Picture this: You’re by the Malecon, or in la Zona Colonial, perhaps even somewhere in the vibrant nightlife of Santiago, drinking Presidente’s with your new Dominican friends. You’re not an expert in Spanish, but you’re fluent enough to make a joke here and there and order another beer. A scuffle breaks out nearby, and your Dominican friends say “que baltri!”
Pause here- Baltri? You’re racking your brains for this word, but it does not compute. Do not fret- here are some useful Dominican slang words & Dominicanismos to know before your next adventures in the Dominican Republic.
Related reading: Prejudices Against the Dominican Accent & Anti-Dominican Sentiment
40+ Dominican Slang Words and Phrases
The Dominican Republic has a rich colloquial language, full of vibrant phrases and terms that can be confusing for people not directly from the country. I learned this the hard way when I befriended a group of young adult locals in Santo Domingo— I often found myself missing the punchline, grasping for context, and eager to learn some of the Dominican phrases my friends were utilizing. Growing up Dominican-American, I had access to the usual lexicon of Dominican sayings that made it to NYC (poloche, con flei, que lo que, etc) but I was not prepared for the colloquial terms in Dominican language that continued to develop after my parent’s 1990’s context of Dominican slang and sayings. Here are some of my Dominican words and slang that I’ve learned from friends and family in DR over the past couple of years:
This dominicanismo (a Dominican word with roots in an American saying, or simply put: a Dominican translation) translates to “bad trip.”
When to use it: When something is undesired, out of alignment with you, or uncomfortable. Que baltri! Can also be used to describe a person. “Ese tipo es un baltri.”
When to use “fundi”? Okay, peep this, you’re back at La Zona Colonial with friends you made that same night, drinking some Añejo and talking about the absolutely wild state of the world and late-stage capitalism and blah blah blah when one of your friends says “Guau- Fundiste!” No worries, this has no relation to “fundillo” and actually comes from the word “profundo.” It means to say something profound, thought-provoking, or insightful.
“Que apero!” your friend exclaims as you show her a video of you roller skating back in NYC. You show her another one where you actually land the trick, and she says “no, de verdad. Super jevi. Y los skates se ven chevere.” You pause on the video-sharing and shoot her a look of confusion– Apero? This is one of those relatively new Dominican slang words and thus hasn’t yet made it to the diaspora. But no sweat- it shares the same meaning as chevere and jevi: Cool. Nifty. Sweet. Any of these words fit perfectly when exclaiming excitement for something awesome. People, places, things too can be apero/jevi/chevere.
“Te La Comiste”
You’re feeling buzzed and really proud of those roller skating videos. You show another one of your new friends the video of the trick you landed, and this time the affirmation is “te la comiste!” This phrase translates to a phrase often used in English as well: “you ate that!” As in, you killed it! Though
No matter where you are in the world, there will always be that friend who can’t make it at the very last minute. That person barajo. Maybe they’re siempre barajando. While the literal translation of barajar is “to shuffle”, this iteration means to cancel or change plans at the last minute. Also implies fickleness. But one could also say “Baraja eso” which means to let go of the topic at hand.
In a fun example? You and all your friends are waiting for someone who ends up texting you an hour after you were supposed to meet saying they can’t make it- someone says, “Diache, otra vez barajo.” A few other people express frustration with this friend who cancelled yet again. But you’re over it and ready to have the night of your life so tell them- “Baraja eso.”
Now, this word translates literally to “Scholarship recipient/Scholar”. When to use it? Well, we’ve all been there- perhaps we didn’t budget enough for the night, or maybe your friends are inviting you somewhere that’s above your paygrade- but wait! You have that one loaded friend in tech who tells you “te doy beca este noche!” In this context, “te doy beca” roughly translates to “I’ll spot you.” So worry about the money later and go be a scholar with your friends! It’s like college!
But before you are deemed a becario– you need the perfect phrase to exclaim to your friends that you are BROKE. Introducing… “en olla.” Whenever the budget is tight and the wallet full of cobwebs, “en olla” is the way to go. It translates to “in pot”, but when used within the context of money, it means broke/struggling financially. We all have been en olla before, so keep this one in your back pocket!
Chapiadora Son Matatanes
Sometimes when we’re en olla, we need to turn into a chapiadora to give ourselves the luxury and fun we deserve. A chapiadora is essentially just a golddigger, and the term was popularized in urban Dominican music. So if you’re having a night out and estas en olla, turn on that chapi chapi energy and get yourself some free drinks at the bar.
Editor’s Note About the Term Chapiadora
In the Dominican Republic, women have far less access to resources or jobs that pay well. The patriarchal system is set up so that a woman must depend on a man to survive. Therefore, marrying someone with access to a better life is one of the only ways to escape extreme poverty for many. So don’t act surprised when you move to the Dominican Republic and it turns out your hubby married you for financial interest–they’re understandably trying to survive!
In my opinion, chapiadoras son las matatanes. Matatan refers to a strong, successful, and smart person with street smarts doing what they gotta do. A famous synonym for chapiadora is sanky panky. However, unlike sanky panky which can apply to both men and women, chapiadora carries heavy sexist undertones as it only applies to women. Therefore using it in a negative connotation against a woman while ignoring their socioeconomic disadvantages is not just ignorant but sexist, too.
Challenging the significance of this word, the famous Dominican poet, Danyeli Rodriguez Del Orbe notes “chapiadora also represents women pushing back against gender inequality.”
You’re out with your local friends and the night is young. You’re having a great time at the colmado– Elizabeth by Jose Manuel is blaring through the speakers, yet the dude trying to holla at you is STILL trying to speak over the music to get your attention. You know what phrase would fit perfectly here? “Dame banda!” If you are feeling really irritated, go for the lengthier “sueltame en banda!” to really drive the point home. Does he still not get it? Then ask the DJ for the aux and play “Sueltame En Banda” by Lyon y Ko. These phrases translate to “leave me alone”. Someone should sell masks or t-shirts that say “dame banda” for the introverts. Leave us alone.
Annoying homie talking to you over the speakers finally gets the hint and leaves you alone, when you make very brief eye contact with the cutest most gorgeous person you’ve ever laid your eyes on, and that’s not the Añejo talking. They have your full attention. That’s bae, even if they don’t know they’re being perceived by you. Your friend catches you staring at homie throughout the night and she tells you “Diablo loca– tu ‘ta aficia.”
What does that word sound like to you? Let it sit on your tongue for a bit. Aficia… aficiaaaa… asphyxiaa….asphyxiated! To be so head over heels with someone, that it leaves you breathless. And if you’re thinking of the word “aficionado” (meaning “a person who is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about an activity, subject, or pastime”) then you’re not too far off! It’s like being an aficionado for a person. Being absolutely smitten by them. And the person who walked into the bar does that for you. Tu ‘ta aficia’.
Oop- nevermind. You’ve observed enough. The cute guy you were aficia’ with turned out to be a weirdo. He’s stumbling through the colmado like a drunk fool and you are no longer feeling it. You shoot a look at your friend, who turns to you and mouths “pariguayo!!”
The etymology of this word is one of my favorites and was further popularized in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Legend goes that US military personnel in the Dominican Republic during occupation did not know how to dance, so they’d stand back at the Dominican parties and “party watch”… party watch… or pariguayo now is essentially a stand-in for “loser” or “lame.” Say the word out loud. It’s fun.
Okay maybe neither pariguayo isn’t it. Something about this man feels immature and childish– so it’s way more than just being lame! This guy is a MANGANZON. He looks and is an adult, but his behaviors and attitudes are that of a spoiled and lazy man-child. The word comes from the combination of the English word “man” and the French word for boy, “garcon.’
“Te ‘ta dando muela” your friend says after watching el pariguayo try to spit game at you. While “dar muela” translates literally to “give teeth,” the colloquial context of the word means trying to talk to you and way too much. The objective is often trying to verbally flirt with someone through the use of compliments and flattery.
Your friend then says, “no te lleve de eso, eso es puro plepla.” Double whammy. You just heard dando muela for the first time, and now another word you don’t know is thrown into the mix. Plepla means to speak nonsense. While you’re a bit offended that your friend doesn’t want the muela to get to your head, you agree- homie is talking nonsense.
Editor’s Note: Sorry to everyone I’ve left 5+ minute Whatsapp audios to hablando plepla!
“Pero mami, no te pongas guapa”, the pariguayo tells you when you decline his invitation to dance to Frank Reyes. You don’t really understand why you want to throw your drink on this man after he tells you that, but you do. While in other parts of Latin America, “guapo/a” means handsome/beautiful, in the Dominican Republic it takes on a completely different meaning. In DR, guapo means “mad.” Big mad. Tight as tight can be. Angry. Grrrr. Frustrated. Basically, anyone who’s not in the best mood ‘ta guapo.
Tirame por Whatsapp
The manganzon is finally starting to get the hint, and he fires off his last words in the attempts to enamor you: “Tirame por Whatsapp.” You have heard this one before, but you can’t help but think literally. How do I “throw” someone through Whatsapp? Don’t forget hun– this phrase will be a popular one while meeting folks on your nights out. “Tirame por Whatsapp” simply translates to “hit me up on Whatsapp.” And yes, you should have Whatsapp downloaded by this point in your Dominican Republic trip. It will make the travel experience ten times easier.
Another favorite dominicanismo will require me to suck us out of the “out with friends on a Saturday night” analogy for a quick fun history lesson. Meaning trash can, zafacón is another word with its root in American English. During the 1916 US invasion of the Dominican Republic, US military tanks would frequent the streets of Santo Domingo. On the side of said tanks was an American campaign ad promoting recycling, with a slogan reading “Save A Can!” Yup, you got it. Save a can. Zafacón. Save a can. Zafacón. Local Dominicans read the ad, and through the filter of their Dominican Spanish and limited English-speaking capability, they created a new word for trash can. Or so my Dominican folklore teacher said. I trust him.
Okay we’re still not back out with the friends yet. Gotta share this classic with you. Chances are that in any Dominican space you’ve occupied, be it on the island, in NYC, in Canada (yeah there are Dominicans in Canada), Spain, or Italy (have you heard of Dominican-Italian singer Yendry? She’s a fan of using “vaina” in her music), then you have heard the word vaina. Esa vaina se escucha donde sea. Es una vaina increíble. It just means thing; therefore, it can be anything and everything. Like a linguistic Room of Requirement (@ the Harry Potter fans), it fits the need of your sentence. Forgot how to say light switch? Vaina. Remote control? Vaina. Work event? Vaina. The versatility of vaina is captured excellently in this video. Chequea esa vaina!
We’re back! So, while you’re kicking back and dancing in place to the music, you notice your friend next to you texting at the speed of light. You shoot them a quick inquisitive look, and they sigh and tell you “e’ta tipa* me tiene quillao’.” Noticing the confusion on your face, he clarifies: “ella me tiene frustrado. No me está cogiendo la llamada.” Quillao’/quilla’ is a pretty good Dominican synonym for annoyed/irritated or mad/angry. Whereas in my experience “guapo” feels anointed, like someone names it for you, “quillao” is more self-prescriptive.
*Tipa or tipo means guy or gal.
Your friends want to take a shot of Mamajuana, and you hear the word “Brindis” for the first time. The Dominican Republic has a joyous and vibrant culture that enjoys celebration—and there’s no better way to celebrate with Dominicans than by enjoying some of their incredible alcohol. Be it Brugal, Presidente, Mamajuana, or Ron Barcelo in your cup, make sure to raise it high and say “Brindis!” This is a typical Dominican saying most similar to “Cheers!” If you want to be cheeky and hip, throw in a “Brindis Spears” and see who catches the joke.
Your friends decided they want to hit up another part of the city because “Hay un rebú en la Zona hoy.” Rebu means a group of people, usually loud and boisterous. Its’ etymology (to me) is unknown, but I would like to believe it’s some type of dominicanismo for Red Bull. Do not seek a correlation, there is none. They just sound similar to me!
“Ese tigueraje de la Zona no es pa mi” says your friend who is not feeling the vibes at where you’re hanging out anymore. Tigueraje has its roots in “tiguere” which means “tiger.” In DR, a tiguere is a smart, cunning, and sometimes conniving individual with a cool cat demeanor. Tigueraje means the behaviors the tiguere engages in, and with its bustling nightlife and tourist attractive energy, Santo Domingo is the perfect jungle for tigueraje. Don’t end up getting tricked into paying someone’s tab at the colmado!
Despite your friend’s aversion to continuing the night in la Zona, you really enjoy the energy there. You hear your friends refer to the rebu of people as “bohemios”, and yes you guessed it—it translates to Bohemian. In Santo Domingo, these are your hippie “alternative” types, usually musicians, artists, and vendors who drive the night life on Calle Mercedes in la Zona Colonial. Maybe you’ll come back another night alone and kick it with them.
Depending on where your friends decide to go next that night, you might run into some popis. A popi is usually a young Dominican person from a higher social class, usually with families who have more money than your average Dominican. They might frequent chic and modern bars, slick back their hair, drop a ton of English words they studied in their expensive school despite your Spanish being fine, and have a slightly different cadence of speaking than other Dominicans. Think of Dominicans with preppy accents or “fresas” in Mexico. Their favorite word might also be “osea” and “vieja.” Avoid Ensanche Naco, Piantini, and Bella Vista if that’s not your jam.
You now know how to identify the bohemios and popis, but there is another important distinction of Dominican youth to be made: los wawawa. Popularized by urban Dominican artists Rochy RD and El Mayor Clasico in the song “La Transa”, Wawawa gained popularity amongst Dominican youth in the barrios, who felt identified in the music urban dembow artists were creating. From the song also came the popular greeting phrase, “que lo que wawawa.” Now you know why your friends say it when they call you.
This is an important word to know if you are a queer person visiting Santo Domingo. There are several nightlife options in Santo Domingo that are for LGBTQ people. The word “cuir” is derived from “queer” and have the same meaning: an umbrella term for non cis-heterosexual folk. So, if you’re queer and looking for community in DR, hit up those cuir bars!
Did your friend drink too much that night despite your constant warnings to take it slow and drink water? Do you want to rub it in their face? For accountability purposes, I recommend the Dominican slang phrase “manga ahi.” Similar to “coje ahi”, it means “that’s what you get.”
You and your friends decide to round out the weekend by having an easy beach day at Juan Dolio. You’re on duty with your friend for the liquor and food run, and you pull up to La Sirena, or El Supermercado Bravo, or anywhere that sells snacks and food. You are taken aback by men in dark green uniforms and combat boots, but what strikes you is the huge rifle in their hands.
When you’re chilling in DR and see a man usually dressed in dark green and holding a rifle in front of an establishment, remember that is the guachiman and he’s just the security guard. Guachiman is another fun (and old) dominicanismo for “watchman.”
Your friends really want to give you an authentic experience of the Dominican Republic, so instead of driving to Juan Dolio, you all board la guagua instead. Guagua is a commonly used word in Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries for “bus.” The guagua is not just any bus– it’s an experience. It shows you the day-to-day lives of locals transporting to and from their cities for affordable prices. Suddenly a simple beach trip becomes an entire cultural experience.
Here are some theories as to the origins of the word “guagua.” One that stands out is that it may originate from the languages of enslaved Nigerians. “Awawa” means to ‘move quickly’ in the Efik language.
Fun Fact: Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Canary Islands (Spain) are the only places in the world where buses are referred to as guaguas (source).
One of our favorite things about the guagua ride over to the beach is the bustling conversations that occur on the ride. Folks who seem to be strangers are able to connect over things you wouldn’t think to ever start a conversation about with someone in NYC. There is a name for this enriching yet casual chatting you’re overhearing… “chercha.” It refers to informal dialogue with no defined trajectory. It’s often funny and entertaining. You might hear a lot of chercha on the radio while riding the bus, on Tik Tok by Dominican influencers, or in a conversation being had in a loud and lively manner among people.
You finally get to Juan Dolio, when your friend says “hay un tro’ de gente aqui!” In Dominican, “un tro” is used as a unit of measurement to denote “a huge amount of.” Similar to New York City’s “mad”, it simply means a lot! My suspicions are that “un tro’” is adjacent to “a truckload”… but what do I know?
Adjacent to “un tro’” but not at all the same, is “motete.” Motete is a unit of measurement as well, but the thing it measures is very specific… it measures random things. So for example, you’re at the beach and your friend asks you to grab the sunblock from her bag. You unzip the bag to find a motete of items: sunblock, a lighter, a condom, a small bottle of Brugal, a nail clipper, a spoon, a medium sized box of corn flei (?), a Metrocard (??), and a clown nose. That my friends, is a motete. Because what the heck is all of that?
Given that logic, a motete cannot be a collection of non-random items. So if the bag had just had sunblock, sunglasses, a towel, and a chapstick, it would not be a motete. Use wisely.
There’s this one word your friends keep calling you- ‘more. Someone has even texted you it before, and your initial response was “more what?”
Pronounced “more-eh”, this sweet term of endearment is akin to “mi amor” or “my love.” Used in a sentence: This was a lengthy article, so thank you for reading, more.
So friends, remember our blog post next time you’re having the time of your life in the Dominican Republic— hopefully you’ll feel a little less lost than I did when conversing with new friends in a different country. Hasta luego!
About the Author
Greisy Genao (she/they) is a poet and filmmaker from Queens, NY with a BA in English Writing and Film Studies. As a Fulbright U.S. Student Researcher, she has conducted research on Dominican folklore and film in the Dominican Republic. Their award-winning film work has been celebrated across the Dominican diaspora and praised at film festivals from Santo Domingo to New York City. Greisy has also produced “Stories of the Diaspora,” a series dedicated to capturing the narratives of multi-generational Dominicans in New York. As a multidisciplinary storyteller, Greisy seeks to explore and honor the connection between folklore and nostalgia as it appears in the hyphenated Dominican experience.
Greisy’s published work includes: anthologies “Women of Eves Garden”, “Ritmo Que Late” from the Dominican Writers Association, and Sarah Lawrence College’s “Lumina Journal.”
About Dominican Abroad
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