Home Expat Blogs “Mexicanisms” That All Expats Should Know

“Mexicanisms” That All Expats Should Know

South shore of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Credit: Ric Hendee

The Spanish language has been admired internationally for its romantic way of communicating. It is vast, fun and has a wide variety of expressions that magnify it. But, there are “Mexicanisms” that all expats should know.

Surprisingly, it seems that even with this immense linguistic richness the words are not enough for us and we create our own phrases, words and expressions that we feel transmit our feelings with more clarity and strength. Eventually, with the passing of the time, they become part of the proper and formal language. This part of the language is called idioms. In Mexico the name for idioms is Mexicanisms.

Mexicanisms are expressions that only Mexicans would understand, or people who have lived in Mexico for many years and know the Mexican culture and history well. Their meaning cannot be deduced or translated literally, because if you do, it wouldn’t make sense.

In order to understand the meaning of Mexicanisms, sometimes you need to think in double meaning, be witty in your way of thinking or imagine the context. Otherwise, you would think Mexicans are speaking in Chinese, to say the least.

We Mexicans are known for our creativity in solving things and situations, and when it comes to the Spanish Language we can be very clever, creative and ingenious.

As you can imagine there are thousands of these Mexican expressions and it is virtually impossible to write all of them and explain their meaning. However, we will try to give you the most common ones, but also some of the weirdest ones that you would never imagine exist.

Here is an introduction to this wonderful world of Mexican expressions!

When we have a problem to solve or a situation to deal with, we try to be as thoughtful as possible. To come up with the best solution, we spend time thinking about it until a solution comes to us naturally. For that moment, in Mexico we call it “se me prendió el foco.” When you use this expression, you can imagine yourself in a cartoon when the light bulb turns on as you say “Ahhhh.” That is a Eureka moment and that is the literal meaning of se me prendió el foco.

Here is another example: Sometimes you feel bad and nothing seems to work for you, or in other words, everything is going wrong! You feel blue and have no energy to do a single thing. Or, you feel frustrated and angry because things are not going as you expect. For this situation, we say “me está llevando el tren.” If you hear this spoken, it means that the train is giving you a lift.

The idiom “se lo llevó el tren” goes back to the days when railroads were being built in Mexico in the 19th century. People tried to rush and cross the tracks before the train arrived, but sometimes in their hurry, they were run over. Passenger train travel is for the most part no more in Mexico, but we still keep that expression.

Our language is so rich with colloquialisms, or as we say Mexicanisms, it is important for expats to understand what is being said in Spanish for the different situations we encounter in everyday life. This is just the first in a series we plan to bring you in the coming months.


  1. Thank you for this interesting introductory article about Mexicanisms. Back in the early 80s, I lived in the rural northern part of the state of Puebla, then later in el DF (now CDMX). At the time these Mexican idioms were referred to as modismos (and I think they still are). I wonder if this is due to a geographical or cultural difference in the Spanish language of that area?¡Quién sabe!

    • Hola Dan, Thank you for your comment. We always like to get feedback from our readers. Yes, “modismos” is the general way to refer to all colloquial expressions and this is true in every language. However, you can play with the words and create another modismo by saying “mexicanismo” in order to be more literal in the meaning. We are sure you will enjoy more of this topic in our future blogs. Saludos.


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