Lunfardo is an Argentine slang which frequently appears in tango lyrics.
In this blog we will be looking at the meanings and usage of 7 common lunfardos, since they always appear in tango lyrics, knowing them will greatly help your understanding of the lyrics as well as the tango culture!
Malevo is a word originated from the latin adverb malé, which refers to “man who is a gang or a troublemaker living in the slum in Buenos Aires. The word is slowly adopted to represent the male characters in tango (and perhaps porteños in general): liberal; living a bad life with a humble root; macho and brave; believing in his own way of seeing life; seeing love as a game, but a game that he needs to play by giving his all.
But whatever kind of life the malevo is leading, there’s one thing we can always be sure: he loves tango.
Mina is perhaps the most commonly used Lunfardo word nowadays in Buenos Aires or Montevideo. Instead of meaning a “mine” like “coal mine” or “gold mine” in standard Spanish, it refers to woman and it comes from the Italian word “femmina” (which means female, and also girl or daughter)
However, in tango “mina” sometimes carries other meanings: prostitute; woman who lives with a man; woman who has an illicit relationship with a man; a concubine; a lover.
One of the most well-known tango songs in which you can find the word is “Patotero sentimental” (The sentimental gangster, Orchestra Carlos Di Sarli/Singer Roberto Rufino):
Ya los años se van pasando,
y en mi pecho no entra un querer,
En mi vida tuve muchas, muchas minas,
pero nunca una mujer…
(Many years have passed by,
but there never enter an affection in my heart,
in my life I have had many, many women,
but never a wife.
Pibe refers to kid or boy in Lunfardo (and for girl would be “Piba”). It is believed to be derived from “pive” from the Genoese dialect of Italian, or “pivello” or “pivèll”, of the dialect of Lombardy, and all these words carry a meaning of “youth” or “apprentice”.
The tango song “El sueño del pibe” (The dream of a boy, Orchestra Osvaldo Pugliese/Singer Roberto Chanel) tells a story of a “pibe” who had a dream in which he had been taken by a football club, and would be able to make a better life for his dear mom. The song mentions Diego Maradona, one of the greatest Argentine soccer players, who happened to carry the nickname “El Pibe de Oro” (The Golden Boy).
Watch the video of Maradona singing “El sueño del pibe”!
In Lunfardo, Yeta is equal to “mala suerte” (bad luck). So you may hear a porteño (someone living in Buenos Aires) exclaiming “Qué yeta!” instead of “Qué mala suerte!” when he has run into bad luck. It is believed that the word originates from “jettatura” and “jettatore” of the Neapolitan dialect of Italian, meaning “evil influence” or “A person bringing harm or bad luck to another”. It started gaining popularity among the working class before it was spread in the whole Buenos Aires society.
You can hear the word “Yeta” right in the first line of the lyrics of Preparate pal’ Domingo (Prepare yourself for the Sunday) by Orchestra Edgardo Donato/Singer Carlos Almada:
Preparate pa’l domingo si querés cortar tu yeta…
(Prepare yourself for Sunday if you want to avoid bad luck…)
Chamuyar (or chamullar) means to chat; or to have a conversation, which usually happens when a man is trying to pick up women. Sometimes it also refers to using a mix of truths and lies to achieve a goal.
It is believed that chamuyar came from the word caló (from a gypsy dialect) which means to chat or to converse; or to tell an excuse for covering, for example, being late to work, or forgetting to do something.
Chamuyero would mean someone who is chatty, or a liar
In Lunfardo, yira means to wander; or to walk slowly without a specific goal or purpose. It is believed that the word originates from the Italian verb “girare”, which means to meander.
Yira is similar to Spanish verbs like “pasear”, “andar” or “dar una vuelta”, but is distinct in the feeling it conveys: a slothful, lazy manner without any interest in rushing to a location or getting anything done.
The most famous appearance of the word would be in “Yira, yira” of Carlos Gardel:
Verás que todo es mentira
Verás que nada es amor
Que al mundo nada le importa
(You will see everything is a lie
Nothing is love
which for the world nothing is important,
Instead of referring to the yellow-skinned tropical fruit which may be your favorite in summer, “mango” in Lunfardo means money (dinero, peso). If someone says “No tengo un mango” it would mean he/she is totally broke.
It is believed that “mango” is derived from the 19th Century word “Marengo” which gangs used for referring to money made from bad means or easy money.
“Mango” can also be found in the lyrics of “Yira, Yira” by Carlos Gardel:
…buscando ese mango
que te haga morfar…
(…You are finding the money
That allows you to eat…)
Check out Speak Spanish Like Argentine to learn more about the history of Lunfardo!
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