytoosoftmurmurthatmakesyoulookstupidaswellasmonolingual.

Costeño Spanish is also markedly more vulgar, especially when your primary teachers are a bunch of 20-something jocks and jockettes. I always tried not to curse in Spanish amongst the ever polite Bogotá population because I spent most of my time with impressionable teenagers but here…if you can’t beat ’em.

Mothers and grandmothers, consider that your warning: Explicit content ahead.


Cule + whatever noun you choose to enter is a charming way of emphasizing the significance of something, like saying “That’s a hell of a …” or “damn, what a….” It’s a shortened version of culo de _________, which literally means “ass of _______.” Nice, I know!

So, “Tengo cule hambre” means “I’m hungry as hell!”

“Cule vaina!” “Damn that….THING!”

“Cule tackle!” Awesome tackle!


The slightly nasal “aja” is terribly versatile. It’s a colloquial affirmative answer, among other uses:

  • “¿Aja y tú qué?” This greeting is totally costeño – basically saying, “Yea, and what about you?” No need to beat around the bush. “Aja y…..” is also used as “right, and what else?” in a sort of sarcastic manner.

“I ate the best sancocho today!” “Aja y eso qué? /And we care because….?”

  • Non-sarcastically it evokes a call for more information – maybe you get off the phone with your (questionably) significant other and your friend says,

“¿Aja y ese man qué? / So, what’s up with that guy?”

  • There’s also “…….y aja!” where the aja is sort of a conclusive note akin to “and that was that!”

“I woke up late and missed my bus! So I got to my exam 30 minutes late and couldn’t finish…y aja! /and….well, you know how it goes!”

  • Aja is also a perfectly acceptable explanation for something.

“But why …..?” “Porque aja! / Because…aja!”

Ñerda! //da!

“Da!” is short for “mierda” – shit! It’s perfect for expressing frustration, anger, annoyance, surprise, approval, shock or any other strong emotion. Just like its English counterpart and probably the equivalent in every other language in the entire world.

My new favorite thing ever to say is the other slangy form of mierda: ñerda. It’s never just “ñerda!” though – it has to be a dramatic, drawn out “ñerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrdaaaaaaaaaaa!” which is REALLY fun to say, and often has a group effect. On the occasions I can actually keep up with costeño banter, if I say something and it’s followed by a chorus of “ñerrrrrrrrrrrrrrda!”‘s I know it was actually a legitimate comeback. Then I’m confident until approximately three minutes later when someone is laughing at me again, probably because I can’t roll my Rs to even say ñerrrrrrrrrrda! properly.

Vicious cycle out here in ‘Quilla.