A Non-Webster’s Dictionary of Dominican Words

February 16, 2016

People assumed when we moved to the Dominican Republic that language would be easy for me since my family is Cuban and I spoke Spanish well. I called for a taxi once and could not understand a thing he was saying to me. He hung up on me. So, yeah, it was easier, maybe, but definitely not easy. Dominicans have a Spanish all their own.


Que lo que (sounds like one word and pronounced keh-lo-keh or K-LO-K.)

This phrase is to Dominicans what “How you doin'” is to New Yorkers. It is slang so if you’re meeting your girlfriend’s parents you might not want to lead with a “que lo que” unless you want them to think you’re un tiguere.

Which leads us to… 

Tiguere (pronounced tee-gur-eh)

There are no real tigers in the Dominican Republic, well, at least no four-legged feline ones. But there are tigueres. In its essence, a tiguere is a a slick talking, wheeling and dealing, finger snapping, get-it-done kinda guy with – usually – mucho swag but connotation and circumstance are important. If a guy is good with the ladies, he can be a tiguere. If he’s a greasy, player (play-ah), he, too, can be a tiguere. Heck, my two-year-old son who is a bit of a flirt with the ladies is sometimes referred to as a tiguere. In the most general sense, a tiguere is a hustler, baby. I just want you to know.

Dimelo (pronounced dee-meh-lo)

Another slang greeting, dimelo can be used for “What’s up” or  “What’s happening.” Literally translated, dimelo means “Tell it to me.” You can use this as a response to que lo que or you can lead with it.


Vaina (pronounced Bye-nah)

How do I explain this one? You can use vaina to mean a thing… or a problem… or stuff. It can also mean crap, damn, shit… basically anything. It has a positive connotation. It can also have a negative connotation. Yeah, it’s that kind of word. You can drop it in anywhere and it will work. In fact, if you’re ever stuck for a word, insert vaina. It’ll probably work. Let’s try a few practice sentences:

– Someone says, Me gusta esta vaina with a smile on their face – that means, “I like this shit.”

– Someone says, Que vaina in a problematic tone – that means, “Damn! What a problem.”

– Someone asks, Adonde esta esa vaina – that means, “Where is that thing?”

Got it? Vaina means anything.

Let’s move on…

Por fa (pronounced por-fa)

Dominicans love to abbreviate even the simplest of words. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it is so hot here that even talking makes you sweat and therefore must be boiled down to the bare minimum. Por fa is short-hand for por favor – please. Apparently the last syllable is exhausting to pronounce so just drop it.

Por fi (pronounced por-fee)

My kids have been using this one lately and I doubt they came up with it on their own. It means the same as por fa. See above.


Joven (pronounced ho-ven)

If you know general Spanish you’ll know that joven means a young person. In DR, they use joven in place of calling me “Senora.” So instead of calling me “Miss” they’ll address me as joven – young. Yep. I like that one.

Un chin (pronounced cheen)

Originating from the Taino language, un chin is the Dominican way of saying a little bit. In Spanish class, you learned this as “un poco.”

You know what is not un chin?…

Un jumbo (pronounced jewm-boh)

A jumbo is a big boy beer, a 40 oz. They are served from sub-zero freezers so cold that when they are taken out and meet the hot Caribbean air, a layer of frost forms on it. In weather this hot, there is no point in drinking a small beer. Order un jumbo.

Where do you order un jumbo? Well, funny you should ask. I’ve saved the most important for last…

jumbo at the colmado

Colmado (pronounced kohl-mah-do or F-U-N)

The colmado is a bodega – a corner store – literally found on just about every corner here. I’d go as far as to say that the colmado is the cornerstone of this island, the Spanish Steps of the Dominican Republic. It is a place to sit and watch the world go by, to drink a beer, to meet up with friends, to play dominoes, to buy a can of beans, or a ¼ pound bag of sugar, or an egg (yes, just one). When we moved here we were jokingly told that if the government could run like a colmado, the system would be much more efficient.

Bottle Imagewine glass

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