What is Lunfardo?
Mate infusions, tango, and mouth-watering bife de chorizo are just a few of the spectacular things Argentinians gave the world. But one cultural aspect of Argentina that befuddles tourists worldwide is the mysterious Argentine slang, lunfardo.
What are these words that are only used in Argentina, and where do they come from? To learn all the ins-and-outs of lunfardo, we’ve lined up the following resources in this ultimate guide:
- The surprising history of lunfardo
- An exclusive interview with a porteño (Argentinian local of Buenos Aires)
- 10 lunfardo slang words to add to your vocabulary to sound local
But wait, it gets better.
To optimize your learning experience, we’ve included fun quizzes to test your comprehension skills.
Want to really immerse yourself in Argentine culture? Then this is the guide for you!
A Brief History of Argentinean Spanish and Lunfardo
We all know that Latinas everywhere will swoon when they hear the romantic “sh” sound of “yo me llamo Lionel Messi.” But have you ever wondered why Argentineans have such a sweet and romantic accent?
The answer may surprise you. It has to do with their rich European roots.
The origin of lunfardo dates all the way back to the late 19th century.
The Origins of Lunfardo are Italian
The word lunfardo actually comes from the word lombardo, which was the principal language spoken in Lombardia, a region in the north of Italy.
In the late 19th century, thousands of Italian immigrants fled from Europe to start a new life on Argentinian soil which housed one of the world’s largest economies at the time and promising European investment.
As these Italian immigrants dominated Buenos Aires, at one time accounting for 40% of the Argentinean population, they began to adopt Spanish as their primary language.
Their Italian roots were hard to shake. To this day, their native tongue persists in not only their accent but in their everyday, colloquial language. This is true for Argentinian slang as a whole.
But how did Argentine lunfardo come about?
Lunfardo: The Slang of Buenos Aires Delinquents
Picture this. It’s the year 1890 and you’re a thief in Buenos Aires, Argentina. You’ve just been caught by the local yuta (lunfardo for police) and you’re scheming a way to escape prison with your jail mates.
That pesky prison guard keeps walking past your cell. Back and forth, back and forth. If he hears your plan, you AND your buddies will be in some serious trouble.
What do you do? (Hint: your bilingual skills are going to help you out with this one).
That’s right – you devise your own secret code. You create a new vocabulary using a mezcla (mix) of Italian and Spanish dialects and form what is now the common slang of Argentinians everywhere: lunfardo.
Lunfardo Slang Today: A Dialect Backed by European Roots
Over time, other European languages like French began to influence lunfardo as well and the slang proliferated far past prison walls.
Nowadays, lunfa (the apodo, or nickname, for lunfardo) is still spoken in day-to-day conversations. Although the dialect is commonly associated with lower-class delinquents and young people hopping on the pop-culture train, many words are unknowingly used by average Argentine people every day.
Because of this, lunfardo is still very relevant and important to understand, especially if you plan to visit Argentina anytime soon (take these Spanish phrases to use at the airport with you!).
What Do Argentinians Have to Say About Lunfardo? An Argentinians Point-of-View
Meet Facundo, a 26-year-old from Buenos Aires, Argentina – the birthplace of lunfardo. As a local, he explains the rich history of lunfardo and its relevance throughout Latin America.
¿Conoces el dialecto lunfardo? ¿Qué es? (Do you know the dialect lunfardo? What is it?)
Facundo: “Sí, el lunfardo. Es un dialecto creado en la provincia de Buenos Aires el cual es variante del Castellano/Español y otras lenguas de inmigrantes europeos. Históricamente, era un dialecto hablado por los ladrones o delincuentes. Utilizaban palabras distintas que la gente no entendía.”
(Yes, lunfardo. It is a dialect originating from Buenos Aires that is a variation of Castellano/Spanish and other languages from European immigrants. Historically, it was a dialect spoken by thieves or delinquents. They used words that people couldn’t understand.)
¿Hoy en día, es común hablar/escuchar lunfardo en Argentina? (Today, is it common to speak/hear lunfardo in Argentina?)
F: “Los argentinos entienden lunfa por muchos años y ya siempre utilizamos palabras o inventamos palabras para decir otras cosas. Tenemos muchas palabras coloquiales que dicen lo mismo, entonces, como que lo van incluyendo en el dialecto. Pero lunfardo es particularmente usado por los inmigrantes, delincuentes, y ladrones.
(Argentinians have understood lunfardo for many years and we always use words or invent words to say different things. We have many slang words that mean the same thing, so we include them in the dialect over time. But lunfardo is particularly used by immigrants, delinquents, and thieves.)
¿Y vos hablás lunfa? (And do you speak lunfa?)
F: “Lo entiendo. Lo uso solamente cuando charlo con mis amigos, pero prefiero no hablarlo con adultos.
(I understand it. I only use it when I’m chatting with my friends, but I prefer not to use it with adults.)
¿Hay otros lugares que entienden lunfa? (Are there other places that understand lunfa?)
F: “Si, otros países latinoamericanos como Uruguay y a veces Chile entienden el dialecto.”
(Yes, other Latin American countries like Uruguay and sometimes Chile understand the dialect.)
10 Useful Lunfardo Words: Argentine Slang You Should Know
Now it’s time to dive into the world of Argentinian slang with these 10 lunfardo words with the appropriate Spanish and English translations of each word.
See if you can guess the meaning of the word before we reveal the answer!
Answer: Laziness (Pereza)
Fiaca comes straight from the Italian word for laziness, fiacco. The word is used to describe someone who is procrastinating from doing work or who has been relaxing all day.
- “Tengo una fiaca.” – (I’m so lazy.)
Answer: Coffee (Café)
Let’s talk about lunfardo’s use of vesre (which is the word, al reves, which means backwards, but backwards).
Think of vesre as a form of Argentinian Pig Latin. Basically, you take the original word and scramble the letters around to make a new one. For example, feca → café (coffee), gapar → pagar (to pay), and ajoba → abajo (down).
- “Necesito más feca esta mañana.” (I need more coffee this morning.)
Answer: Argentinian pesos – Currency/money/bucks
No, we’re not talking about the fruit. This is a slang word for Argentinean currency – pesos.
Similar to the way English speakers use “dough” in place of dollars, mango is a fun, colloquial term used to describe money.
Some speculate that the word comes from “marengo”, which was a battle fought in Italy in 1800 (La Batalla de Marengo) and resulted in an easy French victory. Money that was stolen by thieves was also an “easy battle”.
- “No tengo un mango.” (I don’t have a single peso.)
Answer: Bus (Autobús)
If you are planning a trip to Argentina anytime soon, then you should definitely add this word to your Spanish travel vocabulary! Bondi refers to a bus, the quintessential form of public transportation in Buenos Aires.
Some speculate that it comes from the English word “bond”, because the English dominated the trams and trolleys of big cities in Latin America, including bustling São Paulo, Brazil (the largest Italian community outside of Italy).
The prices of the trams were all preceded by the word “bond”, and since Brazilians have a tendency of adding the sound “i” onto words that end in consonants, it’s possible that the term caught on and was brought down to Buenos Aires through Italian immigrants.
Another story is that it comes from the word albóndiga (meatball) because the buses were much smaller and rounder.
Either way, the word remains the most popular term for bus.
- “Tomamos el bondi.” (Let’s take the bus.)
5. La Cana/La Yuta
Answer: Police (La policía)
Like English, there are many covert words we like to call the police. For example, we may call them cops or “po po”. In lunfa, they refer to the police as cana or yuta (note: the Argentine pronunciation of “y” and “ll” is “sh”).
- “¡Ayy, la yuta! ¡Corre!” (Oh no, the cops! Run!)
Although uncertain, yuta could have Arabic roots. The word shurta, Arabic for police, is pronounced almost exactly the same as yuta, and is one of many Spanish words with Arabic origins.
Answer: Woman (Mujer)
You guessed it – another word of Italian origin. Femmina means female in Italian. Lunfa simply cuts out the first three letters.
Mina is similar to other Spanish expressions referring to women like nena (in English, baby). That being said, you would never call your mother a mina, but you might refer to your girlfriend as “Una mina linda.”
- “¡Qué linda esa mina!” (How pretty is that woman!)
Answer: Kid, boy/girl, can also mean dude/chick (Chico/a)
When this word is used by the older generation, pibe/a typically refers to kids. However, when used in the right context, the word can also mean “dude/chick”. The origin of the word is thought to come from the Italian word pive or pivellino, which loosely translates to beginner, novice, or apprentice.
- “Estos pibes me molestan.” (Those kids bother me.)
Answer: To work (Trabajar)
You’ll hear people all around Buenos Aires talking (or complaining) about their laburo. This word descends directly from the Italian lavorare, to work.
- “No puedo ir, tengo que laburar.” (I can’t go, I have to work.)
9. Che, boludo
Answer: Hey man/mate/friend (Hola amigo)
The most quintessential Argentine phrase of all, che translates to “hey” or “hey you”. The word is commonly used to capture the attention of somebody.
When used with che in front of it, che, boludo translates to “hey man.” However, on its own, boludo can have negative connotations and can even mean “stupid person” or other slightly more egregious variations of that.
- “Che, boludo! Vamos al boliche.” (Hey man! Let’s go to the club.)
Answer: Intelligent, clever (Inteligente)
Another word that spawned from Italian, piola translates to someone who is cunning or clever.
For example, if someone learned a new way to solve a difficult puzzle or won a challenging game, you would refer to them as piola. Put “re” in front of the word to add emphasis.
- “Mi amiga es re piola.” (My friend is very clever.)
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