Five Argentine Spanish Words You Need to Learn

Gringo in Buenos AiresSpanish60 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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