Pronouncing the Spanish B and V: No more confusion!

Among the challenges facing Spanish language learners is that of learning to pronounce words with letters whose pronunciations in Spanish differ from those in English. Some of these differences are well-known, and many learners begin their first lessons already aware that the Spanish “j” sounds somewhat like the English “h” and that the pronunciation of the “ll” in many dialects is similar to that of the English “y”. Nevertheless, one of the differences often either ignored or poorly understood is the difference between the Spanish “v” and “b” and the English “v” and “b”.


This lack of knowledge or confusion is easily understood: it dates back as far as the Middle Ages, when Spanish scholar Antonio de Nebrija (who believed that grammar was the foundation of all science) applied the Latin pronunciation of these letters (he, like many of his contemporary scholars, believed Latin to be superior to all other languages) to Spanish and published these as rules in his seminal work Gramática de la lengua castellana published in 1492. Nebrija believed that “we must pronounce as we write, an write as we pronounce.” Though this differentiation in the pronunciation of the two letters was rejected by the Real Academia Española in its 1726 edition of the Diccionario de autoridades and its 1741 edition of Ortografía, however, its 1754 version of this latter book recommended pronouncing the “b” as a bilabial stop and the “v” as a bilabial occlusive and this recommendation remained unchanged until the version published in 1911. At the same time, the Academy encouraged differentiating the pronunciation of the two letters in schools in order to make spelling easier. Even today, many elementary school teachers – and some teachers at higher levels – distinguish between the two letters for the same reason. As a result, many native Spanish speakers adamantly defend the differentiation of the two letters.

Nevertheless, this Latinizing differentiation is artificial and does not represent the actual pronunciation of Castilian at any period of time. In fact, Tomás Navarro Tomás, a Spanish writer and linguist writing in the early 20th century, stated that this feature probably existed in Hispanic Latin (which developed in the 3rd to 1st centuries BC), as there are written accounts of Hispanic Latin speakers in Rome being mocked for their inability to distinguish between the Latin words “vivere” and “bibere”. In other words, even the substrate of modern Spanish lacked the distinction between the two letters. There do exist some geographical areas where speakers distinguish between the two; this is the result of the influence of contiguous languages (for example, Catalonian) or local languages (this is especially prevalent in some parts of Mexico) where this phonemic distinction exists or existed.

Another root of the confusion about the pronunciation of the “b” and the “v” is the fact that these two letters actually do represent two distinctly different sounds: the [b] (a voiced bilabial stop) and the [β] (a voiced bilabial fricative). This latter sound is often interpreted by English speakers (and speakers of other languages where the b and v represent different sounds) as [v], a voiced labiodental fricative. This sound does not – nor has it ever – occurred naturally in the Spanish language.

What then is the rule for pronouncing these two letters correctly in Spanish?

The rule is actually quite simple and depends on both the position of the letter and the letter or sound that precedes it:

Both “b” and “v” are pronounced as [b] whenever they occur at the beginning of a vocalization of words such as, for example, a sentence: “Bueno” ([bweno]) or “Voy” [boi] or after a bilabial sound (such as [m]): “embestir” ([embestir]) or “invertir” ([imbertir] – the [n] becomes [m] due to the bilabial nature of the [b]).

In all other positions, these two letters represent the voiced bilabial fricative sound represented by [β]. This means that both “tubo” and “tuvo” are pronounced exactly alike: [tuβo].

Following are some examples of how the rule works:

bebe [beβe]

él bebe [el βeβe]

vive [biβe]

él vive [el βiβe]

ambas [ambas]

alba [alβa]

We’re interested in knowing what your experiences with the pronunciation of “b” and “v” have been. Do you pronounce them differently? Tell us about what you were taught in school or how people in your community pronounce them.

What language did Jesus speak?

Did Jesus spoke Hebrew or Aramaic?
During Pope Francis’ last visit to the Holy Land on 24th-26th May, a linguistic issue made an unexpected appearance in a pilgrimage described by the Pontiff as a “great grace” and an opportunity to “pray for peace” in the Middle East.

Only minutes after the first public encounter between Pope Francis and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the latter mentioned that Jesus spoke Hebrew to be immediately corrected by the Pontiff: “He spoke Aramaic”. Netanyahu was quick to reply: “He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew as well.” This quick conversation immediately raised the attention of linguists, language experts and the Catholic religious community in general: what language did Jesus speak? Did he speak Aramaic or did he speak Hebrew? Or was he well versed in both languages?

As stated by Ghil’ad Zuckermann, an Israeli linguistics professor, Jesus was a native Aramaic speaker. However, he pointed out that Jesus would have also known Hebrew as it was the written language of Holy Scriptures and the language commonly spoken amongst the lower classes; the majority of people Jesus ministered to.

Aramaic: Jesus’ Native Language
According to Omniglot, considered the most complete resource of past and current world languages, Aramaic is a Semitic language which was the lingua franca of much of the Near East from 7th century BC to 7th century AD. It was the main language spoken by Persians, Assyrians and Babylonians and it was spread well into Greece and the Indus Valley. Jesus grew within an Aramaic speaking community so he definitely spoke this language.
Aramaic was once the main language of the Jews and appears in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Christian communities in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon still use it and it is also still spoken by small communities in Turkey, Iraq, Armenia, Iran, Syria and Georgia.

That little funny word that’s truly universal


According to a recent study, love may be the universal language and a kiss may be a universal way of showing affection, but there’s a funny, little word that’s truly universal.

A group of Dutch researches traveled round the world and interacted with native speakers of 10 different languages both in large cities and small villages. They recorded the conversations and to their surprise they discovered that, despite the fact that all the languages were different, they all shared one word: “Huh?”

“Huh?” is an interjection used by people when they don’t understand what someone has just said and needs the last word or phrase to be repeated. Major languages as different from one another as Spanish, Dutch, Islandic, Mandarin Chinese, Italian and minor languages spoken in Laos, Thailand, Ecuador, Ghana, Cambodia or Australia all had this little word in common.

Why such a huge buzz around such a little word?: The “Huh?” Factor

Carrying such an extensive research on such a little word may seem trivial but, in fact, it’s very important. “Huh?” along with other little words such as “Sorry” or “What?” play an important role in human communication, ensuring that the dialogue flows naturally between the speakers and that they fully understand what the other is saying. Thus, these words are essential communication tools that help us let others know when we have problems understanding or hearing what was said.

“Huh?”, “Sorry” or “What?” are much more than signals or involuntary responses. They only function within a well established system of communication. In fact, despite the logical variations in the different languages the “Huh?” sound remains the same.



Up the apples, she’s got a lovely pair of bacons – what do East Londoners mean?

Cockney rhyming slang is jam-packed with references to fruit, vegetables and other kinds of foods. This East London working-class slang, structured around a simple rhyming system, was the East Londoner’s language code which prevented bosses, the police and other authority figures from understanding what was being said.

Some of the most popular food-related cockney rhyming phrases include “apples and pears,” “bacon and eggs” and “custard and jelly.” Below, we’ve compiled a fairly extensive list of food rhymes and their East London meaning…


Classic London Cockney Rhyming Slang Typography Print By Rebbie

apples and pears

The phrase “apples and pears” rhymes with “stairs” and so is commonly used to refer to anything which might be going on above. You might say to someone, looking for an item they’ve lost, “It might be up the apples,” meaning it might be upstairs and therefore worth checking.

bacon and eggs

Bacon and eggs rhymes with legs and is used when you want to compliment a woman. You might say, “You’ve got a lovely pair of bacons,” meaning that she has a really good looking pair of legs.

custard and jelly

“Shall we watch a bit of custard?” might be a question someone would ask if they wanted to watch the television, as custard and jelly refers directly to the telly (television).

loaf of bread

If you’re ever told to, “use your loaf,” in the East End of London, it’s because you’re being told to “use your head” or to think/act smarter. “Head” rhymes with “bread,” and so the phrase is shortened from “use your loaf of bread (head)” to “use your loaf!”

mince pies

When a guy from the East End of London wants to chat up a lovely lady that he sets his eyes on, he might say, “You’ve got lovely mincies.” “Mince pies”, rhymes with “eyes” and… the conclusion to be drawn from the rest is quite clear.

peas in the pot

When you walk into a room and someone says, “It’s a bit peasy in here,” they mean that it’s a bit hot. “Peas in the pot” rhymes with “hot,” hence the use of the phrase, “peasy.”

plates of meat

“Plates of meat” rhymes with “feet.” You might hear someone say, “Be careful of me (my) plates,” if they’re frightened that someone else is about to stand on their feet.

potatoes in the mould

A shortened version of “potatoes” in the East End of London is the word “taters.” The phrase “potatoes (taters) in the mould” rhymes with “cold” and is used when someone is feeling a little nippy. You might hear someone say, “It’s a bit taters in here.”

rabbit and pork

If you happen to be spending a lot of time with someone who talks and talks and talks and never seems to want to just be quiet, you might want to say, “Wow! You can really rabbit, can’t you!” The phrase “rabbit and pork” rhymes with “talk” and is used to talk about the big chatterboxes in our lives.

tea leaf

“He’s a little tea leaf,” is used to accuse someone of being a “thief.”

As is made evident from the examples above, the parts of the rhymes which don’t actually match the sound of the word they are referring to is the word that is normally used in Cockney Rhyming Slang. For instance, in “bacon and eggs”, “eggs” rhymes with “legs”, but “bacon” is the part of the phrase which is used when you want to tell a woman she has a lovely pair of “bacons” (legs).

By opting for the section of the rhyme which doesn’t actually rhyme, the secret meaning of the phrase was kept even more of a secret amongst the working classes of East London. Secrecy to Cockney Rhymers means everything.


“Agarrate Catalina”: What does it mean and where does it come from?

“Agarrate, Catalina,” is another widely-used, Argentine lunfardo expression, probably dating back to the 1940s and the story of a young circus artist called, Catalina.

 The legend describes the young Catalina as one of the youngest members of a family of trapeze artists in a circus which used to frequent the Porteño neighborhoods of Buenos Aires during the 1940s. As legend would have it, Catalina lost her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother all to fatal trapeze accidents when she was very young. Despite her family’s tragic history, Catalina continued to work in the same field, following the family tradition as a trapeze artist in the neighborhood of San Telmo.

Owing to the tragic events of her family’s history, whenever she stepped out in front of the public to perform, she was met with taunt after taunt to the tune of, “Agarrate bien, Catalina,” which in English literally translates to “Hold on tight, Catalina.” As time went on, the phrase used by many Argentines today, was gradually shortened to, “Agarrate, Catalina.”

The phrase is used in Argentina today to give warning to someone who’s about to launch themselves into a situation which probably won’t be easy and might not even turn out well in the end. The phrase is used as a warning to those who are attempting to follow a dangerous path, which will probably lead them into real troubles. The idea is to send a signal for that person to be alert and ready for the difficult times which await them ahead.

Sadly, as the story goes, Catalina also died during one of her circus functions when she was only 25 years old. Ironically, however, she didn’t die from a trapeze accident. She was, as legend would have us believe, hit directly in the chest by the cannonball man as he was propelled from the cannon and into the arena of the central tent.

If “Agarrate, Catalina” didn’t originate from the story of Catalina and her trapeze-artist family, it may have originated from the pre-race behavior of a popular jockey named, Leguizamo. Leguizamo used to ride above a female horse called, Catalina. Supposedly, before every race, he would mount Catalina and then just before the gunshot was fired, he would lean forward and whisper in his horse’s ear, “Agarrate, Catalina,” hoping that this would help him focus his horse and to win the race.

Photo: Exequiela Goldini

Beyond the mere lunfardo use of the phrase, “Agarrate Catalina” is now known, within a number of countries across the world, as the title of the Uruguayan Murga group of the same name. “Agarrate Catalina” was formed in April 2001 and has since that time continued relentlessly to sing and perform in many different countries, sharing its Uruguayan expressions and traditions with as many different cultures and audiences as possible.

The artistic director, Yamandú Cardozo and his brother, Tabaré Cardozo, have been in charge of the artistic direction of “Agarrate Catalina” since the very beginning. Their work is also deeply set in a range of social ideas and commentaries which pertain to the needs and concerns of Latin American communities in general. These ideas have included The Community, Common People, Civilization and The Journey.

Is knowing just two languages enough?

In the 21st century, thanks to the economic and business-related effects of globalization, knowing how to speak, read, listen and write in just two languages is simply not enough. It’s not enough to guarantee success for recent graduates who are applying for a job or for professionals who are looking to climb further up the industry ladder.


The most widely-spoken languages across the world to date are Chinese, Spanish and English. It’s interesting to note that, even though English is by far considered to be one of the most important languages to learn for travel, business and professional development reasons, there are more Chinese and Spanish speakers in the world than English speakers. 1.2 billion people in the world speak Chinese, 329 million speak Spanish and only 328 million speak English.

With statistics like these, it would seem that investing in English, Spanish and Chinese would be a worthwhile activity for most people, particularly those who are interested in travel or international business opportunities. However, a much deeper analysis of this data is required before jumping to such a simple conclusion.

The basic fact that 1.2 billion people in the world speak Chinese doesn’t necessarily mean that all professionals looking to improve their employability are going to benefit from learning Chinese. There’s also little reason to assume that all travel fanatics will benefit from learning Chinese. Emigration figures across the globe continue to rise, but again, not all emigrants will need to invest in Chinese lessons in order to integrate comfortably into their new places of residence.

Professions and industries which look for multi-linguists

Aside from language statistics, it’s important to take a closer look at particular professions and industries. It’s fairly obvious that professionals working in the travel and tourism industry would benefit from learning more than two languages, but there’s a huge range of other professions which, thanks to globalization and growing international business opportunities, place heavy emphasis on multilingual skills when interviewing potential employees.

Finance, law, sales, marketing, engineering, health, construction and technical careers are just some of the industries in which knowledge of at least three languages is fast becoming a prerequisite for most positions. The World Cup 2014 and Olympics 2016 in Brazil have brought about a huge increase in the demand for Portuguese speakers in the construction industry and in other commercial sectors which are directly involved in the development of both global sporting events. This goes to show that context and world events has just as much to do with which languages are in demand or “in vogue” as the number of people who speak that language worldwide.

Languages which are becoming useful thanks to recently developing markets

Spanish, English, Portuguese, French, Italian and German have been popular languages to learn for a number of decades, but recent developments throughout the first decade of the 21st century have contributed to a developing interest in other languages which haven’t been under the language-learning spotlight until now.

Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and Russian are four of those languages. The expansion of the Internet and the growing impact of globalization have contributed to the development of unknown markets in countries including Japan and Russia. Global business ideas and projects in these countries are beginning to develop at a steady pace and the need for language specialists who can negotiate with business executives in these countries is becoming more and more important by the day.

The Internet and immigration

The Internet is one of the main reasons why knowing just two languages is no longer enough, particularly when it comes to business and international relations. In 2000, the Internet was dominated by English language speakers.

20 million internet users spoke Spanish, 34 million spoke Chinese and 187 million spoke English. 11 years later in 2011, things had changed incredibly. 164 million internet users spoke Spanish, 509 million spoke Chinese and 565 million spoke English. English is no longer such a dominating force in the global market and this is starting to generate significant repercussions in the language prerequisites set forth by employers of international companies for prospective employees.

However, it’s important to again reiterate at this point that context is essential when deciding in which languages one should be investing his or her dedication and money. Chinese might be fast catching up to English on the Internet and Russia might be one of the fastest developing unknown markets across the globe, but if you live and work in the U.S., the bilingual combination of Spanish and English is probably still the most important language combination for you to become fluent in.

Every year, between 700 thousand and one million people legally migrate to the U.S. and more than 50% of these immigrants come from Spanish-speaking countries. Anything from doing business, to making friends, to studying or to marketing to consumers in the U.S. is becoming more and more essential in both English and Spanish.

The facts

Regardless of which languages we should be learning, one single fact is strikingly clear: knowing just two languages in the 21st century is fast becoming redundant. Globalization, immigration and advances in technology are forcing us down the multilingual path, whether we are prepared for it or not.

Innovative student slang software helps UK teachers to monitor online bullying

Jonathan Valentine, the founder of Impero, is one of the brains behind a new kind of software program which is being used in schools to monitor the behavior of students who might be self-harming, engaging in under-age sexual activity and bullying via online media.

Language develops fast and there’s nothing which develops at such a pace, particularly amongst young people, than slang. UK teachers have, for a long time, found it difficult to keep up with the continuously renovating trends of modern slang which students incorporate into their daily lives as a means of communicating with each other, both online and offline.



Why has Impero developed this slang decoder software?

The fear of many teachers, and other organizations which work to support young people in a number of ways, is that bullying and self-harm can go unnoticed when adults don’t understand the common slang terms being used by young people to communicate.

The idea behind the software program developed by Impero and so far used in 1400 schools located throughout the UK, is to help teachers and other supervising adults breakdown the coded language that young people use, to keep up-to-date with popular slang and to keep track of young people who are affected by bullying behavior or who show signs of wanting to self-harm.

How was the slang dictionary put together?

The dictionary has been organized into nine separate sections. Each section focuses on a particular issue and lists popular, modern terms used by young people when referring to sexual activity (or “sexting” – sexual activity via text message), suicide, body image, self-harm, adult content, eating disorders, bullying, racism and homophobia.

Impero took help and expert advice from a number of different sources when compiling the dictionary and programming the software. Students from Laurence Jackson School in Cleveland played a major role in the development process, particularly in helping to generate the content of the dictionary itself. However, certain organizations, including the Anti-Bullying Alliance and an eating disorder charity, called B-eat, also helped Impero generate this new software by sharing information about popular modern language trends used by the young people that they come into contact with on a daily basis.

How does the slang dictionary software work?

Impero’s software can be used by schools to automatically scan online conversations and online student activity to check for disguised bullying language or coded language used by young people to indicate that they have suicidal thoughts / desires to self-harm.

Whenever the software picks up signs of abuse or bullying in the modern slang that students are using, it records that information in the automatically generated reports that teachers can choose to download. The dictionary helps teachers to understand modern slang terms, such as “gnoc” (get naked on camera) or “dirl” (die in real life).

When teachers hear phrases in the corridors or read written words that they cannot decipher, they can also use the program as a modern slang dictionary and search for the meaning of these phrases to check whether or not they should be worried about the activity of students under their care.

What might need tweaking?

Even though the software is being used by 1400 schools across the UK and even though it has also been used successfully to track threatening gang culture behavior in the US, there are some areas of the program which still need to be refined. For example, the language used by young people is going to continue to develop. This means the dictionary will need to be kept up-to-date, which is not only time-consuming but requires lots of constant research into young people’s vernacular.

It’s also important to stipulate that slang differs across the country. This means that regional differences need to be taken into account and, at present, the software is pretty standard. The option to add words to the dictionary exists and this is a positive aspect of the program, but the difficulties of using the program on a regular basis are already clear.

The auditory brain was designed to hear music, not speech

Charles Limb, an otolaryngological surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, has reason to believe that the human auditory system was meant for greater things than understanding language and speech. For Limb, language is nothing but “a happy byproduct” of our true aural capacity.

Were we meant for more than just speech?

Language, for many scientists, is what makes us human. It’s what separates us from the animal kingdom and what allows us to master heightened forms of communication and interaction.

Despite the centuries of research which support this theory, Limb believes that the human ability to process more complicated acoustic systems, such as those that we find in music, might mean that the human brain was actually designed to listen to music – an aural activity which he considers to be far more refined than that of processing speech/language.

The human capacity to learn a musical instrument, respond to music and use music as a means of communication, are all reflective of the incredibly refined cerebral system that we have at our disposal. Communicating via speech and language is not nearly half as difficult for our complex brains to achieve when compared with the nuances of musical communication.

What do improvised jazz and language have in common?

In improvised jazz, the musicians communicate just like a group of people do when taking part in a conversation. You can hear statements, responses, questions, chatter which overlaps other chatter and general moods which are then disrupted by unexpected tangents, which take everything off into a new direction.

Jazz improvisations, “take root in the brain as a language,” Limb says, just like conversations we have through ordinary speech. The difference perhaps is that it takes a lot longer for the musician to get to the point where he or she is comfortable enough with the language of jazz to be able to improvise and “converse” through music with the same ease and confidence that he or she would do through ordinary speech.

What’s clear from Limb’s studies is that the language of jazz, just like speech, is based on a series of syntactic rules that all musicians subconsciously abide by. The music of jazz might be “heard” and “understood” without the need for semantic sense, but the syntax of language in jazz is most definitely in place. This is why Limb believes that humans utilize the same areas of the brain when listening to and playing music as they do when using speech to communicate with each other.

Indeed, with improvised jazz (with any music) the idea is to find beauty in the sounds shared. Jazz improvisations demand that the musicians find beauty in the sounds they create, but the meaning of the sounds isn’t important. When we communicate through languages, the semantic quality of what we say is just as important as the syntax. In music, the only thing the ear searches for is beauty. Our aural sense when tuned into to music is much more refined, much more sensual and natural than it is when we use it to communicate through speech.

In a sense, listening to music is the fine arts experience of human aural activity. Language communication is nothing short of cheap, fast-food for the ear.

Beethoven – a final thought

Taking Limb’s investigations to the next level, a quick look at Beethoven is particularly worthwhile. If Beethoven continued to write music long after he went completely deaf, perhaps our capacity to feel and process music is in fact the true purpose of our auricular abilities.

Beethoven couldn’t hear what people said to him, he became deaf to language but never to music. His capacity to “hear” and create music continued to function.

What are the Top Language Industry Trends of 2014?

Advances in technology, in particular mobile technology, combined with the constant growth in social media communication, are the two driving forces behind the expected demand for professional language and translation services in 2014.

language-trendsImage courtesy of

According to Renato Beninatto, the CMO of Moravia, we will see “major growth in the [language] industry this year.” Beninatto predicts that the expansion of mobile technology and social communications will generate a much higher “demand for localized language solutions.”

The National Council for Languages and International Studies has said that public and private-sector language-related initiatives are now a billion dollar enterprise in the US. In 2013, the industry generated $25 billion in the US alone.

The incredible growth recorded in the industry last year has been attributed to the large number of US companies working diligently to expand and strengthen their global presence. Mobile technology and social media communications have made international business opportunities so accessible that most companies worldwide, large and small, recognize the importance of investing in translation and other language services in order to open their doors to foreign markets.

Strangely enough, however, at the same time as investing $25 billion in language-related initiatives in 2013, the US continues to suffer from a lack of language-related subject interest in the classroom. The US Council on Foreign Relations believes that “foreign language education is on the decline,” and that it has been in serious decline for a number of years. This means that a lot of the language-related jobs needed for US brands to expand their businesses on a global level is outsourced to language experts in other countries.

In short, there are three main language-related trends that we should be ready for in 2014. 78% of CMOs believe that custom content is the future of marketing, reports Social Media Today. If companies want to continue globalizing their businesses throughout 2014, the most important tool that they will have at their disposal is that of content marketing programs. Companies which excel in 2014 will be those companies which invest both time and money in finding ways of connecting with different languages and cultures via mobile technology and social media communications.

Every day, more and more people are turning to mobile devices and smartphones as their primary source of information. Users access information from all over the world and they’re interested in what foreign companies have to offer/share. The demand for localized translations is likely to soar throughout 2014 and this will include translation services which dub multimedia content too.

On a final note, the impressive growth of cloud computing throughout 2013 improved the tracking precision of online user behavior. The detailed access to the demographics of a mass online audience that cloud computing has given us means that companies can now invest even more time and money in the generation of personalized online content for local communities and dialects. A surge in “local” translations is likely to further strengthen the economic position of the language industry as we progress throughout the next months.

The future seems to be very, very bright.

Lunfardo favorites: what Argentine women just love to say!

Argentine Spanish, or “Castellano,” differs to the more “neutral” forms of Spanish, found in Bolivia or Perú for example, in that it incorporates a distinctive kind of verb conjugation in the second person singular. It’s also crammed to the brim with phrases taken from “Lunfardo;” a dialect developed by working class Porteños (natives to Buenos Aires) so that they could communicate with each other without the police, and those from richer neighbourhoods, being able to understand.

Many Lunfardo phrases are still used in Buenos Aires today in everyday situations. They continue to form part of the city’s culture, but what phrases are really popular and who tends to use them? A few Argentine women share their favorite Lunfardo expressions of all time…

“La mina que lo amuró”

Put forward by: Renée Martinez, 32, Salta

The verb “amurar” actually means “to tack,” but when placed in the context of this Lunfardo phrase the translation changes completely. “La mina que lo amuró,” means, “The girl who left him.” Did Eduardo Arolas dedicate some of his works to the girl who left him, perhaps? The idea that Arolas pays tribute to “la mina que lo amuró” is debated within a post on Malena Tango. An individual who is “amurado” is, in literal terms, completely isolated from society by prison walls. However, when using the Lunfardo term in a metaphorical sense, someone who is “amurado” is completely head-over-heels in love with another and therefore, “an isolated prisoner of his or her emotions.”

“¡Me pegué un jabón!”

Shared by: Yamila Rosales, 27, Buenos Aires

Even though this phrase when literally translated means, “I hit myself with a bar of soap” (we would need to add the preposition con to the phrase), the Lunfardo expression transmits one of fear and is used when you want to say, “It gave me a terrible fright!” The origins of the expression, and how soap somehow began to be associated with fear, is unclear.

“Si te gusta el durazno, bancate la pelusa.”

Sent to us by: Dafne Schilling, 26, Córdoba

The Lunfardo meaning behind the word “durazno” (which literally translated is “peach” in English) relates to the idea of toughening up or doing something which is difficult. The complete phrase is something relatively similar to “She wants to have her cake and eat it,” in English. It’s a Lunfardo expression used to describe someone who likes doing what they’re doing, but doesn’t really like having to deal with the consequences or the “tough” aspect which is the result of the good stuff that they’re enjoying.

“¡Le dio una biaba!”

Shared by: Marina Manopella, 36, Buenos Aires

“Biaba” is the Lunfardo expression for “golpiza,” which means “to hit someone really hard.” The term is probably of Italian descent and there’s little difference between the “biaba” of 100 years ago and the way in which many young thieves today enter a shop, shouting, hitting and threatening those around them, sometimes even firing a gun and killing someone, without even really knowing why it is they do what they do. “Biaba” is a particularly strong word, with heavy connotations.  “Darse la biaba” means “to dye your hair” and it is usually used for men who cover their grey hair. It also means “to take drugs“.

“Me río de Janeiro,”

Selected by: Kiki Chiesa, 34, Buenos Aires

“Me río de Janeiro!” is a Lunfardo expression which might be used to replace the more straightforward Spanish phrase, “me importa un bledo” or “me parece ridículo.” When translated, it’s best to think of the phrase, “Don’t make me laugh!” used in a sarcastic tone by someone who really finds what has been said to them very “un-funny.” The speaker shows little respect and gives very little credit to the person they speak to when they toss out the phrase, “Me río de Janeiro!” The cute factor about the expression is that it’s also a beautiful play on words with the major Brazilian city, Río de Janeiro.

“Ratero oportunista”

Contributed by: Daniela Almirón, 23, Buenos Aires

“Ratero” is a Lunfardo term for “thief,” but the phrase “Ratero oportunista” isn’t one which has to be used literally to refer to a thief. Literally translated to describe a “thieving opportunist,” the phrase is perfect to metaphorically describe someone who is out for all they can get, irrespective of whether or not they ever actually steal something.


Put forward by: Vicky Chiappe, 31, Buenos Aires

Cana,” which comes from the French word “canne,” is a term that was predominantly used in prisons to describe a policeman’s truncheon. However, there was a time when “cana” was used to mean “police” and then, further on down the line, to indicate or refer to any kind of authority figure.


Sent to us by: Gabriela Villagra, 37, Buenos Aires

“Laburo” is a Lunfardo word used, in its most basic form, to replace the term “trabajo” meaning “job” or “work.” However, the verb “laburar” can also mean to work hard enough to convince someone of something. For example, “laburar una mina” is a Lunfardo expression which means to “use all possible arguments available to win-over or pick-up a girl.”

“Fe-ca”… café… “Ye-ca”… calle…

Shared by: Mauge Rebuffi, 33, Salta

One particular characteristic of the Lunfardo dialect is the inversion of Spanish words. For example “café” becomes “feca” and “calle” (pronounced “caye”) becomes “yeca.” This simple inversion was one of the easiest ways in which people from the lower classes could disguise their conversations when talking close by to those that they wanted to hide information from.

“Iza de queruza la merluza.”

Contributed by: Alberto, from Lanus in Buenos Aires (honorary male invited to take part…friend of Mauge Rebuffi above)

“Iza de queruza,” is a Lunfardo expression which translates to “Listen up…we’ll do it on the quiet” and “merluza” is a word associated with “drugs.” The phrase is the perfect example of the kind of subjects that the Lunfardo dialect was specially invented to hide.

“¡No seas chanta!”

Natalia Fraga, 32, La Pampa

“¡No seas chanta!” is a Lunfardo phrase you might use when calling someone a liar or when accusing them of scamming you in some way. It can be used playfully to taunt someone or used more aggressively, depending on the tone of voice which accompanies it.