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You may have heard the word “lunfardo”. But do you know what it means?

In the turn of the nineteenth century, the word lunfardo was associated with the language of prisoners, the language of crime, the language of thieves. It was, in fact, a criminal argot, at least until 1920s. Even Jorge Luis Borges talked about this issue in an essay called “El idioma de los argentinos” (“The language of Argentine people”, 1927): “El arrabalero no es sino una decantación o divulgación del lunfardo, que es jerigonza ocultadiza de los ladrones”.

Over time, some of those terms spread out from the geographical, cultural and social point of view, from the criminal argot to the middle class areas, to familiar and informal uses, to the city of Buenos Aires, to the neighboring countries, like Uruguay and Chile, and even farer. For instance, bacán (a rich guy who boasts of his wealth), fiaca (laziness or a lazy person), atorrante (a crooked or a lazy guy), mina (a woman), laburo (work), etc. Some “lunfardismos” turned into “argentinismos”. For that reason, since then, many authors have included “argentinismos” within books and dictionaries specialized in lunfardo, which is a mistake from the linguistic point of view.

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