Most Puerto Ricans speak both Spanish and English, but they also speak "Puerto Rican," which is a collection of words and phrases unique to the island. If you're planning to visit Puerto Rico, knowing a few of these phrases will help you better entender (understand) the local dialect.
From pickup lines to insults, it's always a good idea to know a little bit of the local flavor when traveling to a new country. You will be able to communicate with, understand, and maybe even surprise the residents of the island by using these phrases correctly in conversation.
Most of these phrases, like all dialectic phrases in Latin America, are pronounced similarly to Spanish, though the particular vocabulary of Puerto Ricans derives from its history and incorporates Taíno and English words as well as some African pronunciations and dialects.
Aquí Hay Gato Encerrado
"Aquí hay gato encerrado" translates to "there is a cat locked up here," but it is used to mean there's something suspicious about a person, situation, or thing. Americans might use the phrase "there's something fishy going on" in the same way. It's used most often in casual conversation and is a good way to add a local joke to your interaction.
Esos Son Otros Veinte Pesos
"Esos son otros veinte pesos" literally translates to "that's another twenty dollars," but it means someone else is describing an entirely different situation than what they're supposedly discussing. Americans would use the phrase "that's a different story" or "that's a whole new ballgame" in the same way.
Juan del Pueblo
"Juan del pueblo" translates to "John from town" in English, which is similar to the American phrase "Joe Blow" in that they are both used to mean the average person. You might want to steer clear of saying this phrase, but you'll likely hear it in conversation. You can say "Joe Schmoe" or "Joe Blow" and Puerto Ricans will likely understand.
Llamar Para Atrás
"Llamar para atrás" means to call someone back, but literally translates in English to mean "to call backward." You won't likely say this in a passing conversation, but might leave it at the end of a voicemail. Puerto Rican businesses will appreciate the gesture, and often say it to one another in the same way Americans say "call me back."
"Ni pa" is a slang way of saying "no way," but is likely a cut-down version of "ni para nada" which means "not for nothing." In the same way that Americans would say "I won't do this for nothing," ni para nada has an implied meaning of needing something valuable in exchange for doing something.
Additionally, "ni pa" can be used to express a disinterest in doing something altogether as in "Ni pa, I'm not jumping off that cliff into the ocean!" It can also be used to express or amazement if said in a positive manner as in "Ni pa, I can't believe you built that yourself!"
Por Allí Para Abajo
"Por allí para abajo" literally translates to "over there straight down," but it means straight ahead. This will be good to know when asking for directions, especially if you're speaking Spanish. It might slip into conversation, so be prepared to write it down as simply "go straight" in whatever direction they're pointing.
Ser Como Jamón del Sandwich
The literal translation of "ser como jamón del sandwich" is "to be like the ham in the sandwich," but it means the same thing as the American idiom "being the third wheel" in a social situation. You can say this as a joke (or seriously) if you feel like you're being an imposition to a Puerto Rican couple to ease any tension. To put it another way: people might like ham in their sandwich, but you're just getting between the bread.
Tomar el Pelo
"Toma mi pelo" literally translates to "you take my hair," but the English equivalent is "pulling my leg." English equivalent: pulling one's leg. If you don't believe the story a local is telling you because it just seems too ridiculous to be true, say to them "ni pa, toma mi pelo" to really impress them with your local knowledge.
"Tú sabes" means "you know" in English and is used in exactly the same way the phrase is used by Americans in casual conversation. You might say "That beach is the best, you know" or "Tú sabes, I am really enjoying this conversation."
Although "ser patriota" is a common phrase whose literal translations means "to be a patriot," men in Puerto Rico use this slang phrase to talk about a woman's breasts being at attention. Feel free to shoot a dirty look or talk to a person if he says this in a condescending manner as it's considered rude in Puerto Rican and American cultures alike.