Argentine Spanish and The Lunfardo Trap

By Tracey Chandler

Learn a little Lunfardo, the key to understanding Argentine Spanish and make your stay in Argentina a little less confusing.Spanish is the same in any Spanish speaking country, right? Wrong! Every single Spanish-speaking country in the world has its own dialect, abides by its own grammar rules, adopts different verbs for different purposes and is sometimes even pronounced differently from place to place.

In fact, Argentines refer to their native language as Castellano and not Spanish, harkening back to the days of the Spanish colonization. However, what is even more baffling for the Argentine visitor, whether on vacation, interning of studying in the country, is the Lunfardo.

What is Lunfardo?

Lunfardo emerged among the lower classes in Buenos Aires in the second half of the 19th century. It is closely tied to the tango culture and can be linked back to the criminal underworld, as it was a great way for prisoners to communicate without being understood by the guards. As Lunfardo developed, it began to incorporate groups of words taken from other immigrant groups, cowboys and African slaves.

A wide range of the Lunfardo vocabulary is clearly derived from the Italian language. For example, the word “mina,” which is regularly used to mean “woman,” comes from the Italian word “femmina.” “Fiaca,” which Argentines use to describe “laziness,” comes from the Italian word “fiacco.”

Vesre is a characteristic feature of Lunfardo. It is a kind of wordplay, formed by switching around the syllables of the words. For example, in Lunfardo, “café”(coffee) becomes “feca” and “pizza” becomes “zapi,” which also happens to be the name of a major pizza chain in Argentina. Perhaps the most famous vesre example is “telo,” which is the reverse of “hotel” and actually describes a special kind of hotel in Argentina where couples go to when they want to spend the night together and, for whatever reason, cannot do that in their own homes.

Why is it important to learn a little Lunfardo when visiting Argentina?

Understanding Lunfardo definitely takes time. Many expats living in Argentina still find it difficult to follow some of the conversations when surrounded by locals because Lunfardo is everywhere and it doesn’t always make any natural sense.

However, even as a tourist, intern, volunteer, or student, learning a little Lunfardo will make your visit to Argentina a lot less confusing and a lot more fun. Joining in with Argentine banter is all part of the journey, so take the time to stock up on your Lunfardo knowledge with our helpful Lunfardo crash course below…

What are some of the most popular terms of phrases used by Argentines on a regular basis?

1. Afanar: to steal (for example: Me afané el cenicero del restaurant… translates to: I’ve stolen the ashtray from the restaurant).
2. Bancar: to wait, to stick with someone at a bad time, or to help someone out (for example: Si no tenés plata, yo te banco… translates to: If you don’t have money, I will lend it to you.)
3. Boliche: a disco or a bar
4. Bondi: bus
5. Boludo or Boluda for a girl: a vulgar way of calling someone stupid (however, amongst friends, particularly teenagers, the phrase is used affectionately and after almost every other word!)
6. Bronca: anger (for example: ¡Perdí la billetera, que bronca!… translates to: I lost my wallet; I’m furious!)
7. Chabón: a guy, a dude – only ever used to refer to men
8. Che: perhaps the most popular and most famous Argentine phrase, this word is used as a way of addressing someone, the equivalent in English being something like, “Hey, man,” although it is common to follow the word “che” with the person’s name too.
9. Copado/a: someone or something cool
10. Embole: very boring, dull, bore
11. Finde: the weekend, a shortened version in Argentina of the Spanish “fin de semana”
12. Gil: a derogatory phrase used to refer to someone who is not very clever, or a bit of a fool
13. Hincha pelotas: is used to describe an annoying person or situation  and is particularly popular with men when they describe the “nagging” women in their lives
14. Joder: this verb can translate to meaning to bother someone, intensely aggravate someone or to joke around, so be careful to use it when appropriate (and remember that in Spain, this verb is a vulgar form of the verb meaning to have sex with someone
15. Mina: woman
16. Pelotudo: a stronger version of “boludo/a,” this word is used more as a nasty remark.
17. Quilombo: a mess (for example: Mi habitación es un quilombo. No entres… translates to: My bedroom is a total mess. Don’t come in.)
18. Rayado: an adjective to describe someone who is in a bad mood
19. Re: literally translating to “very”, this is a fascinating word which can precede any adjective or adverb in order to accentuate the meaning to the max (for example: Esto es re copado… translates to: This is very cool.)
20. Trucho: someone or something that is fake or of low qualit
21. Vaquita: describes what happens when a group of people collect money to buy something together (for example: Hagamos una vaquita para comprarle el regalo de cumpleaños… translates to: Let’s collect some money to buy her birthday present.)
22. Y pico: literally meaning “and something,” this phrase is used when you want to describe something that is not exact (for example: What time is it?… generates an answer like: Son las cinco y pico… which translates to: It’s five ‘o’ clock and something.)
23. Yuyos: herbs and herbal teas (for example: Si te duele la panza, tomate un té de yuyos… translates to: If your stomach hurts, drink a herbal tea.)
24. Zafar: is a verb meaning to skip a bad situation or to get away with something (for example: Zafé en el examen, aprobé sin estudiar… translates to: I passed the exam without studying.)
25. Zarpado: is used to describe something outstandingly good, but it can also be used to describe someone who is disrespectful or has crossed over the line, so make sure that you are never accused of being zarpado!

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One thought on “Argentine Spanish and The Lunfardo Trap

  1. Pingback: 5 Reasons to Take Your Gap Year in Argentina | ConnectingWorlds Blog

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