Lunfardo is an argot of the Spanish language which developed at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century in the lower classes in and around Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay.
Many Lunfardo expressions have entered into the popular language and have become an integral part of the Spanish spoken in Argentina, Uruguay, parts of Paraguay and to a lesser extent in Chile. A few have been recognized even by the Real Academia Española. Lunfardo is frequently found in the lyrics of tangos, supplying nuances and double-entendres with overtones of sex, drugs, and the criminal underworld. Lunfardo is, for all practical purposes, unintelligible to an average Spanish-speaking person from any other country.
Much of Lunfardo developed with the arrival of European immigrants, such as Italians, Spaniards, and French. Most Italian and Spanish immigrants spoke their regional languages and dialects and not standard Italian or Spanish; other terms arrived from the pampa by means of the gauchos; a small number originated in Argentina's native population.
Most sources believe that Lunfardo originated among criminals, and later became more commonly used by other classes. Circa 1900, the word lunfardo itself (originally a deformation of lombardo in several Italian dialects) was used to mean "outlaw".
Lunfardo words are inserted in the normal flow of Rioplatense Spanish sentences. Thus, an average Spanish-speaking person reading tango lyrics will need, at most, the translation of a discrete set of words, and not a grammar guide.
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 pig Latin). 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.
- Buyón - soup or broth (From the French bouillon)
- Chochamu - young man (vesre for muchacho)
- Fiaca - laziness, or lazy person (from the Italian fiacco -weak-)
- Gomías - friends (vesre for amigos)
- Gurí - boy (from Guaraní -boy-) Feminine: gurisa - girl. Plural: gurises - kids
- Guita - money
- Lorca - Hot, as in the weather (vesre for calor -heat-)
- Mina - a common word for woman
- Percanta - a young woman
- Pibe - like "kid", a common term for boy or, in more recent times, for young man
- Quilombo - a disaster (Word is of Afro-Brazilian origin and was originally used as a synonym for brothel)
- Cerebrar - Think something up (cerebrar 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" which means 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?-)
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"[notes 1]
- Zafar - to barely get by[notes 2]
- Trucho - counterfeit, fake[notes 3]
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, or created by the lyricists of cumbia villera.
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.
See also 
- ^ 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 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 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)
- (English) "Porteño Spanish - Learn Argentine Slang"
- (English) "A Survivors Guide To Buenos Aires"
- (English) "Gringo Lingo: A Guide to Buenos Aires Slang, Common Grammar Mistakes and much more"
- (English) "Lunfardo-English Online translation and help"
- (Spanish) Diccionario del lunfardo
- (Spanish) Course description - Includes extensive bibliography
- (Spanish) What is lunfardo
- (Spanish) Lunfardo Dictionary
- (Spanish) Lunfardo etymology
- (Spanish) Defining Lunfardo
- (Spanish) Lunfardo's history
- (Spanish) Academia Porteña del Lunfardo
- (Spanish) Traducción y ayuda online