Brief guide to Uruguayan vocabulary and expressions (and useful warnings)
I will present here some typical expressions, distinctive vocabulary and slang, that might be useful when visiting Uruguay.
1. Accentuation of “Y”s and “Ll”s
Probably the most distinctive aspect of the Uruguayan version of Spanish (a characteristic shared with our neighbours from Argentina) is that both the “Y” and the “Ll” are not pronounced as in the rest of the Spanish speaking countries around the world. While in most places they are pronounced in a gentle and soft manner, in Uruguay both “Y”s and “Ll”s are strongly accentuated and pronounced very toughy.
2. Warning: the word “coger”
Unless you are fully aware of its mean and perfectly know what you are saying, do not under any circumstances use the word “coger” when visiting Uruguay. While in Spain “coger” means “to grab” or “to take” in Uruguayan Spanish it involves the usage of genitalia. It literally means “to fornicate” or “have sex”. For those of you, who picked up some Spanish while in Spain, beware of this. So here, asking someone “donde puedo coger el bus?”, which in Spain would translate to “Where can I catch the bus?”, in Uruguay means “where can I have sex with the bus?”. If you wanted to ask someone to hold something for a second and said “por favour, coge esto un segundo”, you would actually be saying: “Have sex with this for a second”. Careful with this one.
3. A common expression 1: “Bo!”
“Bo” is probably the most common and typical Uruguayan expression and you will hear it in many variations and in all contexts. It is mainly used to call someone’s attention, but has also been acquired by Uruguayans as a pet word. We would use it to begin and end sentences, or just shout it out by itself when seeking someone’s attention. Some examples include:
“Bo!! Come over here! ; “What time are we having lunch, bo?”; “Whats up, bo?” ; “Don’t be silly, bo!”
4. A common expression 2: “Salado”
This literally means “salty”. We use it to qualify something as difficult and hard, or also of amazing and wonderful. A test can be “salada” (if it’s really hard) but also a mountain view can be “salada” (if it’s spectacular). Some cases are tricky, and you can only recognize the actual intention of salinity by the way it is said. For example, if a song is “salada”, this can mean either that it’s really hard to learn or also that it is simply amazing.
5. A common expression 3: “Ta”
This is our version of “Ok” or “fine”.
6. A common expression 4: “Che”
“Che” is a common expression shared with our Argentinian neighbours, and internationally recognized as the nick name of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. He obviously got the nickname for repeating the word like a mad man, evidencing his Argentinian origins. The word is used to call someones attention, or to denote surprise or wonder. It can be used to emphasise. Its also a sign of trust among people. Examples: “Che, at what time are you coming?”; “What have you been up to, che?”; or simple “Che! Che! You can’t traspass!”
7. The “Vos”
As opposed to must other Spanish speaking countries, who use the “tu” or “usted” to refer to “you” in casual conversations, we mainly use the “vos” (actually considered impolite in some places!)
Means complete boredom. Example, “que embole esta película!” would translate to “this movie is sooo boring!”
Refers to a child or kid.
Means to bother or joke around. Common expressions would include:
“Me estás jodiendo?” (are you kidding me?); “No me jodas!” (Don’t bust my balls!); “Jodete” (F… you)
An interested video done by on American on Uruguayan slang and hand signs: