Cheli – the coolest 1980s slang in Spain


Right after the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, a hedonistic cultural wave was born in Madrid: the widely known Movida Madrileña. Censorship gave way to transgression and freedom of speech, the punk aesthetic and the use of recreational drugs became more and more popular among youngsters, and a new slang took over this generation: Cheli jargon.

Movida madrileña

The Movida meant the emergence of a new identity. But would Cheli be defined as a language? It was an informal chatty way of speaking that included provocative words and expressions. It was the language of a cultural revolution. Its vocabulary range was centered around poverty and marginalization, nightlife and friendship. Amazingly some of those terms were accepted by the Royal Spanish Academy and added to the Dictionary due to their popularity.


Cheli slang was also the language of a whole generation of artists; you can find hundreds of examples in songs, magazines and movies. The film director Pedro Almodóvar portrayed the “messiness of freedom”, becoming an icon of the Movida movement. Cheli slang was like the soundtrack of most of his movies. The most outstanding writers, for their part, used to meet up and discuss about the new and revolutionary cultural wave. Among printed media, magazines as La luna de Madrid (The Madrid moon) or Madrid Me Mata (Madrid Kills Me) contributed undoubtedly to the creation of this common identity.

movida madrileña icons

A slang with its own dictionary

Another important representative outside the artistic world of the Movida Madrileña was journalist Francisco Umbral. In 1983 he published the first and only ‘Cheli Dictionary’ collating all of these ‘generational terms’.
I´d dare any Spanish speaker to attempt to decode this next paragraph:

“Un maca entra en una discoteca, usa cazadora de plástico negra, melenas, y gafas de sol máximas. El maca se acerca a la barra y pide un cubata, trinca el vaso y le pasa las pelas al camareta, se acerca “one moment” a un progre y le pide costo, que dispone de pastorra loca, el progre le dice que sí con ese careto, y que no le pasa. El maca se bebe el pelotazo y se larga a hacer el travolta”.

Did you understand a word?
Don´t worry, you can find an awesome English glossary from the New York Times including some fundamental Cheli expressions for you to get around in Madrid successfully.


Cojonudo: Better than cool

Me mola: Love it!
Alucino: Can’t believe it!
Paso: Couldn’t care less
Juerguista: Party animal
Cutre: Seedy, lacking class.
Sometimes used affectionately, as in, “Sometimes the most cutre places serve the best tapas.”

Ligar: To pick up someone
Hortera: Flashy, tacky, kitschy
Fashion: Trendy, obsessed with the latest.
Used as an adjective, not necessarily related to clothing, as in, “The people who hang out in Chueca are really fashion.”

Gente: Beautiful people
Pijo: A posh and conservative type, as in, “That party at the golf club was crawling with pijos.”

By using Cheli as any other slang, the speakers wanted precisely to stand out from the crowd, i.e. from the old fashioned Spanish society. And they achieved it: In those decades, Cheli speakers became the “coolest” people. Today, despite the fact that quite a lot of words are still in use, Cheli expressions are not so “guay” and “fashion” anymore.

Written by Ana Baudot Morcillo – Journalist and Social media manager.
Communication Trainee, DG TRAD – Terminology Coordination Unit


  • Diccionario Cheli, Francisco Umbral. Barcelona, Grijalbo, 1983
  • Diccionario y Traductor lexicoon – Sinónimos de cheli, definición y traducciones de cheli…. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 October 2016].
  • Centro Virtual Cervantes – [ONLINE] Available at: Accessed on 25/10/2016 [Accessed 25 October 2016].
  • York Times. 2007 [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 25 October 2016].