10 Argentinian Expressions That Define The Country

After several months away from Argentina, these expressions make me feel most at home.

Being in a different country for a long time makes you think about your hometown more than you realize. For some, that might look like a certain outspoken pride in your home country, or a nostalgia for the things you miss. Whether you’re homesick or just interested in Argentinian culture, let’s take a look at the most common Argentinian words and expressions that will make you feel at home.

Argentinian Expressions You Should Know

Argentinian expressions
Illustrations by Mateo Correal

Hacete unos mates

Translation: Make yourself some mate

For many non-Argentinians, mate is a mystery. A Google search shows results like: What is that thing that Argentinians eat, it’s like wet grass in a bowl? Is mate a hallucinogenic substance?

Mate is a bitter drink made with yerba mate leaves that’s consumed in several South American countries, but in Argentina it’s more than a drink: it’s a shared ritual. At this point, I have to clarify that I myself am a heretic because I don’t drink mate (I never got into the habit), so I’m not an expert on the subject.

People usually drink mate in a group, where one person skillfully prepares it and passes it to the next person. This is one of the Argentinian expressions that unites travelers: Every time I meet an Argentinian somewhere in the world, I get the same offer: Shall we have some mate? And before I can answer, they start telling me that they almost had their yerba mate confiscated at an airport in Asia, thinking it was drugs, or that another Argentinian gave them their leftover mate before returning home, or they proudly show me the mate kit they carry in their backpack.

Traje facturas

Translation: I brought pastries

In Argentina, facturas — normally translated as “bills” or “invoices” — are edible. I’m not referring to gas or internet bills, but to sweet pastries that are ever-present at breakfast or snack time. Café con leche and medialunas is a classic combo. Some people confuse medialunas with croissants, but they have nothing to do with each other: Croissants are salty and airy, while medialunas are sweet, compact and perfect. As compulsive consumers of medialunas, we know how to tell when they’re fresh and warm, when they’re dry or a day old.

Medialunas aren’t the only facturas: There are also vigilantes, cañoncitos (“little cannons”), suspiros de monja (“nun sighs”), sacramentos, bolas de fraile (“friar balls”)… They were given these names by a group of anarchist bakers who, as a form of protest, decided to make fun of different institutions such as the police, the army and the church with the names they gave their wares.

Este finde hay asado en casa

Translation: There’s a barbecue at home this weekend

Our cuisine may not have the most variety, but we love to eat and, especially, to eat with company. Just as mate is more than a tea, asado (“barbecue”) is more than a way of cooking meat: It’s a social activity. An asado is prepared in advance, the tasks are divided up, and everyone helps with something: preparing the salads, buying the meat, bringing the drinks and ice, making the fire, preparing the picada (eaten before the meat comes out, usually cheese, peanuts and olives), playing music and bringing the desserts.

The asador is in charge of the grill. The first things to come out are usually the choris (“sausage”), and the grilled potatoes are left to the end. In the meantime, the grill can be used for hamburgers, steak, chicken, entrails and pork, but the asado itself is usually beef. When the plates are empty, the asado isn’t over: That’s when sobremesa begins, which is when we sit around the table for a long time talking about life.

Dame otro Fernet con coca

Translation: Give me another fernet with coke

In every country there’s often a typical drink or food that serves as a “trial by fire” or “initiation rite” for any guest from another country: In Argentina it’s fernet. It’s an herbal alcoholic beverage, with about 40 percent alcohol, originally created in Italy as a digestive. It arrived in Argentina in the 19th century, and today we consume more than three-fourths of fernet produced globally, but with a local touch: Fernet is enjoyed with lots and lots of ice and Coca-Cola (not Pepsi or Diet Coke).

Non-Argentinians say it tastes like a very bitter syrup, and some bolder ones say it’s disgusting. The truth is that for the non-Argentinian who falls in love with fernet, there’s no turning back: My husband is French and, wherever we go in the world, we desperately look for bottles of fernet on the supermarket shelves.

Boludo

Translation: Balls

This must be one of the most common Argentinian expressions, and yet it’s difficult to give an exact definition of boludo. Literally, it refers to the size of testicles, and according to the dictionary it’s used to say that someone is dumb. But for us, it’s not an insult (although it can be, depending on the tone and the context it’s said in).

We call each other boludo or boluda with friends (boluda, no sabés lo que me pasó — “boluda, you’ll never guess what happened”), we say no seas boludo (“don’t be boludo”) to encourage someone who’s scared to do something, we tell someone deje de hacer boludeces (“stop making boludeces”) to ask them to stop fooling around. Dale, no me boludes (“Dome on, don’t bolude me”) is used to ask the other person to take us seriously or not to try to trick us. If we say that something is a boludez, it means that it seems easy to us, and if someone se hace el boludo (“is acting boludo”), it’s because they’re ignoring a situation. And while we sometimes use sos un boludo (“you’re a boludo”) as an insult, it will always be several steps lower than saying pelotudo, which literally means the same thing but has a stronger connotation.

El dulce de leche es sagrado

Translation: Dulce de leche is sacred

Argentinian dulce de leche To continue with Argentinian expressions: Dulce de leche is a matter of national pride. Some people say it’s too thick or too sugary, I say they just don’t get it. In 10 years of traveling, I’ve never found anything like it (no, not even French caramel).

Dulce de leche goes well with everything: bread, facturas (some facturas are already filled with dulce de leche), cookies, bananas, brownies and birthday cakes (it’s not a cake if it doesn’t have dulce de leche). Dulce de leche ice cream is a classic (the ice cream itself deserves a separate article), and there are ice cream parlors that become famous for making “the best dulce de leche ice cream in the neighborhood.” And dulce de leche is the fundamental ingredient in one of our favorite specialties: the alfajor.

En pedo / de pedo / al pedo / a los pedos

Translation: fart

This is one of the Argentinian expressions that’s used in a thousand different ways. Literally, a pedo is… how to say it… a bodily wind, but its meaning changes according to the article placed before it.

So, to be en pedo is to be drunk (if the drunkenness is very strong, one has un pedo de colores — “a pedo of colors”), although it is also a way of telling someone that he or she is crazy (¡estás en pedo, eso no es así! — “you’re in pedo, it’s not like that!”). To do or achieve something de pedo is by chance or luck (llegué a tiempo de pedo, porque había mucho tráfico — “I got there on time de pedo, because there was a lot of traffic”), to be al pedo is to be doing nothing (hoy no trabajo, estoy al pedo — “Today I’m not working, I’m al pedo”), but it can also be used to refer to something that is useless (es al pedo que le pedo que le pedas eso, no lo va a hacer — “it’s al pedo to ask him to do that, he will not do it”). To go a los pedos is to go very fast (esa moto va a los pedos — “that motorcycle is going to the pedos” or estás yendo a los pedos, no te entiendo nada — “they’re going to the pedos, I don’t understand at all”), to say that you won’t do something ni en pedo (“not even in pedo”) means that you wouldn’t do it even if you were mentally unwell. Finally, to tirarse un pedo (“pull a pedo”) is to break wind.

Qué quilombo

Translation: What a mess

The word quilombo comes from lunfardo and literally means “brothel.” What’s lunfardo? It’s slang or colloquial speech that emerged in Buenos Aires and its surroundings during the second half of the 19th century. Many Argentinian expressions arrived with European immigrants, especially Italians, and were popularized by tango and other musical genres. Many of the words we use today in Argentina come from lunfardo, and quilombo is one of them.

For us, a quilombo is a mess or something complicated. Esto es un quilombo (“That’s a quilombo”) or ¿qué es este quilombo? (“what is this quilombo?”) can also refer to a place that’s cluttered or a messy situation. If we ask someone to no nos meta en quilombos (“don’t put us in quilombos”), it’s because we don’t want trouble. If we want to say it al vesre (al revés — “backwards”), we say qué bolonqui.

Che

Che must be another of the Argentinian expressions that we say the most and the one that most represents us outside of Argentina, although it’s used in several countries and has an origin that’s difficult to define. The che has been used in Valencia, Spain, for several centuries, as well as in Italy (it’s believed that this is how it arrived in our country) and even in the indigenous communities of northern Argentina (in Guarani, che means “my”).

In Argentina, we use che informally as an interjection, to call the attention of someone we trust (che, ¡mirá eso! — “che, look at that!”), to address everyone present (che, no saben lo que me pasó — “che, you’ll never guess what happened to me”), to give an order (dale, che, vení — “come on, che, come on”), to replace the name of a friend or especially to address a person (che, ¿te conté lo que dijeron? — “che, did I tell you what they said?”), and sometimes even to fill silences in a conversation (pero, che, ¡qué cosa bárbara! — “but, che, what a barbaric thing!”).

Te mando un beso

Translation: I’m sending you a kiss

Besos in Argentina Argentinians really like to give kisses. We kiss each other on the cachete (mejilla — “cheek”) to say hello to almost everyone. Women kiss women and men, men also kiss each other. Everyone kisses to greet each other. We end phone calls, chats, or emails by saying “un beso” (“a kiss” — unless we have to get formal, and in that case we use “saludos” — “salutations”).

Some people coming from countries with more distanced greetings feel somewhat intimidated by this kind of closeness. We Argentinians don’t only kiss, we also hug and say te quiero (“I love you” — a phrase used not only by a couple, but also between friends). Friendship is as important to us as family, and we take advantage of every moment to express it. This is one of the things I like and miss the most when I’m not in Argentina (yes, even more than dulce de leche).

A version of this article was originally published on the Spanish edition of Babbel Magazine.

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