Lunfardo: what do “garpar” and “garpe” mean?

One of the most interesting features of Lunfardo – an Argentine dialect of Spanish that arose in the late 19th century among petty criminals living with immigrants and native Argentines in the sheet metal tenements of lower-class Buenos Aires neighborhoods – is its great capacity for metathesis, the re-arrangement of sounds or syllables in a word. This local form of syllabic metathesis is known as “vesre” which is, in itself, a metathesis of “revés.” This phenomenon occurs not only with nouns – “feca” for “café”, for example – but also with verbs…and the verbs are then conjugated based on the vesre infinitive.


So, “pagar” (“to pay”) becomes “garpa”, from which – because it sounds like a third-person singular present conjugation – speakers intuitively form the infinitive “garpar”, in analogy with other -ar verbs, resulting in the infinitive “garpar”.

But it doesn’t stop there: the verb “garpar” has, in turn, given us “garpe”, a noun used in the expressions “dejar (a alguien) de garpe” or “ser dejado de garpe (por alguien)” meaning “to stand someone up” and that originates in the idea of leaving someone holding the bill after a meal shared among several people.

Here are a few examples:

Decile al quía que tiene que garpar. Tell the guy he has to pay.

No tenía para garpar la entrada y lo encaró al chancho. He didn´t have any money to pay for the ticket, and he confronted the ticket inspector.

Le garpé 5 mangos. I paid him five bucks.

La dejaron de garpe y se calentó. She was stood up and she got mad.

Italianisms in Lunfardo – Part II

Continuing on with our last article, on Italianisms in the Lunfardo dialect, which originated in working class districts in Buenos Aires in the late 19th century, below are several more interesting Lunfardo words.

Italian immigrants in Buenos Aires

Italian immigrants in Buenos Aires

Mistongo (from mishio, an Italianism derived from the Genovese miscio) -The original Genovese word meant “without money” and has generalized to include “humble”, “insignificant” and “poor”.

Vento (from vento, an Italianism from the Genovese vento) – The Genovese original meant “money” and still means the same thing in Lunfardo, as well as in the rest of Argentina, and Uruguay. In Río de la Plata, it has specialized into meaning specifically “proceeds of a scam”. It was one of the first Lunfardo words documented and can still be heard today in Buenos Aires.

Funyi (from the Genovese funzo (plural funzi)), derived from the Italian slang fungo (“mushroom” or ”hat” – interestingly, the top part of mushrooms was known as a “hat” in Italian slang). It means “hat”, and has been reported to mean “backside”or “butt” in Uruguay.

Amarrocao (from the Italian marroco, derived from the Turinese maroc, “bread”). It seems that Caló – a language spoken by the Roma – had some influence on the change from -r¬- to -rr¬-, and marroque appears as a phonetic variant. It was marroco that evolved into the derivative verb amarrocar (“to get by” or “to manage”) and this meaning expanded due to its phonetic similarity to amarrar, finally meaning “to pick up something and put it away”. Amarrocao, (picked up and put away”) – the participle form – still exists today.

While most Italianism in Lunfardo are simply “evolved” forms of words borrowed from Italian and its variants, the dialect has an interesting feature known as “vesre”, which is a reversal of the syllable order of a word. The Lunfardo word nami – “girl”, or “woman” – is an example of this phenomenon applied to the Italianism mina, derived from the Italian femmina (“woman”).

Visit other posts to learn more Lunfardo words of Italian origin:

Cocoliche words

Italianisms in Lunfardo – Part I

The Lunfardo dialect of Spanish arose in the last quarter of the 19th century among petty criminals living with immigrants and native Argentines in the conventillos – sheet metal tenements – of lower-class neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. Because so many of these immigrants (some ten million between 1821 and 1932) were poorly educated or illiterate Italians speaking their regional dialects, and because of the pressing need to communicate with their Spanish-speaking neighbors and associates, a fluid and linguistically unstable macaronic language called Cocoliche was formed among these first-generation, mostly rural, immigrants, and it is this imperfect form of Italian-flavored Spanish that is the direct cause of most of the non-Spanish words as well as of other lexical changes such as suffixes found in Lunfardo. The very word “Lunfardo” itself is, in fact, an Italianism derived from the word lombardo (someone from Lombardy) in various Italian dialects.

Italianisms in Lunfardo - Argentine Spanish

Conventillo in Buenos Aires – 1914

Today, Lunfardo is no longer associated with petty criminality and the lower social classes, and its Italianisms have earned their own place as part of the dialect, elements of which have spread to other Latin American countries such as Uruguay and Chile.

Following is a sampling of some lexical Italianisms in Lunfardo.

chitrulo (from citrullo) –  the original citrullo means “stupid” or “silly” in several southern Italian dialects and derives from cetriolo, which means “cucumber”

atenti (from attento or attenti) – interjection meaning “to take care”

encanar (from incaenar) – the Italian word means “to chain”, leading to its meaning of “arrest”, “detain” or “incarcerate” in Lunfardo.

furcazo (from forca or fùrca) – This word describes a technique for beating someone up with a blow to the back, the right knee on the kidneys and an elbow holding the neck under the chin, which is its connection to the original words’ meaning (gallows).

morfar (from morfa or morfilar) – The original word means “eat”, and still does so in Lunfardo, although it has expanded to include “to rape”, “to suffer” and “to kill”.

parlar (from parlare) – Unlike standard Spanish, where this word means “to chatter”, parlar retains the original Italian meaning of simply “to talk”.

posta (from Latin appositus to Italian posta) – The original Latin meant “appointed” or “assigned”, which gave rise to the Italian posta (“a place to stay”, “the place for a horse in a stable” and, finally, “set of horses for mail and transport service”). This was adopted into Spanish with the meaning “a soldier standing guard”, which generalized into “to be somewhere on purpose”, which led to the form “aposta”, meaning “on purpose”. It is unknown whether the Lunfardo word derives from the Italian or the Spanish, but it originally meant “comprehensive” or “precise”, from which its current meanings of “good”, “excellent” or “beautiful” arose.

We’ll continue with more Italianisms in Lunfardo next week!

Croqueta, azotea and coco: Some lunfardo words for head

Lunfardo is a rich and often slyly humorous dialect, and nowhere is its imaginative use of language more evident than with the plethora of words it has for “head” (cabeza in standard Spanish).


As can be expected, many of these terms are related to its shape:

coco – coconut

mate – the hollowed-out gourd used for drinking yerba mate

calabaza – pumpkin

sandía – watermelon

cucusa/cucuza – from the Italian cucuzza (pumpkin)

croqueta – croquette

marote – from the French marotte (dummy head used to display wigs or hats)

bocho/bocha – the wooden ball used to play the game of bocce.

Others relate to the head’s position on the body:

azotea – roof terrace

cúpula – cupula or dome

chiminea – chimney

bóveda – dome

terraza – terrace

altiyo – variant spelling of altillo, attic or upper cupboard

capiya – variant spelling of capilla, cowl or hood

coroniya – variant spelling of coronilla, crown or bald patch on the head

Some make reference to the head as the seat of wisdom:

sabiola/sabiondo – from sabio (wise)

And some to its function or action:

sesera – from sesos (brain)

caspera – from caspa (dandruff)

sombrerera – hat holder

rompepeines – comb-breaker

Or to its appearance:

aceitosa – from aceitoso (oily, as in the hair oil formerly used by men before the advent of hair gels)

Other terms refer to it as some kind of mechanical or electronic calculation device:

computadora – computer

carburadora – carburator

I.B.M. – brand of computer

registradora – cash register

Finally, we have the word “testamento”, a play on the words testa (head) and testamento (will and testament)

These words are also found in a number of expressions:

Hacerse el bocho: to have sexual fantasies about someone

Tener gente en la azotea: to be crazy

Estar de la cucuza: to be crazy

No te hagas la croqueta: don’t overthink it

Ser un bocho: to be smart, to be a “brain”

Everyday Lunfardo Expressions Used in Buenos Aires

Much has been said and discussed about lunfardo: its origins, the way it has been introduced in some of the most popular tango songs sang by porteños in Buenos Aires…This has led many people to think that lunfardo is a dialect that is not currently used when this is actually not the case. There are many popular expressions used in everyday conversations whose origin can be found in this dialect.


Below are some of these expressions and their meanings. Next time you visit Buenos Aires, you can also use them as you meet porteños:

“No le llega el agua al tanque”

This lunfardo expression is very much used to describe somebody who cannot think clearly or who has some problems understanding even simple concepts. It’s a polite way of calling somebody a fool or stupid.

“Arrastrar el ala”

This is an expression that describes a situation in which somebody, generally a man, is in love with a woman and does everything he can to call her attention and seduce her so that she sets her eyes on him and decides to date him. This expression is taken from the natural world, as male birds drag their wings on the floor when they are interested in mating with a female bird.

“Lo atamos con alambre”

This is probably one of the most popular lunfardo expressions used nowadays in Buenos Aires. It is used to describe those difficult situations that are solved in a careless way, just to get rid of the problem without investing the appropriate time, money and resources to give a right and definite solution to the problem. It is understood that the provided solution will only last for a limited period of time.

“Bajar un cambio”

This lunfardo expression is told to somebody who needs to slow down a bit either because he’s extremely enthusiastic about something or because he is overly nervous. This metaphoric expression comes from the automotive world as it is also applied to drivers when they need to slow down.

“Le faltan algunos jugadores”

This is a metaphoric expression used to describe somebody who seems to be insane either because he says or does things that are strange to normal people. It is a subtle way of calling somebody crazy.

“Hablar hasta por los codos”

This is a funny expression used popularly to depict somebody who loves speaking and who’s always saying something. She speaks so much that words seem to come out not only out of her mouth but out of her elbows as well.

“Hacerse la mosquita muerta”

This expression is used to describe somebody who has done something wrong and acts like the most innocent person in the planet.

What about the expressions below? Would you guess what they mean?

  • ¡Ni a palos!
  • Mala leche
  • Me pica el bagre
  • Tirar los galgos
  • Tomalo con soda
  • Hacerse la rata
  • Estoy seco
  • Pegar un tubazo


Cancha and Canchero – just what do they mean?

Argentina is a country which has been influenced by the castilla language of the first Spanish colonialists and the indigenous languages spoken by the native Indians – a mixture of Quichua, Guaraní and Mapuche, depending on the region of the country you might happen to be referring to.

The rich mixture of violently opposed heritages, combined with the development of lunfardo in Buenos Aires during the late 19th century, has gradually over time turned Argentine Spanish (or Castellano, as Argentines dub it) into a very particular form of Spanish with an incredible range of words and phrases such as “cancha” and “canchero.”


While in most Spanish-speaking countries “cancha” is used to refer to a football pitch or other kind of delineated area marked out for the purposes of a sports match, it can also be used in a number of other contexts.



In Argentina, the term “cancha” comes from a combination of the Quichua and Spanish languages and it was first referred to the idea of a football pitch or sporting arena thanks to a popular sport that the native Indians in Argentina used to play – a sport very similar in style to the team game, Chueca, that Spanish colonialists in the country were fond of playing.

The “cancha” for this game was rectangular in shape and either lined by a series of rocks or simply delineated by creating markings on the ground. Each team player was armed with a long stick, similar in style to that of a hockey stick, and the object of the game was to try and knock the ball out of the delineated area.

Chueca game

However, “cancha” can also be used in Argentina to refer to someone who has lots of experience or lots of freedom in which to do something. Someone who has lots of “cancha” in an area, is very experienced in that area.


Whereas the word “cancha” is used in other Spanish-speaking countries, “Canchero” is a word particular to Argentina and developed during the late 19th century as part of Buenos Aires’ lunfardo.

The word “canchero” is used to refer to someone who needs to stand out in front of the crowd by using words or vocabulary and by performing actions which will cause attention and make people take notice. For example, instead of asking if you want to go for a coffee (café in Spanish), a “canchero” might ask you to join him for a “feca” – which is the lunfardo play on words for café.

Everything that the “canchero” does is to seem important in the eyes of others and to draw attention to his words and actions from others. He is pedantic and rather condescending at times too.

“Canchero” originated from the Quichua-Spanish word “cancha,” referring to someone who “has cancha” or a person who is “canchero” and who, if we turn it into its verb form, likes to “cancherear,” which describes the actions of a person who tries to show-off or make a display in order to be able to control and dominate the situation at hand.

“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.

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.

Ñoqui in Argentina is more than just an Italian meal

Ñoquis might be a popular Italian dish in Argentina, particularly in Buenos Aires, but its meaning goes a lot deeper than Italian gastronomy. In Argentine lunfardo, ñoquis is the word used to refer to someone who doesn’t work, but who still manages to claim a salary at the end of the month.




The lunfardo expression became a well-used phrase in Argentine during the 1970s and relates directly to a group of corrupt, Argentine, civil servants who, it was eventually revealed, had been continuing to claim their paychecks at the end of the month without actually having done any work.

When Mauricio Macri was first appointed Mayor of Buenos Aires in 2011, one of the first administrative decisions that his government saw through was to sack 2400 public employees in the city of Buenos Aires. Macri and his government claimed that the 2400 public employees forced out of employment were all “ñoquis” – that they had been continuing to receive their salaries at the end of the month without ever having showed up to do the jobs they were being paid for. Macri’s decision generated a huge conflict between his government and the city unions. Many strikes by public service employees were also organized as a result.

As well as being a popular lunfardo expression, eating ñoquis on the 29th of every month is a long-standing tradition in Argentina. The tradition dates back to the early 20th century when Italian immigrants in Argentina didn’t get paid until the end of the month. Food was normally very scarce by the 29th and ñoquis, made from just potato and flour, is full of starch and was one of the best ways for these Italian families to feed everyone on a budget.

The ñoquis eating tradition on the 29th of every month also relates to the notion of good luck, fortune and wealth. It’s customary to put money underneath each plate before eating to encourage wealth and prosperity in the future.

Lunfardo: What does “bondi” mean?

Argentine Spanish is strewn with words and colorful phrases from Lunfardo, a rich vocabulary born on the streets of Buenos Aires in the second half of the 19th century. Now considered a fixture of the Spanish language in Argentina (especially in and around Buenos Aires) and Uruguay, linguists cite the use of Lunfardo as a defining characteristic of the Rioplatense dialect.

A bondi in Buenos Aires, early 40s

“This bondi can’t take longer!” “This bondi leaves me three blocks away from my house”, “The frequency of this bondi is disastrous!” These and other similar phrases in Spanish are frequently heard in Argentina, especially in the city of Buenos Aires. Any tourist can hear them in everyday conversations but, what does bondi mean? What are all these people talking about?

Bondi is the lunfardo term for the city bus or “colectivo” and it is still widely used in the River Plate area. Let’s explore its etymological origin.

Bondi and its Brazilian Origin

According to many language experts, bondi is a derivation from a Brazilian word born in the city of Sao Paulo at the beginning of the 20th Century. At that time, the tramways of the city were owned by English companies and, therefore, the price of the ticket was preceded by the word bond. Brazilians understood that the term bond meant tramway and extended its meaning to all the public transport. In Portuguese, many words that end with a consonant add the sound “i”, in this case represented by the adding the letter “e” at the end of the word. Italian immigrants took the word bonde to Montevideo and Buenos Aires, where the word was adopted as bondi.

Bondi and the Shape of the Bus

There is another theory that states that the word bondi is, in fact, a diminutive of the word albóndiga (meat ball), after which the urban buses in Buenos Aires were named because they were much smaller than what they are nowadays and roundish in shape.