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Areas where "Lunfardo" developed in the 19th century

Lunfardo (from the Italian lumbardo or inhabitant of Lombardy in the local dialect) is a slang originated and developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the lower classes in Buenos Aires and the surrounding Gran Buenos Aires,[1][2] and from there spread to other cities nearby, such as Rosario, and Montevideo, cities with similar socio-cultural situations. Originally, Lunfardo was a slang used by criminals and soon by other people of the lower and lower-middle classes. Later, many of its words and phrases were introduced in the vernacular and disseminated the Spanish of Argentina, and Uruguay. Nevertheless, since the early 20th century, Lunfardo has spread among all social strata and classes, either by habitual use or because it was common in the lyrics of tango.


Lunfardo (or lunfa for short) began as prison slang in the late 19th century, so guards would not understand the prisoners. According to Oscar Conde, the word came from "lumbardo" (the inhabitants of the region Lombardia in Italy, the origin of most of the Italians in Argentina in the early 19th century).[3] However, the vernacular Spanish of mid-19th century Buenos Aires, as preserved for us in the dialogue of Esteban Echeverría's short story The Slaughter Yard (El matadero), was already a prototype of Lunfardo.[4]


Most sources believe that Lunfardo originated among criminals, and later became more commonly used by other classes. Circa 1870, the word lunfardo itself (originally a deformation of lombardo in several Italian dialects) was often used to mean "outlaw".

Lunfardo today[edit]

Today, some Lunfardo terms have entered in the language spoken all over Argentina and Uruguay, although a great number of Lunfardo words have fallen into disuse or have been modified in the era of suburbanization. Furthermore, the term "Lunfardo" has become a synonymous with "speech of Buenos Aires" or "Porteño", mainly of the inhabitants of the City of Buenos Aires, as well as its surrounding areas (Greater Buenos Aires). The Montevideo speech has almost as much "lunfardo slang" as the Buenos Aires speech. Conde is of the opinion that the lunfardo (much like the cocoliche) can be considered a kind of Italian dialect mixed with Spanish words, specifically the one spoken in Montevideo. In other words, the lunfardo is an interlanguage variety of the Italian dialects spoken by immigrants in the areas of Buenos Aires and Montevideo.[citation needed]

In Argentina, any neologism which has reached a minimum level of acceptance is considered, by default, a Lunfardo term. The original slang has been immortalized in numerous tango lyrics.[citation needed]

Conde has expressed that the Lunfardo is not so much a dialect, but rather a kind of local language of the Italian immigrants, mixed with Spanish and some French words.[5] He believes that Lunfardo is not a criminal slang, since most of the lunfardo words are not related to crime.[6]

Conde defines lunfardo as:

(Lunfardo) is a form of popular expression, or better, a vocabulary of the poors in Buenos Aires that grew to all the area of the Rio de la Plata and later to all the country...The use of this lexicus remembers to the users their roots and their identity....the lunfardo is probably the only one created mostly from Italian immigrants words (Es un modo de expresión popular o, para decirlo más claramente, un vocabulario del habla popular de Buenos Aires…que se ha extendido primero a toda la región del Río de la Plata y luego al país entero…el uso de este léxico les recuerda a sus usuarios quiénes son, pero también de dónde vienen…el lunfardo es posiblemente el único que en su origen se formó, y en un alto porcentaje, con términos italianos inmigrados).[7]


Lunfardo words are inserted in the normal flow of Rioplatense Spanish sentences – grammar and pronunciation do not change. Thus, an average Spanish-speaking person reading tango lyrics will need, at most, the translation of a discrete set of words.

Tango lyrics use lunfardo sparsely, but some songs (such as El Ciruja, or most lyrics by Celedonio Flores) employ lunfardo heavily. "Milonga Lunfarda" by Edmundo Rivero is an instructive and entertaining primer on lunfardo usage.

A characteristic of lunfardo is its use of word play, notably vesre (from "[al] revés"), reversing the syllables, similar to English back slang, French verlan or Greek ποδανά-podaná. Thus, tango becomes gotán and café con leche (coffee with milk) becomes feca con chele.

Lunfardo employs metaphors such as bobo ("dumb") for the heart, who "works all day long without being paid", or bufoso ("snorter") for pistol.

Finally, there are words that are derived from others in Spanish, such as the verb abarajar, which means to stop a situation or a person (e.g. to stop your opponent's blows with the blade of your knife) and is related to the verb "barajar", which means to cut or shuffle a deck of cards.



  • buchón - snitch, informer to the law (from the French bouillon)
  • chochamu - young man (vesre for muchacho)
  • fiaca - laziness, or lazy person (from the Italian fiacca "laziness, sluggishness")
  • gomías - friends (vesre for amigos)
  • guita - money
  • lorca - hot, as in the weather (vesre for calor "heat")
  • mina - an informal word for woman
  • percanta - a young woman
  • pibe[8] - like "kid", a common term for boy or, in more recent times, for young man
  • quilombo - racket, ruckus, disorder, mess; also slang for brothel (from the Kimbundu word kilombo).


  • cerebrar - to think something up (from cerebro, "brain")
  • engrupir - to fool someone (origin unknown, but also used in modern European and Brazilian Portuguese slang)
  • garpar - to pay with money (vesre for pagar "to pay")
  • junar - to look to / to know (from Caló junar "to hear")
  • laburar - to work (from Italian lavorare "to work")
  • manyar - to know / to eat (from the Italian mangiare "to eat")
  • morfar - to eat (from French argot morfer "to eat")
  • pescar - to know (vesre from the Italian capisce "do you understand?")

Modern slang[edit]

Since the 1970s, it is a matter of debate whether newer additions to the slang of Buenos Aires qualify as lunfardo. Traditionalists argue that lunfardo must have a link to the argot of the old underworld, to tango lyrics, or to racetrack slang. Others maintain that the colloquial language of Buenos Aires is lunfardo by definition.

Some examples of modern talk:

  • Gomas (lit. tires) - woman's breasts
  • Maza (lit. mace or sledgehammer) - superb
  • Curtir (lit. to tan) - to be involved in
  • Curtir fierros can mean "to be into car mechanics" or "to be into firearms", Fierro is the Old Spanish form of hierro (iron). In Argentine parlance, it can mean a firearm or anything related to metals and mechanics, for example a racing car.
  • Zafar - to barely get by; Zafar is actually a standard Spanish verb (originally meaning to extricate oneself) that had fallen out of use and was restored to everyday Buenos Aires speech in the 1970s by students, with the meaning of "barely passing (an examination)"
  • Trucho - counterfeit, fake; Trucho is from old Spanish slang truchamán, which in turn derives from the Arabic turjeman ("translator", referring specifically to a person who accosts foreigners and lures them into tourist traps). Folk etymology derives this word from trucha (trout), or from the Italian trucco, something made fake on purpose. Reference (Spanish)

Many new terms had spread from specific areas of the dynamic Buenos Aires cultural scene: invented by screenwriters, used around the arts-and-crafts fair in Plaza Francia, culled from the vocabulary of psychoanalysis.

Influence from Cocoliche[edit]

Lunfardo was influenced by Cocoliche, a dialect of Italian immigrants.[9] Many cocoliche words were transferred to Lunfardo in the first half of the 20th century. For example:-

  • manyar (to eat) from Italian "mangiare" -> in Lunfardo: to eat.
  • lonyipietro (fool)
  • fungi (mushroom) -> in Lunfardo: hat
  • vento (wind) -> in Lunfardo: money
  • matina (morning) from Italian "mattina"
  • mina (girl) from Lombardo dialect
  • laburar (to work) from Italian "lavorare"
  • minga (nothing) from Italian "mica"
  • yeta (bad luck) from Italian "iella"
  • yira (to go for a walk) from Italian "girare"
  • salute (cheers) from Italian "salute"
  • fiaca (laziness) from Italian "fiacca"

Some Italian linguists,[10] because of the Cocoliche influences, argue that the Lunfardo can be considered a pidgin of the Italian language.


A rarer feature of Porteño speech that can make it completely unintelligible is the random addition of suffixes with no particular meaning, usually making common words sound reminiscent of Italian surnames. These endings include -etti, -elli eli, -oni, -eni, -anga, -ango, -enga, -engue, -engo, -ingui, -ongo, -usi, -ula, -usa, -eta, among others.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lunfardo history, with historical accounts in newspapers of the nineteenth century.
  2. ^ Definition of the word "Lunfardo"according to the RAE.
  3. ^ Conde. "Un estudio sobre el habla popular de los argentinos". Introduction
  4. ^ The story may be read on Wikisource:
  5. ^ Oscar Conde: Lunfardo. Un estudio sobre el habla popular de los argentinos; pág. 43
  6. ^ Conde; p. 55
  7. ^ Conde; p. 109
  8. ^ pibe in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española
  9. ^ Cocoliche e Lunfardo: l'italiano dell'Argentina (in Italian).
  10. ^ A. Cancellier. Italiano e spagnolo a contatto nel Rio de La Plata Università di Milano. Milano, 2006


  • Conde, Oscar. Lunfardo: Un estudio sobre el habla popular de los argentinos.Ediciones Taurus. Buenos Aires, 2011 ISBN 978.987-04-1762-0
  • Grayson, John D. (March 1964). "Lunfardo, Argentina's Unknown Tongue". Hispania (American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese) 47 (1): 66–68. doi:10.2307/337280. 

External links[edit]