It began as a whisper among prisoners, homesick immigrants and some of the first tangeros, but lunfardo, or Buenos Aires slang has now permeated popular culture to the extent that porteños of all ages and social classes use its thousands of words and phrases. Much lunfardo is accompanied by hand gestures, a true porteño shows no emotion without waving their hands around, and can be roughly divided into categories regarding the most important aspects of Argentine life. But how can you master the art of Argentine slang?
- Saying hello. –Che is the word Argentines use to call each other, a bit like ‘hey’ in English, and is usually used at the start of a sentence. It is often followed by boludo, which can mean friend, mate or idiot, depending on the context.
- Booze and partying. There are lunfardo words for life’s essentials: morfi – food, birra – beer, pucho – cigarettes, boliche – nightclub and bondi – bus. Perhaps you might wait for the bondi as you smoke a pucho, and think about the birra you’re about to have with your morfi, before going to a boliche.
- Girls and boys. Mina, pibe and chabón are slang for boys and girls. A male can be a pibe, or a chabón, a female a mina, piba or chabóna.
- Being cool. If someone refers to you as a grosso/a, capo/a or copado/a you should definitely not be offended, these words mean a person is cool and are the highest of compliments in lunfardo.
- Making excuses. Tengo fiaca literally translates to ‘I have laziness’ and is often used as an excuse to get out of engagements. Another useful word is colgado/a, which means flaky, and me colgué means ‘I flaked,’ another acceptable excuse as to why you didn’t do something.
- Disaster. In the early 1900s, quilombo was used to refer to Argentine whorehouses; nowadays the term means mess or disaster. ¡Es un quilombo! is slang for: ‘It’s a total mess’. This will still raise the eyebrows of some grannies on the block though.
- Flirting. The art of chamuyo or smooth-talking, is a skill that seems to come naturally to most porteño men. Useful related phrases are: sos un chamuyero – ‘you’re a smooth-talker’ or dejá de chamuyarme – ‘stop trying to fool me/chat me up’. Other useful flirting phrases include tirar onda which means to flirt of send someone good vibes, and touch and go, a phrase for a one-night stand or casual sexual relationship.
- Balls. A lot of lunfardo relates to a man’s balls, yet men and women alike refer to their pelotas or bolas with phrases such as rompe bolas – ball breaker or hincha pelotas – a ball itcher, or someone annoying. ¡Que hincha pelotas! translates literally to ‘how you make my balls itch’, or ‘What a ball breaker!’
- Money. There are several words to talk about cash. Mangos are Argentine pesos, guita is money and a luca, one thousand pesos. No tengo ni un mango, would mean ‘I’m totally broke/I don’t even have one peso’ but it is more fun to think about said person being sad about not even having one tasty mango.
- Farting. Pedo means fart, and lunfardo is littered with fart-related vocabulary. En pedo (in a fart) means drunk, ni en pedo (not even in a fart) – translates to ‘not even if I was drunk.’ Other phrases include estoy al pedo (I am at fart) – ‘I’m not doing anything’ and vive en un nube de pedos (he/she lives in a cloud of farts) – meaning ‘they have their head in the clouds’.
While silly words might be a Porteño’s forte, do not underestimate the power of the gesture either. Here’s a quick fire guide to getting yourself understood with the ultimate BA body language:
Quickie – to suggest that someone is scared, or has quickie, press your fingers against your thumb repeatedly, with your hand at waist height.
Ni idea – The Argentine equivalent of the shoulder shrug, to say you don’t know something, place your right hand under your chin and then move it away from your body.
Montoncito – to say, ‘what the hell are you talking about?’ press your thumb and fingers together and move your hand up and down around waist height
Tacano – to call someone a cheapskate, touch your right elbow with your left hand repeatedly.
Ojo – to say ‘watch out’ place your left index finger under your right eye, and pull the skin down.
By Rosie Wilder