TUESDAY TRAVELER - 18 February 2014 - US Slang - Not For Traveling

I think this week's Tuesday Traveler will bring a smile to many faces.  Some of you may even be able to personally relate.

Give me your feedback and add some slang words or phrases of your own.
Like I've mentioned in previous blog postings, all cultures have their own slang.  Some slang (including hand gestures) is internationally recognized, while others are not.  This week we're going to talk about some US slang that does not translate the same in foreign countries; some don't even translate in different parts of the US.

During a trip to Panama I was greeted by another tourist with a warm "hello".  Even though I detected a European accent I responded with a "how you doing?"  The guy looked at me, smiled, and said he was fine.  Then with an inquisitive look he asked me this simple but intriguing question, "Why do Americans say 'how are you doing' instead of 'hello'"? 

I told him I don't know and couldn't answer the question.  He continued by saying, he gets the same response from many Americans and one guy told him it was a slang for hello.  Thinking back to how I've been greeted by other Americans, he was right.

Speaking of greetings, let's turn to salutations.

For many of us, when we've finished a conversation, visit, telephone call, or whenever we're leaving a group we sometimes say "talk to you later" or shortened to "later". 

I was talking on the telephone to a friend of mine from Argentina and told her "talk to you later" before hanging up.  A couple of days later she called me and said "I thought you were going to call back?  You said 'talk to you later' so I waited for your return call".  I've since changed to a simple "bye".

Let's turn to a few slang phrases that revolve around parties and adventures, but surely don't translate well.  We'll start with stuff you may have said to a foreign friend and they thought "what the hell is he talking about".

So you're at a party and have been drinking, to excess I might add, and talking to your friend.  During the conversation you say something like "man, I'm tore up" or "I'm getting messed up" and they look at you funny; but because of the alcohol you don't notice. 

The next day you meet with the same friend for lunch.  Sitting down you say, "I got really wrecked last night"... ; your friend asks what happened.  You knew he was with you until you caught a cab back your hotel and don't understand his question.  After a few minutes of conversation you realize that he thought you were involved in an auto accident in the taxi.

You try to explain that you were talking about being drunk.  Your friend then asks if that's what you were talking about when you said you were "tore up, and messed up"? 

Yep, the US slang for drinking to excess (tore up, messed up, wrecked, etc) doesn't mean the same in a foreign country as it does back home.

Another thing that doesn't translate well and definitely should not be used in an airport or any place where there is a large crowd is "that was the (or a) bomb". 

In the US this could mean something was good or bad.  For example that dance move was "the bomb" (good) or that movie was "a bomb" (bad).  In today's world, the single word bomb can be taken out of context and could very well get you into plenty of trouble; don't say it.

Other than in the US, "Dude that was hairy" doesn't mean something was dangerous.  Being "bent out of shape" does not mean you're upset, and "bread" does not translate to money.

Have fun when you're traveling abroad but remember to use common words and phrases in the proper context.  Hell, the same thing can be said when you're traveling to different areas within you own country.

Until next time,

PS.  Send me slang words or phrases you've heard in your travels (or at home) that don't translate well.


  1. In France the greeting is "comment sa va "? That literally means how are you going? The response is"bien, et vous?" which means -Good and you?

    1. Thanks for reading and taking the time to share some international slang with us. It's always cool to see how similar some slang is between countries.