Argentina has a unique vocabulary of slang expressions that you won’t hear in any other country, except perhaps in neighboring Uruguay.
Below is a list of some of the most common slang expressions that I have heard used by locals in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
There are different varieties among different parts of the country. I mean, each province has its own slang, phrases and accents. Also, within the provinces, they have different language varieties in the cities and moreover, according to social classes.
I made a list of common phrases and words that can be understood all around the country.
Popular Slang Expressions in Argentina:
atorrante – a scumbag, a useless person, a bum. My favorite usage of this word is in the song Otra Noche en La Viruta by Otros Aires.
baboso/a – lusty, horny. For example, a man who leers lustily at a sexy woman is “baboso”.
bárbaro – great, awesome, fantastic
grande – old
Es muy grande.
He’s really old.
guita – money
mina – girl, woman, babe. informal but not usually derogatory
palo verde – one million American dollars
un sarmiento – a 50 peso bill. The bill features an illustration of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento.
birra [f] [Italian, same origin as English beer] beer, a bottle of beer
boludo/a [adj] [rude] 1 (of a person) stupid, annoyingly silly; clumsy; also used as an addressing term among friends; 2 (of a thing) simple, almost insultingly easy to solve. Can take the intensive prefix re-.
bondi [m] [colloquial] bus (public urban transportation). I though this was probably from some sort of convoluted syllable inversion, assimilation and shortening of ómnibus (the proper word for ‘bus’), but a reader pointed out to me that trams in Rio de Janeiro are known as bondis. This word apparently comes from English bonds, which is how Rio’s tram service got built and paid (being one of the first in Latin America) by a British company.
brutal [adj, interj]: lit. brutal, terrible; [appreciative] awesome, terrific.
capo/a [m, f, adj] [Italian, lit. ‘head’] 1 (esp. with the definite articles) boss, chief, leader; [derogatory] the leader of an organization seen as a dark high figure (capomafia ‘mob leader’); 2 (being) a good person, a person one likes, esp. for being supportive and charming (cf ‘tops’).
cana 1 [f] (generally in singular definite form, la cana) the police force, as a whole; a group of policemen. See also yuta. 2 [m, f] a policeman or policewoman
chau [interj] ‘bye!’, ‘goodbye!’. This word is a rendering of Italian ciao, ultimately from [io sono il] tuo sciavo ‘[I am] your slave’, an old goodbye greeting (cf. English ‘At your service’). A native speaker and fellow conlanger, Luca Mangiat, tells me that in some dialects medial -v- consistenly disappears, which accounts even more for this etymology. This word has spread over the world with its original sound /tSao/, chao, but this is extremely rare and rather snobbish-sounding in Argentina.
che [interj] [vocative] ‘hey!’, ‘hey, you!’. Etymology unknown. This word appears in Mapudungu (a language spoken by the Mapuche, natives from Southern Argentina and Chile) meaning ‘people’, and in Guaraní (natives of the Paraná River basin) where it means ‘I’.
chupamedias [m, f, adj [derogatory] lit. ‘sock-sucker’, boot-licker. Tends to lose the final -s.
combustible [m] lit. fuel; alcohol, an intake of an alcoholic drink, thought of having a reanimating or cheering-up effect.
copado/a [m, f, adj] [appreciative, becoming old-fashioned] cool, a good thing, a nice thing or person (see macanudo). Especially applied to people, places and occasions like parties.
corralito [m] [new word (first attested November 2001)] lit. ‘little corral, small pen, little enclosed space’, the set of financial restrictions implemented by minister Domingo Cavallo of the De la Rúa administration to prevent growing amounts of money to be withdrawn from bank accounts, by decreeing that people will have to get their salaries by check only, imposing weekly and monthly limits on the amount of money in banks allowed for withdrawal (initially 250 pesos a week, 1000 pesos a month), and completely freezing some types of bank accounts, thus leaving people’s savings trapped for an indefinite time. These measures were intended to keep the bank system from collapsing and avoid foreign currency (dollars) to leave the country, but were soon breached, and they deepened an already monstrous recession. (The government fell a month later.) — Lessened restrictions implemented later received the name corralón (‘big pen’).
embole [m, usu. sing] (a place, lapse of time, or activity involving) boredom.
grasa [adj, gender invariable] (lit. ‘grease’): kitsch, ridiculous, tasteless (a person, esp. in the lower classes); rude, uneducated. Also an older word, groncho/a.
guacho/a [m, f, adj] lit. a small animal left without parents (only used in the countryside in this sense); a bad (but not evil) person, a son of a bitch (can be used as a friendly insult); any person one shows some attitude (good or bad) towards.
joda [f] 1 joke, kidding, non-serious things said or done (esp. in the fixed phrase en joda ‘not seriously, kidding’); 2 party, organized fun; a house party, a going out (also in the fixed phrase irse de joda ‘go get fun’.
joya [interj] [becoming rare] wonderful, right, OK. Te paso a buscar a las 10. — ¡Joya! ‘I’ll come and fetch you at ten. — OK, wonderful!’.
laburar [v] [Italian lavorare] to work, to have a job
patota [f] a group of violent people, esp. any group of young mobbers (patoteros) who bother people in the street, threatens them and/or rob them, or a group of fans of a football team before or after a match, etc. In general, a derogatory expression for any group of people that tries to achieve things by violent methods and using the force of number, but without any visible structure. There’s also the media-coined fused compound patrioterismo, from patriotismo ‘patriotism’ and patoterismo, meaning violent nationalism, populistic right-wing tendencies, etc.
So if you happen to go to Argentina, you will understand what people are talking about. Just a friendly reminder!
Also, you can enjoy Cordobeses people (people who live in the province of Cordoba, near Buenos Aires) and the way they speak! I love them!
Finally, you will find in this video how this famous band (in Argentina), called ‘Bersuit’, performs with main linguistic characteristics of my country.