Here at ICO, we hope that you’ll learn just how much fun Spanish can be.  Like any language, Spanish is full of colorful slang expressions.  On Fridays, we’ll be teaching you a combination of useful everyday words and fun common colloquialisms.


If you know the word onda, you probably know it means ‘wave.’  But it’s used in tons and tons of colloquial expressions.  If you think about onda meaning something more like ‘vibe’, these expressions will be more intuitive.

¿Qué onda?                                 What’s up?

You’ll hear this all the time, not only as a greeting, but in the phrase a ver qué onda which means something like “I’m going to check it out.”  For example, vamos a lo de Pablo a ver qué onda “we’re going to Pablo’s to see what’s up” or “we’re going to check out what’s happening at Pablo’s.”

buena onda / mala onda            cool / uncool

Again, think in terms of good or bad vibes.  In fact, most of these expressions came into use in the ’60s and are probably calques (word-for-word translations) of English-language slang.  If you meet someone cool, es buena onda.  Or you can say me gusta su onda “I like his/her vibe” for a more fun way of saying me gusta su forma de ser “I like his/her personality.”  Something that’s mala onda (“bad vibes”) is lame, boring, or otherwise unpleasant.

agarrar la onda                        get the hang of, get the gist of, understand

Literally “to grab the wave / vibe” – this phrase means to get the hang of doing something, or to get the gist of a conversation. For example, al principio no podia hablar español, pero ya agarré la onda.  At first I couldn’t speak Spanish, but now I’ve gotten the hang of it.  Or someone might ask you, agarraste la onda? (“catch my drift?”).  Or if you’ve spaced out, you might hear ¡agarra la onda!  “get with it!”

seguir la onda                        agree, play along with

If your friends are deciding what to do, and you’re the only one who doesn’t want to go dancing, you should probably seguir la onda (“go along with it”) and go anyway.  If your sister tells someone with a straight face that you work as a rodeo clown in your spare time, you can seguir la onda (“play along with the joke”) and talk about the time you almost got gored by a bull.  (¡Qué mala onda!)

fuera de onda                          out of touch
perder la onda
                        stop being cool

If you dress like my grandmother, you’re fuera de onda.  Similarly, something that used to be cool but isn’t any more ya perdió la onda (“lost its onda“).

tirar (la) onda                          flirt with, hit on

If you catch someone staring at you, they’re tirando (la) onda.  If your friend is treating you differently all of a sudden, you can ask, ¿me estás tirando onda? (“are you flirting with me?”)

We’re sure you’ll hear other phrases using onda as well, but these are some of the most frequently used.  Ya agarraste la onda?  Feel free to post questions or comments about other phrases!


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