Lunfardo, a Survivors Guide to Slang in Buenos Aires

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Thanks to Brother O’mara for this photo.

Language is something that helps define a country’s cultural identity. Words can reflect the beliefs, values and attitudes people have. Argentines shine in this category. There is no other country in the Spanish-speaking world with the colloquialisms found in Argentina. For anyone globetrotting, learning certain aspects of a language will only enrich your experience. Here lies the difference between a tourist and a traveler. Hotels and hostels cater to English-speaking tourists, but what happens once you step into the real world is up to you. At the least, I recommend you being able to satisfy the basic travel needs and minimum courtesy requirements.

An easy way to get started is by listening to a podcast.  Free podcasts are available that will help you learn Spanish. Spanish for Beginners, Coffee Break Spanish, Learn Spanish – Survival Guide, Spanish Pod 101, and Discover Spanish are just few among a long list of resources. 

But Argentines use words that belong to them only. They are not found in any traditional Spanish class or book. Even if you can’t say hola, if you can pronounce one of these lunfardos you may impress more than a few locals.

According to the Oxford Spanish Dictionary a lunfardo is “a form of Buenos Aires slang that originated in the underworld. It draws on many languages, including Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, French, German and several African languages.”

There are enough lunfardos to fill a dictionary, so I’ll just mention a few that may help you on your travels-you never know when you might have to say, “No me chamuyas!”

Lunfardo Survival Kit:

afanar: to rob             

afano: to rip-off

bajar un cambio: to calm down

bancarbancá = “hold on”

berreta: cheap or bad quality          

boliche: dance club

bondi: bus (public transportation)

boludo or bolú: It can be an insult, similar to idiot, or just a tag or expression used among friends. It all depends on the tone and intensity of its pronunciation.  It can also refer to something that is easy to do.

“hacerse el boludo: to act dumb

“me estás boludeando: you are pulling my leg

botón: police officer             

botonear: is to tell on somebody

careta: having a lot of nerve

chabón: guy

chamuyar:  A conversation where a man, or a woman, is flirting with someone while trying convince them of something, with half-truths and half-lies.  

fachero: someone who has good presence

gil: someone who is slow or stupid

goma: A woman’s breast

laburar: it comes from the Italian word lavorare, which means to work. Laburo is also used to refer to work or work place.

mimosa/o:  s/he loves being made a fuss of or being pampered

mina: woman, this originated with a derogatory connotation it no longer has 

morfar:  to eat            

morfi: food

patovica: muscular man or a club bouncer/security

pibe: it can mean boy, guy or man, depending on the context

pendejo: A kid (human, not goat)

pucho: cigarette

quilombo: mess          

quilombero: rowdy, noisy person

telo:  a by-the-hour motel, it is the reverse form of the word hotel in Spanish.

Zafar means, to get out or wiggle out of a situation.  It can also be used as an expression “¡zafé”, “that was close!”           


guita = cash  

mango = 1 peso, or in the plural form: 2 mangos, 3 mangos (the verb manguear means to borrow money.)

diego = 10 pesos

gamba = 100 pesos

luca = 1,000 pesos

palo = 1,000,000 pesos (palo verde = 1,000,000 USD)

A Quick Tip for Beginners

The ABCs of Spanish pronunciation is in the vowels. Saying them correctly will immediately bring your Spanish skills up a notch.  There is only one way to say each vowel, so if you get it right, half the battle is won. Here are a few mnemonics.

A as in Apple

E as in Egg

I as in Iguana

O as in Orange

U as in Uma (Thurman, the actress)


RWS on March 16, 08

The Spanish “a” isn’t pronounced as is the English “a” in “apple” but, rather, as “ah”.

Michelle Berrios on March 17, 08

To clear any doubts, please refer to the University of Iowa and its Phonetics web page; it’s an excellent tool.

[…] often here the phrase, “De donde sos?” which is “where are you from?” in Argentina’s particular form of Spanish. Get used to hearing this phrase and get used to answering it! This video, in song, pokes fun at […]

Robertino on May 24, 08


You write as well as you dance, which is saying a lot! 🙂 What a pleasure to find such good advice online, and so close to home. Besos,

Iftikhar Shallwani on June 11, 08

good advice pero como sobrevivir en BA sin lunfargo.

renato figueiredo on October 8, 08

Some words of Lunfardo are also used in everyday speech at Brazilian Southern State of Rio Grande do Sul, as gurí (boy),
afanar(to rob, and others.

Mario Pinot Rios on November 2, 08

Si, que bueno…pero me gustaria tener frases para usar para mi viaje a B. A. voy a buscar en el Internet. Gracias.

LA FACHA D' FIGURETTI on December 16, 09

the word quilombo comes from the afro-brasilian word for “community” and was used in Argentina to refer to the brothels or any place considered lowly & scandalous. its commonly used today to mean “problems”, worries (eg. i got a big ball of worries in my head), disorder, a mess (un lío). “faso” is cigarette & so is “pucho”, but more accurately refers to the ashy end of your cigarette.

p.s., your definition: “pendejo: A kid (human, not goat)”
…i think youre confusing “pendejo” with the word “cabron”.

Best regards,

el Figu

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