Lunfardo: A Slang from the Prisons and Tango

A lot of you may have noticed that Argentines don´t speak Spanish the same way most other Spanish speakers from other Spanish speaking countries do.
Differences in pronunciation of “y” and “ll” and  the use of “vos” instead of “tu” amongst others, constitute the main difference on an auditive level. However,  the incorporation of “lunfardo”, a jargon that originated in the prisons of Buenos Aires as a way of secret communication amongst prisoners  is what makes the local Spanish unique.
Initially Lunfardo was only spoken by criminals who incorporated Italian, Cocoliche (a mix of Spanish and Italian), Gaucho dialect, Aboriginal words, French and Portuguese into their new slang. They also reversed syllables so that for example cafe became feca, and tango became gotan. As lunfardo spread to the lower classes, it was incorporated to tango lyrics and hence introduced into the Spanish spoken by everyone.
Now a days, we still use many of these lunfardo terms, such as feca, which we invite you to order the next time you´re at a café.

Here is a small list of amusing terms which are still used and you can try out if you want. If you’re looking for a Lunfardo/English dictionary, try the Corrientes bookstores, there used to be one called “Mataburro – Lunfardo/English” by Sara Melul and Roberto Cruañas.

Afanar: (A fah nahr) is to steal and an afano is a rip off. “Me afanaron la billetera” (My wallet was stolen)  “Esa campera es un afano” (That jacket is a rip off).
Atorrante: (Ah toh ran teh) Good-for-nothing. Scoundrel.  It can be used for example to shout out the window at a bad driver. Also to affectionately call a child: “Vení acá atorrante” (come over here you little scoundrel.) It is said, but not confirmed,  that the word originates from a brand of the citiy’s water drainage pipes (A.Torrant) where the bums used to gather.

Boludo/a:  (Boh loo doh/dah) One of the most commonly used words by locals which means idiot but literally translates to someone with big testicles (even though it’s used for girls and women too!). It can be an insult “sos un boludo” (you are an asshole)  or just a way of calling each other “che boluda, ¿adonde vamos?” (hey girl, where you should we go?). A Boludez, is something easy, a piece of cake. “hablar lunfardo es una boludez” (speaking lunfardo is a piece of cake).

Guita: (Ghee tah) It means money. “¿Me prestas algo de guita?” (can I borrow some money?). It is believed to have been an existing word in gypsy slang and spanish prison slang.

Morfi/Morfar: (Mohr fee/ mohr faar) Morfi is food and morfar is to eat, very informal. “¿Che, Vamos a morfar?” (Hey, should we go grab a bite?) The origins of these terms is the argot french word morfer which means to ingest food.

Pibe: (Pee beh) Used in lunfardo to refer to a boy, or a male. “¿Ya vino el pibe del delivery?” (Did the delivery boy come?).  Its origins are disputed, some say it comes from an italian word meaning aprentice, others say it comes from a catalan word meaning aromatic where the word  was taken to describe bad smelling youth.

Pilcha: (Peel chah) Refers to the traditional gaucho attire and commonly used to speak of all clothes. Empilchado is a way of saying dressed to the nines. The word originally comes from an aboriginal language in which it means wrinkle.  Use it in a store where you like the clothes “¡Que linda pilcha!” (What nice clothes!).

6 thoughts on “Lunfardo: A Slang from the Prisons and Tango

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