¡Che boludo! ¿Qué te pasa? If you’re planning to travel or study in Argentina, you need to prepare for the major slang and Argentine Spanish expressions that might otherwise make it impossible to understand what people are saying.
Buenos Aires (along with nearby Montevideo, Urugauy) has a tradition known as Lunfardo. It originated from a a dialect among prisoners (!) in the 1900s so guards wouldn’t understand. Many Lunfardo words and expressions eventually made their way into the lexicon and culture of people everywhere.
The good news is that most of these expressions are easy to use and easy to pick out, viste? Let’s get started. The 10 most important Argentine Spanish expressions are:
Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) use the word “che” in every other sentence. It’s a catch-all word and expression for wassup or yo or for getting someone’s attention. For example, you see a friend out on the street but they don’t see you. What do you yell? ¡Che!
It can also be used very similarly to the way some people add “yo” to the end of a sentence to give it more punch. I think Boca is gonna win, yo. Creo que boca va a ganar, che.. Or you could turn it around: Yo, I think Boca is gonna win. Che, creo que boca va a ganar.
As with all expressions, the best way to learn it is to listen carefully to how native speakers use it and emulate them.
A close second after “che” in terms of frequency is “viste?” It literally means “do you see?” but it’s used more like a simple “right?” or “ok?” in casual conversation — a way to check that the other person understands what you’re saying.
Ex: Es un buen tipo, viste? (He’s a good guy, right?)
If “viste” is a question, “dale” is a confirmation. Are you ready to go out? Dale! Will you call me later? Dale! I’ll hit you back on whatsapp, ok? Dale. You can basically use it interchangeably with the way you’d use the English expressions “good to go” or “on it” or “go for it.”
Don’t overthink this one. Like elsewhere in Latin America, in Argentina they use “muy” to mean “very” (Una muy buena pelicula — a very good movie) but in Argentina the more common way you’d hear people say it is: re buena. Esta pelicula es re buena.
It sounds just like “ray” in English, and is just another form of saying “very” — re fácil (very easy), re difícil (very difficult) etc.
Boludo literally means “big balled” and is quite a vulgar term — and yet totally used as a term of endearment among friends. Perhaps the most common greeting among two good friends is Che boludo or, if female, Che boluda. This is definitely a more “advanced” expression for outsiders to use however because depending on the context, calling someone a boludo is also an insult. For example if you were to say someone “es un boludo” in a critical way, you’re basically dismissing them as an idiot. Use with caution.
Literally “skinny,” you hear people addressing each other like this all the time regardless of their weight. It’s essentially the equivalent of “dude.” ¿Che flaco, vamos al parque? Hey dude, should we go to the park?
Again, this has a different literal equivalent (crazy) than the way people use it. As with flaco, people will commonly use che loco as a greeting similar to “what’s up dude.”
8. Buena onda / Mala onda
The whole galaxy of expressions around “onda” (literally “wave” or “undulation”) is itself beautiful enough to warrant an entire article. The closest English approximate is “vibe.” If someone es buena onda, or especially if they’re re buena onda, it means they’re cool. They have a positive vibe. Places, people, situations — virtually anything can be described in terms of its onda. And if something is mala onda, stay away! The funny thing about this expression is its universality. Whereas typically young people would describe something in terms “vibe” is discussed in English more among young people, in Argentina the idea and expression of onda is universal among all ages of people.
9. ¿Como anda?
Not to be confused with onda, como anda is the self-explanatory and literal “how is it going?” You would think this simple phrase would be used everywhere in Latin Ameria but I’ve never heard it used outside of Argentina (where people use it as the standard greeting “How are you doing?”
Quilombo rhymes with “shit show” and that’s basically how to translate it. One of the most common ways you’ll hear native Porteños describe their city: Buenos Aires es un quilombo. It’s one of those words and expressions that’s so perfectly paired with the pace and vibe of the city and culture — and yet, whereas “shit show” has a negative connotation, quilombo has an element of accepting the craziness, similar to the vibe given by native New Yorkers that “only in New York City.” A situation can be described as un quilombo if it’s really crazy, and there’s even a subtle variation — quilombete — meaning the uproar that surrounds a crazy situation.
If you’re planning to visit Argentina, especially Buenos Aires, take time to find a language tutor who is native Argentine. And make sure you get them to incorporate these expressions before you go.
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