The wonderful thing about Spanish is that, just like football, it changes wherever you go. You might consider yourself an expert, both in the language and the beautiful game, only to find yourself completely lost during a conversation if you decide to join a group of locals to watch el derbi or el clásico.
As many who’ve taken a Spanish class know, the differences between the words and phrases used by Latin Americans and Spaniards can be quite striking. That’s true in football as well. In some cases, terms like caño, chilena, vaselina and hinchada have crossed borders and are broadly used on both sides of the Atlantic. Other times, though, the local history and the development of the sport, combined with the rise of iconic players in these regions have created a culture of itself, becoming part of the everyday language.
In Spain, football terms transport us to bullfighting rings, battlefields and theatre stages. Although some of these phrases have been around for ages, others have been coined in recent years. One of those responsible for the more recent development in football vocabulary in Spain was Andrés Montes, a radio and TV commentator of immense creativity, who came up with nicknames and phrases that have since become famous worldwide, like tiki-taka or jugón (an extraordinary player).
Here are some of the terms you’ll hear Spaniards passionately discussing in bars, at work and during family dinners, in what will probably look to foreigners as a heated fight, but is in fact just our way of enjoying fútbol.
Bicicleta (una): If one knows the meaning of bicicleta (bicycle), they might be inclined to think this is a reference to the bicycle kick. But that’s actually called a chilena. Una bicicleta in Spain refers to a specific kind of dribbling, in which the player moves both legs around the ball without touching it, with the intention of hiding which side he’s going to kick the ball to.
Chaquetero (un): From the word chaqueta (jacket), Spanish people use chaquetero to describe someone who will change its jacket (or in other words, their allegiance), to whichever is most convenient. When it comes to football, the term is used for players who frequently change teams just because of money. When one says chaquetero in Spain, two of the first names that come to mind are Luis Figo, who moved from Barcelona to Real Madrid in 2000, and Luis Enrique, who joined Barça from Real Madrid in 1996.
In a similar fashion, supporters often criticize players throughout matches by calling them mercenarios (mercenaries), a pejorative way to describe those who don’t have a loyalty to the team.
Chicharro (un): Chicharro is thought to come from the word chicharrón, a dish made from pork. In football terms, though, it’s used as a synonym for “goal”, when the strike is particularly good or really impressive.
This is not the only reference to food: a lucky goal that lacks technical quality or beauty is often called a churro, a sweet pastry made of fried dough.
Chupón (un) / chupona (una): From the verb chupar (to lick), chupón is a player who will not pass the ball, but instead constantly attempts to dribble and score in an individual effort.
Cola de vaca (una): Literally “cow’s tail”, cola de vaca is used to describe a feint in which an attacking player controls the ball with his/her back to the defender, feints to one side, then turns around to the opposite side.
Empalme (un): From the verb empalmar (to join two things together), empalme is commonly used to describe the act of kicking a ball in the air towards goal, before it’s had the chance to touch the ground.
Farolillo rojo (el): Farolillo rojo literally means “red lantern”, but in football it’s a term used to refer to the bottom team in a league. Historically, trains hung a red lantern in their last wagon to indicate that it was, in fact, the last and none had derailed during the journey.
Although farolillo rojo is quite poetic, the bottom team is also commonly called colista, from the word cola (line): “end of the list”.
Fuera de juego (un): In Spanish, fuera de juego means “out of the game”, our way of calling that the player is offside.
Hacer la cama: Literally meaning “to make the bed”, hacer la cama is a foul often committed while two players compete for a ball in the air. As one player attempts to head the ball, the opposing player bends over, forcing the other to fall on top of him/her.
Línea medular (la): The term medular (marrow) is a reference to the spine, the core of a team that holds it together. In football, it is used to talk about the midfielders, the line of players in the centerfield.
Pañolada (una): In bullfighting, white handkerchiefs (pañuelos) are used at the end, once the animal has died, to show the support for the bullfighter and to ask the president of the bullring to reward him for his feat. In football, though, white handkerchiefs are used to protest the way a team is playing and, most commonly, the decisions made by either the manager or the president of the team.
The pañolada, or the waving of white pañuelos, is considered a classier way of protesting than hurling chants against the team’s own players, and is most common amongst older supporters and in stadiums with an older traditions. Often, the pañolada is combined with whistling.
Paquete (un/ una): Literally, paquete means “package”, but it doesn’t mean a player is “the whole package”. On the contrary, the word paquete is used in the Spanish sport world to describe a player who lacks technical abilities, constantly loses the ball and makes silly mistakes. All in all, a paquete is a really bad player.
Pared (una): In Spanish, a pared is a “wall”, although in football, the term is used to describe a quick combination of one or more passes between two players to lose defenders and advance towards goal. The idea is that this kind of passing and receiving looks a bit like kicking the ball against the wall.
Pase de la muerte (el): Pase de la muerte (pass of death) is a play in which a player outruns the defenders to reach the touchline. Once the player reaches the end line, he/she passes back to another teammate, who comes running from behind towards goal. The receiving player is normally alone and in a perfect position to score.
Piscinazo (un): From the word piscina (swimming pool), piscinazo is used to describe the act of jumping into the water and violently hitting the surface. You guessed right: in football vocabulary, piscinazo means diving, and we do in fact share the same body language to illustrate the action.
Pichichi (el/ la): Award that honors the league’s top goal scorer. It’s named after Rafael Moreno Aranzadi, known as Pichichi, who scored many goals during the 1910s and 1920s for his only team, Athletic Club.
Porra (una): In Spanish day-to-day language, a porra is either a stick or a special kind of churro (fried dough), but in the world of football, it has two additional meanings. It is, along with the caño, a way to say “nutmeg”. But it’s also a sweepstake fans play before games, in which they put money towards a common prize that’ll go to the person able to guess the final score correctly.
Salir a por uvas: Literally, “to go out for grapes”. The phrase is commonly used to describe a play in which a goalkeeper goes out to trap the ball in a sloppy way, usually providing the attacking team with an opportunity to score.
Tangana (una): Another way to describe a fight between players or staff.
Testarazo (un): The word testa (head) comes from Latin, which greatly influences in Spanish. Although it’s not common in modern Spain, a number of words have derived from testa, including testarazo, a powerful header that usually ends in a goal.
Tijereta (una): A variation of the word tijera (scissor), the tijereta is just that: the scissor kick. Often described as half a bicycle kick, the player not only hits the ball in the air, but does so by doing a quick change of legs in the process.
Zaguero (el) / zaguera (la): From the word zaga (back), the zagueros are the players in the defense. Depending on the formation, the term can be used to refer to the center-backs and sometimes even the holding midfielder.
Zambombazo (un): The term zambombazo is used to describe a really powerful shot, often unstoppable. It comes from the word zambomba, a kind of rustic drum.
Zamora (el): The award given to the goalkeeper that has conceded the fewest goals throughout the regular season. It is named after the legendary Ricardo Zamora, an amazing goalkeeper who played during the 1920s. The Zamora Award was established in 1959.
Did you know the word tiki-taka was popularized by Spanish broadcaster Andrés Montes during the 2006 World Cup? Although it had previously been used in the Spanish football language, it was during the match between Spain and Tunisia that Montes used this phrase to describe the precise passing displayed by La Roja. In the following years, the term would become the signature style of both Pep Guardiola’s Barça and the Spanish National team.