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

Ondas
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. Pingback: Argentines: The Past Masters of Nicknames | Lugabe Apartments

  2. Daniela

    I am from Argentina and my husband sent me this to read and I believe it is hilarious!!!! It is good for him who is “gringo” and sometimes doen not understant some meanings! Well done!!!! And yes! like all the others, I love to talk…Nonstop! LOL

  3. Elias

    Wow man, I’m from Argentina and I find this hilarious. Good work.
    Btw, I live in Argentina and I didn’t know the origin of the word boludo.

  4. Fleder

    Excellent!!

    Actually “che” was the Guarani word for “me”. In the War of the Triple Alliance, most Argentinian soldiers speak Guarani as a first or second language, so “che” became popular from “Che Sargento” (my Seargent, literally).

  5. Paula

    I know all the comments you got so far are nice and positive, but I can’t help wondering: Did you set out to write a racist stereotypical post or was that an accident?

    1) Not ALL Argentineans say “che” all the time, in fact, in some regions of Argentina (which by the way does not end in Buenos Aires) you wouldn’t hear the expression at all.

    2) No one would ever pronounce it “fobal”

    3) Not all Argentina’s are the loud mouthed, uneducated trash-like characters depicted in the image accompanying your post.

    Did you at all stop to think about the underlying connotations of your assessment of Argentine culture?

    Also, what is it with you and the word literally?

  6. Tim Gringo in BA

    Paula,

    I always welcome criticism on this blog, it makes things a lot more interesting and is always nice to have a lot of different opinions, but when someone accuses you of being racist (even though I am white and Most Argentinians are of European Decent), I feel like I need to respond.

    Let me just start off by saying my Argentine girlfriend helped with this post and every Argentine that I know who has read it likes it. So I would assume the only people who have a problem with it are people who see what they want to see, hence people who are racist/obsessed with stereotypes (you).

    1. The point is you will hear it is most parts of Argentina. Apologies for saying “ALL”. And even if ALL Argentinians said “Che” all the time, what is wrong with that? And why would it be “racist” to point it out? When is it implied that it is negative? I could see someone being upset if I said “like All Argentinians, Che Guevera was corrupt” or “like ALL Argentinians, Che Guevera had a reading level of the second grade.” Lighten Up!! Or you could correct me and say, not ALL Argentinians say “Che”, there are some parts of Argentina where they don’t without accusing me of being a racist.

    2. I am sure every reader of this post is thinking “wow, the drawing of that guy in the image said “fobal”, he is a lowlife. All Argentinians are lowlifes and uneducated.” Please.

    3. The image is having fun with two Argentinians who say “boludo” a lot. I have been here two years and I would be rich if I had a dollar for every conversation I have heard between two Porteños where it sounds live every word is “Boludo.” Lighten up, it is fun!! Again, what is wrong with saying “Boludo”? What is negative about this? You are the one making it negative. And nowhere in the post does it say “All Argentinians are the loud mouthed, uneducated trash-like characters depicted in the image accompanying this post.” Only you see that.

    The point of this post is to provide English speakers who are in Buenos Aires a quick list of some very common Spanish words they are going to hear that are more or less unique to Argentina. If you have only learned Spanish in Mexico or Spain, you would have no idea what they mean.

    Is it not true that you will hear people saying “che” a lot in Buenos Aires or at least hear it enough to wonder what it means?

    Is it not true you will hear people saying “boludo” a lot in Buenos Aires?

    Is it not true you will hear people saying “pedo” a lot in Buenos Aires? etc.

    Is it not true these words will help you understand Argentine Slang better and be able speak more fluently?

    So I am sorry to say, but I am not quite sure I understand what is racist or stereotypical about listing some very common Spanish words that you will hear in Argentina. It is a fact, you will hear these words if you are here long enough.

    “Did you at all stop to think about the underlying connotations of your assessment of Argentine culture?”

    No I didn’t. Because most people who read this post see these 5 words and find it very helpful. You are the one who sees these words and associates them with negative connotations. There is nothing in this post that has anything to do with Argentine culture besides some common words that are said. When did the article “assess” the use of these words? When did it say that the use of these words is bad?

    So I am not sure who the one is who is “racist”, you or me?

  7. Leo

    I loved it! I am from Argentina and live in NYC and I do not agree with Paula at all.

    There is no way that someone can think this is racist. This is a great tool for foreigners that need to learn the way we speak, which is completely different and impossible to find on a book.

    It is the best description of these signature words, we Argentineans use all the time and yes! We use them all time, a little bit more in some regions and little bit less in others.

    Bravo! Thank you for this! I am sending it to all my gringo friends!

    La mejor de las ondas para todos!

  8. Marta

    Tim Gringo, I believe that what Laura has is mala onda!!!
    jajaja!!!!!!!!!! Lighten up girl!

  9. Matias

    I was born and I live now in Argentina and yes, this is all true. We use at least one of those words in every sentence.

    However I must say that those words cant be use in a formal conversation, lets say that if you come here to do bussines stay on the spanish you´ve learned in the books…

    Anyway… nice blog!

  10. diego

    Diego from argentina to give you some uses for “pedo” word.

    to be “al pedo” its to be in a extreme leisure time
    QUE AL PEDO QUE ESTOY!
    to talk (walk, work, etc) “al pedo” its when the other isn´t listen…lets say you did that in vain.
    HABLAR CON VOS ES AL PEDO (my wife says…lol)
    to do something “de pedo” its when you almost do not suceed. LLEGUÉ DE PEDO.
    “de pedo” its used too when you want to express that something happens by an incredible chance. NOS ENCONTRAMOS DE PEDO.
    A los pedos: its high speed EL TACHERO NOS TRAJO A LOS PEDOS (tachero: taxi driver)
    Cagar a pedos: its receiving a good reprimand. MI VIEJO ME CAGABA A PEDOS

    sorry for my translation… no se van a enojar…boludos!

    Un Abrazo

    Diego.

  11. Antonio

    Just for the record. the word ONDA and PEDO are not just Argentine Spanish. As a matter of fact those 2 words are more used in Mexico than in Argentina. For instance in Mex is more common to use Qué onda? instead of Cómo estas? or Qué tal?

  12. che, boluda, bajá un cambio

    diego’s extra uses of pedo are quite right.

    and ignore that paula idiot, i honestly didn’t find the picture offensive.
    a) it wasn’t even important, you didn’t mention it in the article
    b) it was clearly done by an argentine person in a humorous tone, so it’s fine.
    c) you never said anyone said fobal at all. and if somebody did say that, so be it. they’re free to do it.
    d) she somehow forgot to add that not all argentines yell when they speak, or have piercings, or talk without looking at each other, or have messy hair, as that racist comic CLEARLY shows about us argentines.

    honestly, paula didn’t even deserve such an elaborate reply. anyone with two inches worth of forehead (another idiom) reads the article without getting offended.

  13. Claudia

    I’m an Argentinian living in OZ and I loved this blog post. Don’t pay attention to Paula she’s got a papa frita in her shoulder. And I don’t like to talk all the time that’s why(among other things) I don’t live there. It’s exhausting.

  14. Chris

    I’m just starting to learn Spanish and visiting BA in about 20 days and, apart from being terrified that I won’t learn enough quickly enough, I’m also in hysterics reading this stuff. It’s AWESOME. Already love the language. Besos

  15. MdAmor

    I knew about Boludo from living in BA and read about che. Great article and glad to know about the other words.

  16. John

    Los Argentinos NO hablan español, definitivamente.

    Argentinians do NOT speak Spanish, they speak their dialect.

  17. PaulaM

    Hey this blog is excellent, loving it. I am Paula from Argentina and I do not agree with the other Paula either…actually, ignore her, please…

  18. Je

    Haaaaaaaaaaaaa this is funny! Reading your blog brings back amazing memories of la querida Argentina, que buena onda che!
    Please expand it and make it a dictionary too!
    So that for example, people don’t get confused with the spanish meaning of “concha” and say it in Argentina, or confuse “ramera” with “remera”, “pija” in Spain being something totally different in Arg!! All delightful mistakes that I have made!
    Cada uno tiene su punta de vista pero la de Paula es re fuerte y tiene “mala onda” 🙂

  19. ESTRELLA

    I love your blog. I am working with several “argentinos” and I have not stopped laughing for two years. Yes, they do talk alot…so do I; is all in good fun.

    That Paula… is an idiot.

    I told my friends about your blog.

    Thank you.

  20. Pati

    Naci en ba, but I was brought up here, and my family spoke Argentine Spanish and a fine English together. Paula es una pelotuda. Every time I hear argentine Spanish, I’m home. We play with language, always have. Let’s not forget Lunfardo, which has some of the funniest words and expressions. Che, no seas boluda Paula. Se te fue la mano querida, a Divino cuete!

  21. Carlos

    Nice blog dude!! congrats… Allthough I don’t like that much the fact that you gave the copyright of those words to the rioplatenses, since I don’t agreed that they invented them, I can live with it, is not a big deal… It would been a big deal, if you would assigned the creation of the word “Culiado” to them, that would been bad… bTW, you could write something about it, is a word that you need to know if you come to Cordoba… Thanks!

  22. Carlos

    One more thing! probably sounds better if instead of “fobal” you use “fulbo”, sounds more like argentinian 🙂 … hope it helps…

  23. Gabrielle

    Its easy to live some place and not understand the random interjections. All cultures have them and they are versatile. Its not racist or a generalization..I liked the post. Great job!

  24. María

    ¡Qué mala onda, Paula! Te zarpaste…

    Hi,
    Cool Blog, Tim!
    I´m from Argentina.
    Yes, we use the words “Che” and “Boludo, almost all the time (at least en BA)

    Expand it! With words (or sentences) like:

    – ¿Posta? (We actually say something more like: “¿¿¿Posta, BOLUDO???”…JAJA)

    – Chabón (We use that word a lot too)

    – Zarpado (Zapaaaaaado)

  25. Aldana

    I love this!!! It’s hilarious..I’m from BA,Arg and yeahh.. I agree with you .. those 5 words are a must-know if you’re going to visit there someday. and I didn’t know the actual meaning for Boludo. hahah thanksss.

  26. CynthiaVS

    Very funny, loved it!

    These are basics highly used by Porteños and tourists may hear it repeatedly. “Pedo” has many other meanings, as Diego described on the comments section.

    The word “boludo” is somewhat addictive.. someone says it and you automatically reply including such word… at least that tends to happen to me and my friends… we try to control saying it on every sentence when chatting. “Boludo”, like with many other insults that are also terms of endearment, get their meaning not though the word itself but out of the context and, mainly, intonation used.

    Fleder: Interesting, I didn’t know that.

    Also, I’d like to add that I do not agree with Paula at all… I see no racism on this article and my grandpa used to say “fobal”, same as he said “conboys” to cowboys…

    Cheers!

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  30. Fred

    I speak Italian (learned it from my parents and working in Italy) and I was hoping that because there were so many Italian immigrants that I would be able to navigate spanish here better than any other south american country, But the word che through me off. In Italian che is like como and it is really asking a question or asking “what” or “come again”
    But to use it like us saying Dude is a little mystifying to me.
    Can anyone tell me if my fluent Italian will help me more with Argentine spanish than in other latin american countries?

  31. Enrique

    i love argentinas women; say “hi” back to me sometimes. I am from Mexico. Bolodo?? lol

  32. Daniel-panza-verde

    I´m from Entre Ríos and when I was a kid I was taught that it was impolite to use the word “che”, but I´ll try to use it more often since it´s a typical Argentinian word, hehehe. Why shouldn´t we use slang in informal situations?That makes us unique!! When I was a teenager, I used to say “Che, bolú” instead of “Che, boludo” Aguante este blog!!!

  33. Manuel

    I had an argentine roomate and, besides of “che” he used to say the word “viste?” (did you see?) like…. at the end of every sentence… He was always complaining about the other roomate “Che, decime si se vá el boludo este o me voy yo, viste? decime, che! Mirá que no lo aguanto más! viste? Que tiene el baño hecho una mierda, viste?

  34. Flor

    Great article! I live in Europe but my mum is Argentinian. I didn’t know the origin of some of these words! I do use them all the time with my family, although I tone it down with other Hispanic Speakers because I’m always afraid they will have no clue what I’m saying! x)

    For the record, pedo can be used in Spain, too. Instead of saying ‘estar en pedo’ (to be drunk) you say ‘estar pedo’.

    I would love to read similar articles!!

    xoxo

  35. Carlyle

    Very interesting. I wish I had this when I use to travel to Argentina.

    I was working in Guatemala and traveled to Buenos Aires with a native Spanish speaker from Guatemala. We entered a deli to order a sandwich. I a native English speaker had to translate from Spanish to Spanish for my Guatemalan friend.

  36. Cecilia

    Tim Gringo in BA , I’m from Argentina, and you’re right!!… I say “boludo”, “che, “pedo”, “mala onda” (like Paula), and sooooooo much more. I think there’s nothing offensive here 😉

  37. Kiara Victoria Romero

    I am from Argentina and have lived in Capital as well as the south. I have never known a single person from Argentina not say “Che”
    1- I think Paula should open her eyes, what you have posted was not racist at all. It seemed as if you yourself are from Argentina and you added some good humor. Argentines love good humor. Hence the phrase “te amo gordo! Te re quiero gordito!” In North America, saying “I love you fatty” would be confusing and possibly considered very rude! But in Argentina it is one of those good humor phrases that depend HOW it is said.
    2- Paula needs to read a few Argentine comics. Argentina is proud of the language, slang, humor, flag, people, Italian influence, food, family, and Ofcourse fútbol!!!!! We do not consider it rude when we are informing others of our unique ways.
    3- there actually is more information on the word “Che” and the origin of it however. I enjoyed the post more than anything and find it helpful to people. So thank you for your post and your response to Paula… Gracías gracias LITERALLY! Haha un abrazo Che!

  38. Tess

    Is talking about language racist? hmmm. I asked a Chinese girl what English sounds like and she said, “blaaa blaa st sh th blaa” in super slow motion. It’s way funnier than any Chinese language joke ever. Is that racist? Maybe I’m racist but I’m in love with an Argentine and his Argenine-ness makes me love him more! This blog is spot on! I can’t wait to call him my sweet “Baludo” – no – that’s not right. Ha ha ha…Also, apparently, if you say – Yerba no hay (sp?) it can mean “We have no tea (mate)” But, it can also mean, “Since we have no mate (tea) what’s there to do but make love.” Only it can be less polite, too, if you know what I mean. Che, do we have time to take mate? Che?

  39. Jesus

    I also must disagree with Paula.. This a great tool for foreigners and natives that live outside of Argentina and want some background (live in USA) !!M_E_N_D_O_Z_A!!

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