The Lunfardo is the urban slang of Buenos Aires, Montevideo and other major cities of both countries –what’s also known as Español Rioplatense . If you have friends here or you are planning to visit and meet people, then you definitely need to read this article as we are going to go through some of the most common expressions.
A succinct historical background
The Lunfardo arose among the lower classes in the most populated cities of Argentina and Uruguay during the last decades of the XIX century and the beginning of the XX. In its early stages, it was associated with social outcasts and criminals. But it gradually grew in popularity, and by the XX century it had gained some prestige. As a matter of fact, it’s used in the most classic tango lyrics and there is an academy devoted to its study (la Academia Porteña de Lunfardo).
It is a clear sign of the diversity of cultures that were part of this society back then, because we have expressions that come from Italian, French as well as from African languages and Native American languages. So, the Lunfardo is many things –sometimes contradictory- at the same time, just as its creators: vulgar, poetic, popular, academic, historical yet developing, and current.
Although many of these words are not in use any more, so many others are still alive today and evolving. And they are uttered, approximately, hundreds of times a day, so you better catch up! Here are some of the most common ones.
Un pibe or una piba is a child or adolescent, especially one whose name we don’t know; for example: hay unas pibas esperando en la parada (there are some girls waiting at the bus stop). It can also be a group of friends: esta noche me encuentro con los pibes (tonight I’m meeting the guys). Additionally, when we want to tell someone that they look young, we use the expression: estás hecho un pibe.
This is a clear loan from Italian. As we can expect, it means ‘to work’: laburé dos años en una escuela (I worked in a school for two years). In the same word family we have the noun laburo: estoy en el laburo ahora, ¿podemos hablar más tarde? (I’m at work now, can we speak later?). Another related word is laburito. The diminutive is usually ironic, a ‘laburito’ is a tedious and tiring task: pasamos todo el día pintando las paredes de los cuartos, un laburito (we spent all day painting the bedroom walls, quite a task).
This word is not what it seems. It doesn’t have anything to do with the tropical fruit. A mango is an Argentinian peso. We can say, for example: la entrada al cine sale 220 mangos (the ticket to the cinema is 220 pesos). When someone is going through a rough patch financially speaking, they can say: no tengo ni un mango (I'm broke).
This adjective can describe things as well as people. It means counterfeit, illegal or fraudulent. We normally use it when we refer to banknotes, signatures and legal papers: los falsificadores ingresaban dinero trucho al mercado (the counterfeiters put fake money on the market). Another example: no es recomendable que los adolescentes agreguen desconocidos a sus redes sociales. Pueden ser perfiles truchos (It is not advisable for teenagers to add strangers to their social media. They may be fake profiles). There is also the verb ‘truchar’: el alumno truchó la firma de sus padres en el boletín (the student counterfeited his parents’ signature in the report card).
From the XVI century onwards ‘quilombos’ were slaves communities who had escaped oppression across Brazil. Later, towards the end of the XIX, quilombos were brothels with prostitutes of African origin in Argentina. However, nowadays the word lost all connection to its sad origin and it now means jumble: tu escritorio es un quilombo, por eso no encontrás nada (your desk is a mess, that’s why you don’t find anything). Por el paro de subtes la calle era un quilombo (as the subway workers are on stike the streets are a mess). In a wider sense quilombo can be any kind of confusing or conflictive situation: yo te di mal la dirección, ¡qué quilombo hice! (I gave you the address wrong, what a mess I’ve made). Hablé de más y ahora estoy en un quilombo (I talked too much and now I’m in a pickle).
We commonly use this word to describe anything that seems sad or to empathise with someone who tells us a problem they are going through. Qué bajón que no puedas venir a mi cumple (What a drag that you can’t come to my birthday party). –Me fue mal en el examen. -¡Qué bajón! (-I didn’t do well in my exam ‑It’s too bad). Besides, we can ‘estar bajón’, i.e. be depressed: hace dos semanas terminé con mi novio así que estoy un poco bajón (I broke up with my boyfriend two weeks ago so I feel blue).
This reflexive verb is an example of a word game we commonly find in Lunfardo. It’s about changing the syllable positions in a word. So sarparse is pasarse, but the syllables are inverted. Now, what does it mean? Pasarse or sarparse is to surpass a limit –in a positive or negative way- or to do something daring: la comida estuvo buenísima, ¡te sarpaste! (the food was wonderful, you were great!) We can even use the past participle sarpado/a to say that someone is cheeky: Daniel vino a la fiesta sin invitación, ¡es un sarpado! (Daniel came to the party without an invitation, he is bold!) Or very skilled: toda la banda sonó incredible, pero el baterista es un sarpado (the whole band played incredibly, but the drummer is mind-blowing) .
There you go. Did you know any of these words? As a way to remember them, try to think of examples for them. ¿De qué laburás? ¿Tu casa es un quilombo ahora o está ordenada? De tus amigos o familia ¿Quién es un sarpado cocinando?