Explaining Argentinian Spanish – Part I : Lunfardo
July 06, 2012
We’ve heard many a story of travellers coming to Argentina with a 3 month spanish language course under their belt and Spanish dictionary in hand only to be faced with baffling mix of Ches, boliches and, of course, boludos. If you are one of those flummoxed foreigners, don’t fear! It’s just Lunfardo.
A dialect used in the River Plate region of Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Lunfardo was influenced by a mix of Italian, French, English, Galician, Portuguese, African and indigenous languages such as Quechua, Mapuche and Guaraní. Less confused? I’ll start from the beginning.
Waves of immigrants docked in Buenos Aires in the mid 19th century bringing with them new cultures and new languages contributing to the creation of Lunfardo. Since the majority of immigrants came from Italy it is no surprise that Lunfardo has primarily Italian traits. The word Lunfardo actually comes from Lombardo, the italian dialect spoken in the Northern region Lombardy and you may have noticed the Italian intonation to the words.
Lunfardo started as a type of slang used by criminals and lower classes. It allegedly has its genesis in the jails of Buenos Aires, where the prisoners created a new language to confuse their guards. An example of the way inmates disguised their language is ‘verse’, literally the Spanish ‘revés’ (reverse) backwards. This trick consists in creating new words by reversing the original word (surprise, surprise) and so camión (truck) becomes mionca, and calor (heat) becomes lorca.
Lunfardo words are often inserted into Rioplatense Spanish sentences and frequently used in the lyrics of Tango songs, and like the Tango, over time Lunfardo gradually infiltrated other social stratas and classes, and became what it is today: the unbridled dialect of Porteños.
To make your time a little easier, we have compiled a list of some of the most common Lunfardo words used today, accompanied by some examples of their common uses, and, when it suffices, a short (sometimes very short) explanation of the word’s etymology. Enjoy!
Meaning: To smooth talk, convince, seduce, sweet talk, chat up, hit on
Example: Este chico te está chamuyando – This guy is hitting on you
Spanish synonyms: persuadir, convencer, engañar, embaucar
Etymology: It comes from the gypsy slang (caló) chamullar, which means to speak in a low voice, but it was also used to refer to someone who mixed truths and falsehoods in order to get himself out of trouble.
Example: Mi bondi va retrasado – My bus is running late
Spanish synonyms: autobús, colectivo, omnibus
Etymology: The word started being used to refer to public transport in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Bondi comes from the English word Bond. Since the train lines in Sao Paulo were owned by the English, the word bond referred to the price of a journey on public transport, but eventually came to mean public transport. To make it easier to pronounce, the Brazilians added an ‘e’ to the end of the word creating ‘bonde’, and after being adopted by Italian immigrants the ‘e’ changed to ‘i’ making the word what it is today: ‘bondi’.
Meaning: to mock, insult
Examples: ‘¿Me estás bardeando’? – Are you mocking me?
‘Lo está bardeando’ – He’s making fun of it
‘No me bardees’ – Don’t mess with me
Spanish synonyms: agredir, molestar, insultar, humillar, descalificar a otro
Etymology: One theory is that the word comes from ‘barro’ meaning mud. The theory goes that the word means to insult or speak badly about, equivalent to the spanish saying ‘echarle barro’ literally to throw mud at someone.
Meaning: To hold on, to put up with, to bear
Example: No me lo banco – I can’t bear it
Yo te banco – I put up with you
Ya no te banco más – I can’t stand you anymore
Spanish synonyms: aguantar, soportar, avalar
Etymology: It is believed that bancar comes from economic support, or la bancada, meaning worksurface.
Example: !Vamos al boliche! – Let’s go to the club
Spanish synonyms: Discoteca, club
Etymology: The word comes from the catalan word ‘boltix’, coming from the greek to refer to different types of games.
Meaning: This term has two meanings that vary according to tone, and the intensity with which they are spoken. For example boludo can be an insult, similar to idiot, or a tag used among friends. It can also mean something that is easy to do.
Example: Boludo ¿a dónde vamos?’ Where are we going, buddy?
‘Esta apuesta es una boludez’ – This is a foolish bet.
Spanish synonyms: Idiota, tonto, buddy
Etymology: In various cultures, it is said that individuals with large testicles are unintelligent. This term may come from the Italian word, coglione: a simpleton, or someone with large testicles.
Meaning: Dude, man, hey
Example: Che, dónde estás? – Dude, where are you?
Spanish synonyms: oye!
Etymology: Some say this Spanish word comes from the Guaraní word che, which is equivalent to the personal pronoun I, or in Spanish, yo, or the possessive pronoun my, or the Spanish mi. Some experts claim che comes from Venecia, Italy, where the word ció was used to mean you.
Meaning: Woman, girl
Spanish synonyms: Mujer
Etymology: This word, which is sometimes considered derogatory, may come from the Italian word femmina or the contraction of the Galician word menina, from which came the play on words used by some pimps arose, since prostitutes’ bodies were compared to minas, or mines, from which they could profit.
Spanish synonyms: Niño
Etymology: Pibe is an abbreviation of the word pebete, which comes from Catalán word pebet, and refers to something with a foul odor. Some say that the word eventually took on the more colloquial use as a way to refer to children with foul odors. Others claim the word comes from the word pivetto, meaning apprentice.
Meaning: Disaster, mess, brothel
Example: Esto es un quilombo! – This is a disaster!
Spanish synonyms: un desastre, un desorden, un caos
Etymology: Quilombo is the Portuguese word for whorehouse, coming from the Kimbundu word, kilombo, which may have referred to a settlement of escaped African slaves.
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