By James Bracken, Ediciones Continente, 30 pesos, 61 pages
Reviewed by Stephen Page
On a recent sunny spring day, while wandering the streets of Buenos Aires, searching for a café where I could sit outside at a table and sip an espresso while looking at the passers-by (a popular Argentine custom), I detoured into a bookstore.
On the very first shelf I came to, I found a pocket-sized book titled Che Boludo, with the subtitle: A Gringo’s Guide to Understanding the Argentines.
I opened the book and discovered it was a dictionary of sorts, filled with words I had never read before. The words were contemporary Argentine slang, and the definitions were in English. “What a great find,” I thought.
After a decade of living in Argentina, I have been missing some of the slang while talking with friends, or at Sunday family get-togethers (they don’t teach Argentine slang at US universities, or in most of the Castellano classes offered in Buenos Aires). I was growing tired of repeatedly asking, “What? What does that mean?”
The title of the book translates to, “Hey Idiot!” or “Hey Buddy!” or “Hey Friend!”—depending on to whom you’re talking and your tone of voice. “Boludo” literally means “one with big testicles,’which does not mean “ballsy” or “brave,” but instead denotes a lack of cerebral functions. In Argentina, the young as well as the old use slang. You might hear an elderly man with a cane standing on the street corner waiting for the green crossing light mutter “¡miercoles!”—which translates to “shit” or “Goddamnit” or “hell”; you might hear a sophisticated woman in a fur coat call her husband’s new secretary a “puta” (whore) or a “babosa” (horny woman) even if she knows bystanders are listening to her; you might hear a teenager say to his brother, “No me hinchés las pelotas,” which means, connotatively, “don’t be a pain”—but denotatively means, well . . . you’ll have to read the book to know that one.
The book also contains drawings of the more popular hand gestures Porteños use—gestures that have risqué yet non-offensive meanings.
When you hang out with your Argentine friends, or you are at the family Sunday lunch table, everyone speaks slang, every one pokes fun, and everyone calls each other bad names in jest—and it is not looked down upon nor considered bad taste—it is simply a part of the Argentine culture.
This book is a must-read for all Expats or visitors who want to participate in conversations among Porteños. It is available in just about any bookstore in Buenos Aires, and also available here at amazon.com.
*Stephen Page has a BA in literature and writing from Columbia University and an MFA from Bennington College. He is the author of, The Timbre of Sand, a book of poems, and Still Dandelions, a chapbook. He is the Online Editor of BA Insider.