Five Argentine Spanish Words You Need to Learn

Gringo in Buenos AiresSpanish62 Comments

You might have noticed that Argentinians love to talk: all day, every day, with anyone who’ll listen! For this reason it’s no surprise that the Rio Platense Spanish that has developed in Buenos Aires is full of unique words and idiosyncrasies. Unfortunately that can make things difficult for the Spanish leaner who wants to be able to communicate here.

Explaining all of the differences between the Spanish in Buenos Aires and the Spanish in, say, Madrid would of course fill an entire book, but then again some words are much more common and important to know than others. Here are the top five:

#1: Che

The casual visitor to Argentina might wonder, “Why do they keep saying Che Guevara’s name all the time?” The word che is ubiquitous in Argentina. It has three uses. First, it’s the equivalent of the English hey or hey you: in other words it’s a way of getting someone’s attention, for example the bartender when you want to order more Quilmes. Second, it’s also used as the equivalent of mate, dude or buddy: it’s a generic word for a person or something to call someone when you forget their name. And third, it’s one of those meaningless interjections that do no more than keep a conversation going.

And how does this relate to Mr. Ernesto Guevara? It doesn’t, of course: he got the nickname Che from other Spanish speakers because (like all Argentinians) he used to say it all the time.

#2: Boludo

A boludo is literally someone with big balls, but not in the sense of someone who is brave. In fact boludos (and pelotudos, a similar word but much stronger) used to be the cannon fodder who would go into battle in the front, and hence get killed first. It makes sense then that today a boludo is a fool or an idiot. Like che however, it’s also used as a meaningless interjection. And boludo is of course often used with che. ¡Che boludo! Can mean you idiot or hey buddy, or like the two individual words it can function as a meaningless interjection, for example to express amazement when someone is telling a story.

It’s best to use boludo only when you’re among friends (if at all), because as you can see it’s a little complicated!

#3: Quilombo

Quilombos were originally slaves’ quarters in the sugar plantations of Brazil, but more recently the word was used to mean brothel, specifically the brothels of Buenos Aires. And now? The meaning of quilombo has shifted to a mess or a messed-up situation but with a stronger connotation. ¡Qué quilombo! Means something like what a bloody mess! Or possibly what a shitstorm! It’s best avoided in the politest of company, but it’s highly useful nonetheless.

#4: Onda

are literally waves or vibrations, which is interesting because good vibes in English means pretty much the same thing as buena onda in Rio Platense Spanish. A person, place or thing can have buena or mala onda, which translates to being really cool or really uncool. It’s a very useful and multipurpose word. Also, to do something de onda means to do it as a favor to someone, and to do something en buena onda means something like in good faith.

#5: Pedo

Literally a pedo is a fart, but it’s used in at least eight expressions that literally have nothing to do with farting! To be en pedo is to be drunk; vivir en nube de pedos means to be out of touch with reality (literally “to live in a cloud made of farts”) and subo como pedo de buzo means to rapidly climb the social ladder (literally “to go up like a scuba diver’s fart” – seriously, how awesome is that!). What you most likely will hear the most is ni en pedo which basically means “not even if I was drunk”, or “no way in hell”.

Question: Would you ever eat a live chicken!??!
Answer: NI EN PEDO!!!!

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62 Comments on “Five Argentine Spanish Words You Need to Learn”

  1. Gaby

    Oh my God!!! This is so good! I’m from Argentina, living in London since April… I’m going to send this to all my friends here!!!!




  2. Cassie

    I also must disagree with Paula… i have family in Argentina and i go down there all the time.. i have family in rosario and in buenos aires and i’ve heard all the slangs being used. we are very proud of our language….some of these worlds are used a little bit more in some regions and little bit less in others.

  3. Pingback: Che! This Pope! | portfoliolongo

  4. el tanguero ingles

    You know when you are among Argentinos when you hear these three expressions:
    dales (do it)
    Que barbaro! (how marvellous)
    Hooooopa ! (ooops)

    That’s my experience! The slang is another langauge altogether:
    una mina macanuda con buenas gambas….(a wonderful girl with great legs!!)

    These words turn up a lot in in tango lyrics ..

    Love Argentina, great people, lovely music, great food, and beautiful women..what more for an hombre??
    el Tanguero Ingles

  5. Dogbite

    sí Argentina

    ‘che’ering for Argentina in today’s FIFA match with the Netherlands.

  6. Sonia

    Che Tim,
    I am an Argentinian from the North (Misiones) but I have not lived in Argentina for 30 years. When I lived there the Castellano spoken by portenos was very different from the one spoken by other areas of the country. We all have our Regionalismos, just like Newyorkers speak differently from Texans. The problem is generalizations. I am very pleased that you make the point on saying ” the Rioplatense Spanish the developed in BA” By the way “Che” means “my” as in “Che amigo” (chamigo): mi friend. People from the NorthEast where the word originates use it even more than portenos 🙂 Boludo and quilombo are two words that were very much part of the male vocabulary as I was growing up but was not proper for girls to use. I am sure things have changed by now. I think people are being a little too hard on Paula. She is just trying to pretend Argentinians are more cultured and educated than they really are. You can’t blame her for trying to save face in front of what she felt was an attack on her fellow citizens by a Foreigner ;-}
    One last thing: the word gringo in NE Argentina is used for Germans, Polish, Swiss not for Yankis (which is our generic word for all US citizens.
    Keep up the good word! Cheers!

  7. Ines

    Hi, actually, we don t call you guys “gringos”, we call you “yankes”. And that way of talking you describe,it only applies to young people and not in every entourage… I mean, we don t talk like that at work or in Class!! You can’t talk about pedos or quilombos!! LOL. A question… is there any nickname for us in your east coast? I ve lived in Baltimore and my next door friends used to call me white bones, I m very pale and skinny and it was way too difficult for them to understand, how come most of us are white alone like white people there!!. Please excuse my English 🙂 Be well!!

  8. Josh

    Another really common phrase is “mira vos” – literally ‘look at you’, but some people use it *all the time*

    Basically it’s used to express mild surprise at something:

    “I didn’t know you could fly a helicopter, mira vos!”

  9. Pingback: Se necesitan dos para bailar el tango | Según Christian

  10. Pingback: Resources to Learn Argentine Spanish Slang by Speaking Latino

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