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Panamanian Spanish: Slang, Expressions & Pronunciation

Ahhh Panama, the home of toucans, rainforests, the canal, and… Reggaeton? Well, we can debate the origins of Reggaeton in another article, in this one we’re unveiling Panamanian Spanish!


This dialect is full of goofy vocabulary borrowed from English, and hilarious expressions that could have only been made by the unique Panamanian people.


In Panama, I often felt as if everyone had a different dialect they were speaking, some sounded more Colombian, some more Venezuelan, some more Caribbean, but it was all - Panamanian!


Are you ready to learn what makes this dialect one of the most special and dearest to my heart? ¡Empecemos! (Let’s start)



Summary: Panamanian Spanish 101

Panamanian Spanish is an incredibly innovative and fun dialect to speak. Its features include American English vocabulary, Colombian and Dominican influences, and a Caribbean/Central-American mix of accents.


Some of the most notably used Panamanian vocabulary that you should know are:

  • Parquear - To hang out

  • Priti - Pretty/Exciting

  • Qué xopá - What’s up

  • La chantín - The house

  • La maleta - Backpack


Some of the most commonly used Panamanian expressions are:

  • Dale, pues - Go for it

  • Estar tirado - To be tired

  • Darle cuero - To start/Give it a go

  • ¡Chuleta! - Damn!


As far as pronunciation goes, you’ll find a Caribbean/Central-American mix, ex:

  • P’s - Sometimes are not well pronounced (Puedo = uedo)

  • D’s - Often softened or completely neglected (Tirado = tirao)

  • S’s - Often aspirated like an H, or completely neglect (Esta = ehta/e’ta)

  • R’s - Often completely neglected at the end of verbs (Correr = corre’)


We’ll talk about these and more in this article, about the Panamanian Spanish slang, expressions and pronunciation - read the rest to discover the Panamanian dialect.


picture that says "the panamanian dialect of spanish"

Table of Contents:

Panamanian Spanish Slang 🧏

Now it’s time to learn some Spanish slang used daily by the average Panamanian!


It's quite apparent that the USA has affected everyday speech when you see some of these words used commonly.


And just to remind you, these are not all of them, that list would be so overwhelming that you wouldn’t remember many.


This will just be a list of the most commonly used words that are unique to Panama.


picture of panamanian flag with a tucan and a panama hat with big letters that say "Panamanian Vocabulary"


To hang out – Parquear 🚗

Parquear comes from the English verb “To park” and has been made into a Spanish word by slightly changing its spelling and adding an “AR” ending. The interesting part is that it has nothing to do with parking, it actually means “hanging out” like in the sentence.


If you want to say “Park” they use the word estacionarse.


Voy a parquear hoy con mis frenes.

(Today I am going to hang out with my friends)



Pretty/Nice – Priti 👏

Priti comes from the English noun “pretty” and is used in a few different ways such as; Nice/Pretty/Exciting. Like in the following sentences…


¿Tu novio te va a proponer? Que priti.

(Your boyfriend is going to propose? How cute/exciting)



Friend – El/La fren 👯‍♂️

Fren as you guessed comes directly from the USA and is used exactly the same in Panama. Such as in the sentence:


Ese es mi fren allí con el gorro rojo puesto.

(that’s my friend over there with the red hat on)



Sounds good - Ofi 👌

I was told by a Panamanian that Ofi comes from the English word “Official,” and they just use it to say “okay” or “sounds good.” For example:


Quieres venir a la chantín esta noche? - Ofi, llego por allí a las diez.

(Do you want to come to the crib/house tonight? - Sounds good, I’ll drop by at 10.)



OMG - Ayala vida 😌

I am not sure of the origin of this phrase but it is used quite commonly. For example; if you left your wallet at home and now you are in the taxi you might say…


¡Ayala vida dejé mi billetera en la casa!

(OMG I left my wallet at home!)



A lot - Buco 🙌

This word comes from the French “beaucoup,” meaning “a lot.” Just like in American English we might say “buku bucks” to mean a lot of money. It’s used in Panama in the same way.


Él tiene buco plata, digo, ¿tú has visto la chantín nueva que tiene?

(He has a lot of money, I mean, have you seen the new house that he has?)



What’s up - Que xopa (Reversed words) 🙋‍♂️

Que xopa is just like “que tal” or “que lo que”. It originates from the infamous Panamanian "lunfardo" which means to take a word and invert its syllables.


What do I mean? The Panamanian dialect takes many words and puts them backward, for example;

  • Primo – Mopri or

  • No – On

  • Que pasó – Que Sopa

But of course, as you saw, they use an "X" instead of the "S" – however it sounds the same. One of the many fun features of Panamanian Spanish!



Shirt – El suéter 👕

This term had me shocked and borderline suspicious that the person telling me this was messing with me. Basically, a shirt, t-shirt, or anything without buttons is a “Suéter”. I can't explain it more than that so I’ll leave it like that lol.


Traffic – El tranque 🚕 🚙

I am not sure of the etymology of this word, but when I was in Panama this was the most commonly used term to mean “Traffic” – so here it is “El tranque”



Backpack - La maleta/Maletín 🎒

In Panama they don't say "mochila" they say “Maleta” (Suitcase) or “Maletín” (Little suitcase) instead. It is worth saying though that they do utilize the word “Maleta” to say “Suitcase” as well.



Socks - Las medias 🧦

Like you probably did as well, the word I knew for socks at first was “calcetines” but here in Panama they say “medias”.



House - La chantín 🏡

This word is more used by people who are millennials and younger, especially in the Caribbean-Speaking areas of Panama.



Damn! - ¡Chuleta! 🤦‍♂️

If somebody drops their phone, for example, this might be the first thing you hear come out of their mouth. This is a non-vulgar way of saying "Damn!"



Shortening Words In Panama

In Panama, it is not uncommon at all for people to shorten common words. In many countries such as Spain, I have heard this be referred to as “childish” and “disrespectful”. However, in Panama, it is not seen like that at all.


Some of the most common words that are shortened in Panama are (Profesor – Profe/Película – Peli/La Universidad – La U)



Buses – Diablo Rojos

picture of panamanian diablo rojo bus

If you hear this term, know that they are not talking about just any type of bus, this is a special kind of bus unique to the Panamanian culture.


While there do exist many double-decker public buses equipped with A/C and USB ports.


The "diablo rojos" are old-school buses that are decked out with cool designs, exhaust systems, and lights.


These are more economic options in comparison with the double-deckers, but don’t come with all the amenities of those buses.


Panamanian Expressions/Sayings

picture of panamanian flag with a tucan and a panama hat with big letters that say "Panamanian Expressions"

Dale, pues - Go for it

This phrase just brings me back to my months in Panama, I probably couldn’t count on 20 hands how many times this phrase was said to me. Dale, pues (Give it, then) is often used to say go for it. For example:


Hey María, ¿vas a empezar a trabajar? Okay, dale, pues, yo estaré en mi cuarto.

(Hey Maria, are you going to start working? Okay, go for it, I’ll be in my room.)


Darle cuero - To start/Give it a go

Darle cuero means “To give it leather” and is used to say “Let’s give it a go” for example in the sentence:

Vamos a darle cuero, ¿estás listo mijo?

(We’re gonna give it a go, are you ready son?)



Estar tirado - To be tired

“To be shot” (Estar tirado) in Panama means “To be tired.” It should be noted that most commonly you’ll hear the D disappear, and it will sound like “estar tirao.” For example:


Ya no quiero comer, solo quisiera dormir, ya estoy tirao.

(I don’t want to eat anymore, I just want to sleep, I’m tired now)



Eso es chicha de piña - It’s a piece of cake

Chicha in Panama just means “Juice,” and to say that something “is a pineapple juice” - is to say that it’s extremely easy/simple. For example:


Voy a ganar el juego, eso es chicha de piña.

(I’m going to win the game, it’s a piece of cake.)



Estar ahuevado - To be an idiot

Often written “awebao” instead of “ahuevado,” this word means stupid, idiot, etc. For example in the sentence:


Ese fren tuyo está awebao brother, tienes que llevarlo a su chantín ahora mismo

(That friend of yours is an idiot brother, you gotta take him to his crib/house right now.)



!Chuzo! - Oh noo! 🤯

Chuzo is like Ayala vida but usually is said during the instant that something occurs. For example, if I was walking to the kitchen with a glass of water and I dropped it I would yell “¡CHUZO!”



¡Chuleta! - Damn! 🤦‍♂️

Chuleta, meaning chop (like as in pork chop) is used when one is surprised. For example if somebody drops their phone, for example, this might be the first thing you hear come out of their mouth. This is a non-vulgar way of saying "Damn!"



Pronunciation of Panamanian Spanish

The pronunciation is extremely diverse! You'll see major differences depending on - whether your on the east or west coast, north or south, and even the dialects of the interior change a lot.


In this section we'll go over the common differences you'll find in Panamanians that pronounce certain letters in a "non-standard way."


picture of panamanian flag with a tucan and a panama hat with big letters that say "Panamanian Pronunciation"


S’s In Panamanian Spanish

– The S’s are often not pronounced like in many Caribbean dialects, but they can also appear as an English "H". If a person is trying to be as clear as possible they might say all their S’s.


However, in normal conversations the phrase “Cómo estás” (for example) will sound more like “Cómo etá” or “Cómo ehtá”



R’s In Panamanian Spanish

– It is common that at the end of a verb in its infinite form, the final "R" will be muted (mostly when speaking fast)


So the sentence “no voy a hacer eso” (I am not going to do that) will sound more like “no voy a hace-eso”



D’s In Panamanian Spanish

– It is not uncommon to hear the D’s dropped like in many Caribbean dialects.


So for example in the sentence “él está enojado” will sound like “él e'tá enoja'o”



P’s In Panamanian Spanish

Due to Panama having many Colombian immigrants (and influence in general) some Panamanians don’t pronounce their P’s a lot.


For example the phrase “Puedo ayudarle” might sound like “ueo ayudale.”



Exceptions to these rules?🤦‍♂️

While these rules do not always apply, many times they do, and even when they don’t, it’s worth knowing them.


Even the Spanish speakers in Panama that DO pronounce the D’s will do so in a way that as English speakers, sounds very light to our ears – almost nonexistent.



Panamanian Spanish FAQ

picture of panamanian flag with a tucan and a panama hat with big letters that say "Panamanian Spanish FAQ"

How is Panamanian Spanish different?

Panamanian Spanish is different from other dialects due to their influence from the United States during the 1900’s with words like: Fren (Friend), Chantín (Shanty), Priti (Pretty), & Cuara (Quarter).


Their Spanish is also unique due to its diversity, some people speak Caribbean Spanish in the east, some talk with a more standard Spanish, and some countryside dialects speak standard Spanish at 3X speed.



Is Panamanian Spanish the same as Mexican Spanish?

Panamanian Spanish is the same language, but with very different slang, expressions, and accents. We can compare the dialect of Panama more with that of The Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico than we can with the Mexican Dialect.



What Spanish do Panamanians speak?

Panamanians speak Caribbean-style Spanish with Colombian and USA influenced words and phrases. However, due to the vast differences found in every region of Panama, this is a vast generalization that should be taken lightly.



Is Panamanian Spanish easy to understand?

Panamanian Spanish is certainly not the easiest to understand when comparing it with Mexico, El Salvador, and much of Bolivia, however, it is much easier than Puerto Rican or Cuban Spanish for example.



How do you learn Panamanian Spanish?

The best methods of learning Panamanian Spanish are:

  • Getting a Panamanian tutor on Italki

  • Finding a Panamanian language partner on HelloTalk

  • Watching Panamanian YouTubers like Drettivlogs

  • Going on a trip to Panama and interacting with the locals



Conclusion: Panamanian Spanish 101, Slang, Expressions, & Pronunciation

picture of panama city, panama

In the end, Panamanian Spanish offers an enticing opportunity for language enthusiasts. Whether you're planning a trip to Panama or simply looking to broaden your linguistic horizons, delving into this dialect promises an authentic and enriching experience.


Explore the charm and uniqueness of Panamanian Spanish, and you'll uncover the heart and soul of a culture deeply intertwined with its language.


If you like learning about dialects as much as I do, check out this article about the Colombian dialect of Spanish, which has made a huge impact on the Spanish spoken in Panama!


If you want to start learning to speak Panamanian Spanish, Italki is giving you a free $10 if you schedule your first tutor session today (which means your lesson will be free!).


Have a wonderful day/evening/night!


Best regards,

Ben

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