The Top 10 Argentine Spanish Phrases You Need to Know
One of the first things you’ll notice when visiting Argentina or speaking with an Argentinian is that Argentine Spanish is different. In a previous post, I introduced the topic of Spanish dialects, and in this post, I’ll show you some of the most common Argentine phrases.
The unique Spanish of Argentina
Argentinean slang has largely arisen as a result of the influence of large-scale immigration to the country in 19th and early 20th centuries. These immigrants brought with them the languages of their own countries and some of that vocabulary gradually blended in with the local Spanish to create the unique dialect that currently exists in Argentina. This influence is felt perhaps most strongly in Buenos Aires where a large number of Italian, Spanish and German immigrants first entered the country. With that in mind, let’s take a look at 10 words and phrases you’ll absolutely need to know if you plan to travel Argentina. And even if you don’t plan to travel to Argentina these words will still make you seem super cool and in the know when you speak to Argentinians anywhere in the world.
In Argentina, you will hear this little word everywhere. In work, with friends or on the street che is one of the most commonly spoken words in the Argentine vocabulary. Che is an interjection that has no real translation in English but is used to call someone’s attention. It’s kind of like ‘man’ or ‘dude’ in US English but far more commonly used. For example:
¿Che, querés tomar una cerveza? – [Che, do you want to have a beer?]
Che can also be used at the end of a sentence to show surprise or amazement, or simply to add emphasis. So for example, if you’ve just been served up a delicious milanesa it wouldn’t be uncommon to complement your host with
¡Que rico, che!
The word che is also popular in Paraguay and Uruguay but it’s undoubtedly most common in Argentina where it’s used constantly. The word has gained some notoriety worldwide through famous revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara who was originally from Argentina and of course, ended up playing a significant role in the Cuban Revolution. Guevara picked up the nickname ‘Che’ because of his constant usage of the word which was uncommon among non-Argentine Spanish speakers. In fact, the word che is so sinonimous with Argentina that is commonly used by people in other Latin American countries to refer to Argentinians. i.e. el Che – the Argentine.
You need to be a little careful with this one! Boludo is a ‘bad word’ but one you’ll need to know as it’s so common in Argentine conversation. Technically it’s an insult in most Latin American countries, but in Argentina it’s generally used in a more amicable way. Boludo has no exact translation but more or less it means ‘idiot’. In Argentina, it’s commonly used alongside che to form the informal greeting ¡Che, boludo! It may seem crass to greet someone like this but it’s something you’ll hear among friends all the time in Argentina.
However, boludo is not always used in such a friendly way, it can also be used as an adjective to describe people and you’ll hear this usage frequently too. For example:
Son boludos – [They’re idiots].
This awesome song by the Javier Martinez Trio definitely takes on this latter meaning of the word. You’ll also notice how Martinez creates a verb form of the word to describe the act of being or acting like a boludo (at 02:51 in the video below). The verb is boludear, in this case conjugated in the 3rd person plural (they):
Algunos boludean por demás.
Just remember, in informal situations this word is acceptable in Argentina BUT in other Latin American countries that’s not the case. If I were you, I’d avoid using it unless you’re in Argentina because saying the word boludo, to someone from Colombia or Chile for example, could cause serious offence!
This is informal Argentine slang for ‘guy’ (pibe) or ‘girl’ (piba) and is generally only used to talk about young people. For example, you might say:
Ese pibe toca la guitarra en el grupo. Y la piba toca la batería. – [That guy plays guitar in the band. And the girl plays the drums.]
Check out this awesome bluesy number by Manal to hear more of this word in context:
One of the most common informal greetings in Argentina is ¿Qué onda?, roughly translated as ‘What’s going on?’ or ‘What’s up?’ Onda is a common word in Argentine Spanish and is often used to describe things or places. It literally translates as ‘wave’ or ‘vibration’ so something that has buena onda could be said to have ‘good vibes’ in English. Likewise, something can have mala onda or bad vibes. This adjective is extremely useful because it can be used in almost any situation and Argentinians will love to hear you applying it!
5. ¿Cómo andás?
¿Cómo andás? is one of the more common ways to informally ask some one how they are in Argentina. It literally means ‘How do you walk?’ and would be translated as ‘How’s it going?’ in English. When speaking with friends this is perhaps the most popular greeting and can be responded to with a simple Todo bien (all’s good) or with …
6. Todo tranqui
In response to above question ¿Cómo andás? you can say todo tranqui. Tranqui is short for tranquilo which means relaxed, so todo tranqui means ‘all is relaxed’. It’s kind of like responding with ‘nothing much’ when someone asks you ‘What’s up?’ in English. This is a very informal response and is only really used with friends and close acquaintances. It can also be used as a question by simply changing your intonation. As with any Spanish phrase, you can create a question by raising your intonation at the end of the phrase. Therefore, by applying raised intonation to the tranqui part at the end of the phrase you can create the question ¿Todo tranqui? which means literally ‘is everything relaxed?’ or simply ‘What’s up?’
In Spain this would be known as la piscina (the swimming pool) but in Argentina it’s la pileta or for short, la pile (pronounced ‘peel-ay’). If you’re visiting Argentina in the summer time (November – March) you’ll likely want to have a dip in the pile to cool off because it gets pretty hot and humid, especially in the city!
Che, me quiero meter en la pile porque hace mucho calor – [I want to have a dip in the pool because it’s really hot!]
Manteca is the Argentine word for butter. This one tripped me up a lot when I first arrived here because I was used to using the traditional Spanish word mantequilla. In Argentina however, mantequilla doesn’t exist. Manteca is not just a shortened or informal version of mantequilla but rather it’s direct replacement in every way. Go to the supermarket and the packaging will display the word manteca. Read the ingredient list of a product: likewise. Of course, Argentinians will understand want you want if you say mantequilla but it’s a dead giveaway that you’re not from around here.
On a side note, when in Argentina una tostada (slice of toast), smothered in manteca and dulce de leche for breakfast is a delicacy not to be missed!
I’ll give you a clue. Choclo means corn. And you eat pochoclo when you go to the cinema. Guessed it yet? Yes, pochoclo is the word used in Argentina for popcorn! In most Spanish speaking countries popcorn is palomitas, but Argentina is the exception. Argentine pochoclo generally comes in two varieties: salado (salted) or dulce (sweet); so if like me you’re a fan of buttered popcorn you’re out of luck!s
10. Mala leche
If you decide to play any kind of board or card game in Argentina somebody is likely to complain “Que mala leche!” That’s right, mala leche is Argentine slang for ‘bad luck’! Literally, this translates as ‘bad milk’ but is used to refer to luck or lack thereof in is a great phrase to have in your vocabulary when playing games with friends in Argentina.
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