You may have come to Buenos Aires thinking you had a decent grasp of the Spanish language, only to be thrown back on your heels by Argentinian slang.
You aren’t alone.
Rioplatense Spanish – the Spanish spoken in Buenos Aires – is unlike anything you were taught in high school. But fret not! This post is a complete guide to all things Argentinian slang.
Get ready to speak like a true Porteño.
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Learning Argentinian Slang: Rioplatense Spanish
Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) speak very fast and with a lot of Argentine slang (called lunfardo).
There’s more of a sing-song quality to the way they speak as well. In fact, when traveling in Texas with my Argentine in-laws, everyone thought we were speaking Italian.
Unique slang words that have evolved from the melting pot of European immigrants blends with choreographed hand gestures and a singing intonation all make for an entertaining dialect.
Let’s dive into all things Argentine Spanish so you can talk like a local when in Buenos Aires.
Tú vs. Vos
In Buenos Aires and surrounding areas (including parts of Uruguay) you’ll hear vos instead of tú for familiar form of address, the familiar you.
Do you want, or tú quieres in Buenos Aires becomes vos querés (note that the irregular conjugation is thrown out the window here). Tú tienes is, you guessed it, vos tenés?
Instead of the typical Y sound, the Y and LL sounds in Buenos Aires are pronounced as shhhhh.
For example: instead of sounding like po-yo, pollo sounds like posho. Llueve (it rains) sounds like shueve instead of yueve.
Buenos Aires Slang: What is Lunfardo?
The slang in Buenos Aires is called Lunfardo, spoken here in the city and surrounding areas.
It’s unlike anything you’ve heard elsewhere and that includes the rest of Argentina.
It stems from the large influx of immigrants flowing into the Buenos Aires ports in the mid-19th century.
Their languages blended together with the multitude of languages already here.
Local influences that blended with Italian and Spanish included rural words from the countryside (palabras gauchescas or words used by guachos), indigenous languages (such as guaraní) and African languages from the slave trade (mostly via Brazil).
A pidgin language started to take form, referred to as cocoliche, a hodgepodge of the many Italian dialects and Spanish.
Over time, cocoliche began to fade.
A lot of the words were absorbed into Lunfardo and are still used today.
History of Lunfardo: The Language of Thieves
The name Lunfardo derives from Lombardo, referring to Lombardy in Northern Italy.
The Lombardos were the first bankers and therefore the first loan sharks of Europe.
And since throughout the history of banks no one has ever liked banks, the word Lombardo was associated with thieves or conmen.
In the 19th century in Rome, Lombardo was synonymous with thief.
It’s only natural that the word would travel to Argentina during the large wave of immigration from Italy towards the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th.
It’s even said that prisoners used lunfardo so guards wouldn’t understand what they were saying.
While a lot of historians agree with this legend of the language of thieves, Oscar Conde disagrees in this interview.
He describes lunfardo as a language of the people, and the vocabulary covers every aspect of life, not only crimes or delinquents. Regardless, there are a lot of words for thieves…
Argentine Slang Words for Thieves
- Cobani – Police officer
- Yuta – Police officer
- Cana – Police officer
- Botón – Police officer
- Tira – Police officer (again)
- Abanico – You guessed it, police officer
- Chorear – To steal
- Afanar – To steal
- Afano – A ripoff
- Chorro – Thief
- Chorizo – Thief
- Motochorro – Thief who steals on a motorcycle as he drives by you on the street (watch your phone!)
- Boga – Lawyer (fits under thieves, no?)
Argentinian Slang Words: A List
Let’s get to the good stuff, my favorite Argentina slang words.
I’ve organized them into a few separate groups, starting off with the most important words, then a general list of fun Lunfardo words and phrases, and then there are a couple fun lists about dating and money vocabulary!
The 5 Top Argentine Slang Words
Some words are so much more than just a word. They are pillars in daily conversation and convey so much meaning.
These Argentinian slang words are more than just a word. They convey so much meaning.
Incorporate these slang words into your vocabulary to bond with the locals:
- Che & Che, boludo! – An exclamation or call for attention, like “hey”, or for emphasis at the end of a phrase.
And with che comes the infamous Che, boludo! Boludo means stupid but is used as a term of endearment among friends in this way, like Hey you!
- Viste – Literally the past tense of “to see” in you form, “you saw,” used for emphasis or as I told you so or “you see?”
- Posta – Originates from the Italian “apposta” (properly), if someone tells you something and adds “posta” at the end, they’re emphasizing that it’s a sure thing, “Ese restaurante es buenisimo, posta!” It reminds me a bit of the British use of proper as good, “Where can I get a proper steak?”
- Mira vos! – Literally meaning “Look at you!” and used in the same way, but used much more often than I ever use the English version.
- Re – very, used in front of any adjective, if something is good it’s “bueno” if it’s really good, it’s “rebueno” You can also use “Re” as an answer to a question. – Era linda la mina? (Was the girl pretty?) – Re! (Very!)
Recontra – very very, if it’s even better it’s recontra bueno.
Requetecontra – very very VERY, is it the fucking best? It’s requeterecontra bueno
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Argentine Slang: A Fun Lunfardo Vocabulary List
There are thousands of Argentine slang words in lunfardo. And many sadly are falling out of use.
Here’s a sampling to get you started, let’s keep it alive!
- Quilombo – Chaos
- Boludo – Idiot, can also be used as a term of endearment
- Che, boludo! – Hey man!
- Pelotudo – Asshole (yell this at the taxi driver that nearly ran you over)
- En pedo – Drunk
- Ni en pedo – No way (literally, not in fart, as pedo means to fart, but technically “not even if drunk”)
- Al pedo – Useless, doing nothing (Estoy al pedo is what I say when I’m not doing anything productive)
- Mucama – Maid
- Pibe – Kid or Guy
- Pendejo – Kid (same word, slightly different meaning than in Mexico)
- Chabón/Chabona – Kid
- Estar hecho un pibe – to look young
- Tipo – Guy
- Tipo – Also used to give examples or as a filler word like we use “like”
- Gil – Stupid (noun)
- Falda – Skirt
- Remera – T-Shirt
- Ojo – Watch out, be careful
- Cheto – Posh (in Spain it’s Pijo or Pija, here pija is penis, so, ojo!)
- Palmar – To die
- Palma – To be tired, e.g.: “Tengo una palma”
- Fiaca/Que Fiaca/Tener Fiaca – Lazy or to feel lazy
- Choto – Bad quality
- Trucho – Bad quality or counterfeit
- Truchada – Same as trucho but as a noun (Es una truchada).
- Atorrante – Someone shameless
- Morfar – To eat
- Copado – Something or someone good or cool
- Salame – Used to call someone stupid
- Ñoqui- Some legally registered as a worker and receives a paycheck, usually for the government, but doesn’t actually work.
- Capo – Someone who’s really good at what they do or is the best at something
- Groso – Someone good or cool
- Macanudo – Used to describe somone as a good person (Un tipo macanudo)
- Bacán – Someone who lives the good life
- Cachuso – Decaying, deteriorating
Argentinian Slang Words for Dating
- Mina – Woman
- Naifa – Woman
- Boliche – Club or disco
- Tirar onda – Flirt or to hit on
- Coger – To f*ck. In Spain, I used coger for everything, to “catch” the bus, to “pick up” the phone, here it only means the one thing.
- Piropo – Pick up line
- Chamuyero – A charmer or sweet talker, don’t believe what he says, ladies!
- Chamuyo – The charm (Es puro chamuyo = He’s pure charm)
- Birra – Beer (this is obvious, but I thought it was cool that it originates from cocoliche, so, cool!)
- Chupar/Escaviar – to drink alcohol
- Pucho – Cigarette
- Merca – Cocaine
- Pepa – Acid (also a type of cookie! Context matters)
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Argentinian Slang for Money
- Guita- Money
- Mosca – Money
- Vento – Money
- Mango – 1 peso (Esta camisa me costó 10 mangos, che! = This shirt cost me 10 pesos, man!)
- Gamba – 100 pesos
- Luca – 1,000 pesos
- Palo – 1,000,000 pesos
- Un palo verde – A million dollars
- Chirola – Monedas or coins, a way of saying it cost very little
- Rata – Cheapskate
- Estar en la lona – Low on cash, broke
Vesre is very common, it’s an almost pig-latin way of playing with words. It involves swapping the syllables, usually bringing the final syllable to the front.
For example, la calle becomes la lleca.
There are some irregular “vesreísmos” that I have been unable any find rhyme or reason to, such as pantalón becoming lompa.
If you pay attention to the way people speak you’ll hear this all over Buenos Aires. For an over the top example:
Hoy vi un bepi con su rope en la lleca. > Hoy vi un pibe con su perro en la calle.
Note: What follows in the rest of this article isn’t Lunfardo, but it is a helpful list of uniquely Argentina words and still useful and of course, fun!
Food Vocabulary in Argentina
There are quite a few fruits and vegetables that go by different names in Argentina. Why? Hell if I know.
- Frutilla – Strawberry/Fresa
- Ananá – Pineapple/Piña
- Palta – Avocado/Aguacate
- Damasco – Apricot/Albaricoque
- Arvejas – Peas/Guisantes
- Porotos – Beans/Frijoles
Vulgarities in Argentina: Bad Words to Know
Learn these Argentina bad words and slang to make sure you don’t mess up and say something dirty when all you want is to talk about that beautiful sea shell you found on the beach.
Or perhaps you want to know them and use them with intention. What better way to sound like a local than to cuss like one?
- Concha – Pussy (god forbid you want to go look for seashells on the beach, find another word!)
- La concha de tu madre – Literally “your mother’s…concha”
- La concha de la lora – Similar to above, except lora, which means parrot, but here it means a prostitutes c*nt
- Coger – To have sexual relations (to F&*!)
- Andate a cagar! – Go fuck yourself (literally, go ahead and shit)
- Me chupa un huevo – A way of saying “I could care less”
Argentine Hand Gestures
Just like Italians, Argentinians are very expressive. Hand gestures are just as important as the vocabulary they use.
Check out fellow expat Dustin Luke’s videos to learn how to properly use the best Argentine hand gestures.
Argentine Slang: A Summary
I hope this post helps you with all of your Spanish needs when in Argentina.
I know it can be intimidating, but it will be fun if you let it!
So, che boludo! If you have any questions, ask away in the comments!
Or let me know your favorite Lunfardo phrase.
To end this mini-lesson in Argentine Spanish, I leave you this video expressing just how hard it is to speak Spanish. With different slang and vocabulary in every country, it can lead to a lot of misunderstandings.
Read More about Buenos Aires:
- The Best Neighborhoods & Places to Stay in Buenos Aires: A guide to the best neighborhoods and hotels in town.
- A Neighborhood Guide to Historic San Telmo
- The Coolest Argentine Souvenirs
- Where to eat the Best Pizza in Buenos Aires
- Buenos Aires’ Best Tango Shows