Even with Croatian blood and living in the country now for the past three years, I’ve found that learning the Croatian language is no easy feat. Most of the time people still laugh at me when I try to speak full sentences. However, I sometimes fool locals into thinking I’m a native speaker by mastering a few Croatian phrases.
Not only are Croatian phrases and slang crucial to understanding everyday conversation, they are essential to understanding the culture. Each region has distinct Croatian slang with regional pronunciation. There are certain phrases like “fjaka” or “pomalo” that are used more often in the Dalmatian region, while “cugati” is used in Zagreb.
While Croatia is just starting to open its borders back up to other EU nationals and international travelers, now would be a good time to learn these Croatian phrases for when you can visit next!
Croatian Phrases: A to Ž
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This phrase is used throughout Croatia for almost any scenario. It’s similar to saying “Omg!” when you are scared or excited. However, it can also mean “ugh” if you are tired and not in the mood. For this particular scenario, you would say, “Ajme ne dam mi se!”, which means “ugh, I am not in the mood!”
Bura is the infamous Northern wind in Croatia that everyone complains about in Dalmatia. Typically you’ll know it’s Bura when it is sunny out but there’s still a bone-chilling breeze in the air. There’s a joke that when Dalmatian people come to Zagreb in winter, where it is much colder, they’ll always say, “oh this is nothing, you should see how cold it is when the bura is blowing!”
This slang word from the Zagreb area and means “to drink alcohol”. It’s popular to use among the younger generation around Zagreb, especially the bar regulars. For example: “Idemo cugati!” means, “lets go drink!”
Češnjak means Garlic, which is one of the building blocks of Croatian cuisine. It is used in nearly early meal, except desert. Croatians also believe in the healing benefits of garlic, such as eating raw garlic for an extra immunity boost.
Ćakula is a word, which translates to having a conversation or talk with someone. It could be about any topic, but is usually referred to a casual setting. “Ćakula na kavi” refers to having a conversation over coffee specifically, because we all know Croatians love to talk while sipping espresso!
Dišpet is a Dalmatian slang word, which translates to “despite”. If someone tells you cannot do something, this means you’re going to do it despite them, or prove them wrong. It is especially well known as “Splitski dišpet”.
Džabe is a word that is used in Croatia and throughout Balkan countries, which means cheap, or next to nothing. Let’s say you find something on sale,, you would say, “Džabe!” indication you scored a good deal. And we all know how much Croats love a solid bargin!
Đ: Đe si?
This Croatian phrase translates to “where are you”, but is similar to saying “what’s up?” Most of Croatia pronounces this GE- DE-JE SI but in Dubrovnik, where words are often shortened, it is pronounced like “JES-SI”. However you pronounce it, this is a casual greeting when you see a friend or someone you pass on the street.
Evala is a common slang word that is used in Split specifically. It is similar to saying “great” or “good job!” It refers specifically to a situation when you approve or praise someone or some things.
Fjaka is one of the most popular Dalmatian slang word, which bears no direct translation. Instead, it refers to a state of bliss and relaxation one feels while being in the sun. Fjaka is often associated with the stereotype that Dalmatian people are lazy, but this isn’t true. It rather refers to the purest form of zen, when you are living in the moment and unbothered by the rest of the world. Usually on the sea or at the beach, of course.
Gušt is a Dalmatian slang word that means simple pleasure. It is usually used in reference to many of the pleasures Dalmatians love most: barbecue with friends, laying on the beach, fishing, or drinking. Yes, Dalmatians know how to enjoy the simple things in life so much that they have a word for it!
It’s no secret that Croats have very…colorful swear words. There are too many to fill this post, but we’ll start with “huncut”. This Croatian slang word comes from the German word “hundsfott”, which means “bastard“. It is used for a person who is malicious, or doing bad things sneaky.
Dalmatian slang word that refers to someone who is fascinated into someone or something, or crazy in loved with someone or something. Example: „Infišan u Hajduka.“ – Fascinated/in love with Hajduk footbal club.
The only match for Bura is Jugo, the Southern wind that blows in Croatia, especially in coastal parts. In contrast to bura, jugo wind is associated with rainy weather. Most Croats will blame their bad mood or fatigue on jugo to this day. This is especially common in Dubrovnik, where the former republic postponed major decisions until the gloomy Jugo weather cleared.
Klošar is perhaps one of my favorite Croatian slang words. A term used throughout Croatia, this is basically a fancy way of calling someone a village drunk. A typical Klošar is usually a man 40+ who drinks beer outside the grocery store, and has minimal life aspirations. Although Croatia has its fair share of Klošars, they are generally harmless to the population.
Along the same thread as the above, a “lero” is a term for a nobody that thinks they are a somebody. This Dalmatian slang word is used for people that think they have the right to say or do whatever they want. However, the rest of the village would consider this person to be foolish and illegitimate.
Lj is one of the hardest letters to pronounce, but you’ll have to learn it to declare your love to a Croat. Ljubav is the Croatian word for love, and ljubavi means “my love”. Croatians have a lot of love to give, and use ljubav for many different type of love. This applies to love for your family, partner, or homeland. Croatians may come across as tough, but are actually never afraid to express passion and love.
Moskar is a Croatian word for the Dubrovnik area, which means “hand fan”. In the 1950’s, all the high-profile and classy ladies could be seen carrying around a fancy Moskar on a hot summer day. Today, Moskar is the name of the regional Dubrovnik magazine, which features notable locals. I even made the cover a couple years ago!
Nonvelendo is a Dalmatian slang word, which means “unintentionally“. This is one of many words that Croats borrowed from the Italians. In Dalmatia especially, the regional accent sounds very similar to Italian sometimes.
Njoki is how Croatians spell gnocchi, the potato-shaped pasta known to Italy and other parts of South American. Every grocery store is always stacked with lots of Njoki near the dairy section. Many Croatian meals mix njoki in with goulash, meat, or they may make it homemade. To read more about Croatian foods, click here.
Oprosti is the Croatian phrase for saying “I’m sorry”. Pronounce OPE-PROST-TI you would say this also similar to “excuse me”. In a more formal setting you would say, oprostite, pronounced OPE-PROST-TE-TAE. Make sure you say it loud enough and with confidence, or no one will acknowledge you! (Learned this one the hard way several times).
Without a doubt my favorite word in Croatian is pomalo. This directly translates to “take it easy”, which is usually said when you say goodbye to someone. You could also say “pomalo” to someone who is stressed and in a rush.
However, the world pomalo is indicative of the Croatian way of life: taking it easy, sitting for hours over a cup of coffee, and enjoying the little things in life. Pomalo is about embracing a slower way of life, which is more relevant now than ever. Read more about pomalo living here.
Dalmatians just don’t have enough versions of the word idiot. Similar to Zero, Redikul is the name for the foolish person that every neighborhood or village has. Similar to a class clown, it’s someone that is never taken seriously. In every Dalmatian movie or show, there is always at least one redikul.
“Sudamja” is the name of the celebration of Saint Duje, who is the patron protector of Split. It is held every year on 7th of May, and considered to be one of the most important days to people of Split. As Croatia is a predominantly Catholic country, each city has a patron saint. For example, Saint Blaise is the protector of Dubrovnik, and every February they celebrate him as well.
Šotobraco is a Dalmatian slang word that means “hand in hand”, literally. You would say this when a couple walks down the street holding hands. This word is often used in many Klapa songs, talking about lovers walking Šotobraco. Specifically, there is one song by Vinko Coce, where we talks about wanting to walk one more time with a girl “šotobraco”.
Treseta is an Italian card game that is widely played throughout the Dalmatian coast and islands. Each region has slightly different rules, but generally the card game is the same. Knowing how to play is a right of passage for most Dalmatians, young and old!
Užanca is a slang word from Dubrovnik, which translates to “cultural customs”. This refers to the traditions and practices that are happening specifically in Dubrovnik, such as “Kolenda” on Badnjak, and seaside BBQs. To learn more about customs through Croatia, read this post here.
Vapor is a popular Dalmatian word for a large ship. We usually hear this word in many Dalmatian books and stories about the sea. Especially in klapa songs, we hear vapor in countless songs about the sea.
Ziher is the Zagreb version of saying “for sure” or “definitely”. For example, you would say “Croatia will win this match, ziher!” or “We are going to make money, ziher!”
Pronounced GE-VA-LI, this is the catch-all phrase for any cheers or toast you make in Croatia. It translates to “to life!” or “long live all!” You can also use this as a phrase to say “see you later” or “bye”.