Language determines how we think. In much the same way that one hand washes the other. Are you picking up what I’m putting down? (Or am I putting down what you’re picking up?) (Wait…is this…a ska song?)

Let’s say that language is like, the infrastructure of thought. The words you know, and the words you use, determine where things can go and how they can get there. Each new word you learn paves the way to a new place in the mind. So, learning a new language is kind of like…hmm, ”discovering” a new continent. (Take a minute to consider everything that that analogy implies.)

And that’s the premise behind this series, Argentine Slang to Expand the Mind. If you didn’t catch the first installments, you can click here to read about the different variations on flashear, or here to read about expressions that use onda. Also, the disclaimer: everything I write about slang terms here is based on my understanding of them, which is dictated by how they have manifested themself in my life and been subsequently schematized in my mind. No other references have been consulted in regards to their meaning and usages.

And on that note, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, language, no matter how hard we may try to homogenize our relationships with it, is a subjective experience. As Charly put it, “cada cual tiene un trip en el bocho; difícil que lleguemos a ponernos de acuerdo.” (Each person has a trip in their head; difficult that we are able to come to an agreement.)

Today I am going to invite you into the world of two of my favorite Argentine interjections: ahre and chan. But first, let me talk a little bit about just how flashero interjections are, in general.

Many linguists would tell you that an interjection is more similar in function to an emoji than it is to any other part of speech like verbs or nouns or adjectives. In fact, historically, some linguists have considered interjections to be “non-words”.  But then again, there are other linguists who consider emojis to be words. And one linguist said, “between interjection and word there is a chasm wide enough to allow us to say that interjection is the negation of language.” Hmm, so..interjections are like, the Antichrist of language. Chan.

There it is! Did you see it?! A wild chan appears. What’s that chan doing there? Well, I just got done speculating that “interjections are like, the Antichrist of language.” What a strange, surprising, far-out, potentially offensive, iconoclastic thing to say, no? And quite a stretch from the statement I was reacting to, which was that “interjection is the negation of language.” I suddenly brought it up to a whole ‘nother level, one to which you might say it has no business being brought. Maybe I even took it too far. But you know what, I don’t care, because it served as an excellent introduction to the usage of chan.

Interjections are big communicators. They carry a lot of weight, metaphysically speaking. But they are often left out of the curriculum of language courses, and I think I know why — it’s because most language teachers are dummies, ahre.

Chan!! The not-so-elusive ahre has decided to join us! Now I have successfully incorporated examples of each of these interjections — but here’s the thing — looking at those two examples, can you tell what these “words” mean? I mean, I gave you a bit of introduction regarding chan, but look at how I used ahre — is it clear in what way it’s different from chan? Couldn’t you say that my statement about most language teachers being dummies was also strange, surprising, and potentially offensive, and that I took it too far and had no business saying that? Yes, you could. Could I have said chan there instead of ahre? Sure, I could have. But would that have expressed the same thing? No, of course not.

There’s a reason I decided to put chan and ahre together in the same article. For me, they go hand in hand. They’re like cousins, or close friends. Or maybe even frenemies. But don’t get me wrong — they’re totally different.

And the reason why interjections are often overlooked in language curriculums isn’t because language teachers are dummies — it’s because they’re really hard to teach. At least, in the way that language is typically taught in the classroom. It takes a lot of exposure over time, across many contexts, to capture the essence of an interjection. And I say “essence” rather than “meaning” because, it really is more of an essence than a meaning. They often connote mood, or… color, if you will, moreso than meaning. You can teach that “silla” means “chair,” and that’s easy. Your brain already has a million references for what a chair is, so you just apply those to silla and voilá. (But one could argue that words like silla don’t expand your mind the way words like chan and ahre do!) You can’t just say “chan means _____” or “ahre means _____” because they aren’t words that have equivalents in English. And not only do they not have equivalents, they’re not even words (maybe)! They don’t even have definitions (sort of)! They convey sensations that are constructed through the connections and synthesis that happen in our brain when we are exposed to language over time. Like, imagine explaining “chair” to an amorphous alien blob who knows nothing of Earth or humans.

So, it goes without saying that the job of the translator is quite tricky and extremely delicate when dealing with chan and ahre, and any interjections for that matter. But let’s go ahead an get into some possible translations, keeping in mind that these are by no means equivalents, but an incomplete list of expressions that could work as translations in certain circumstances, just to give you an idea of some of the territory covered by these two words.

For ahre (which can also be written “arre,” “are,” “ah re,” or “ah, re):

  • just kidding or jk
  • lol (or variations like lmao)
  • haha (or variations like hehe, heehee, or HAHAHAHAHAHA)
  • as if!
  • yeah, right
  • sure (said sarcastically)
  • you’ve got to be kidding me!
  • seriously?
  • no way
  • pfff
  • pfft
  • psh
  • tsk tsk
  • psych!
  • not!
  • made you look!
  • oh no you don’t

For chan:

  • woah or wow
  • dang, shit, fuck, damn
  • seriously?
  • dun dun dun!
  • geez
  • holy cow/shit/mackerel/moly 
  • dude, or bro
  • what
  • what the fuck, wtf  (or variations like what the hell, what the…)
  • [insert subject pronoun here] went there
  • true, truth, true that, true facts
  • damn right
  • you said it
  • well then
  • okay then, or the drawn-out eyebrow-raisy version of okay, like “ooooh…kay”
  • ooooh
  • oof
  • burn
  • oh no [insert subject pronoun here] didn’t

You know how we often use “lol” or “haha” in text messages to control the tone? Like, we all know that “lol” is the acronym for “laughing out loud,” and “haha” is the onomatopoeia for laughter, but they have a very important usage outside of conveying those two things. If we flash that something sounds harsh, short, or unfriendly, we’ll tack on a lol or a haha to make it clear that it’s not intended to be read that way. Or if we want to make it clear that what we are saying is not intended to be taken seriously. This is the best English-language jumping-off-point I can think of for explaining the usage of ahre. It’s usually used either at the beginning or end of a statement/question, with the purpose of clarifying that it’s coming from a place of humor, sarcasm, disbelief, light-heartedness, irony, being “edgy,” or disdain (usually light-hearted disdain, less commonly full-on contempt/ hatred, although that’s possible too).

More often than not, it either stands alone, or as a separate clause. It’s often used as a reply to something someone else has said. For example, if the La La Lista editors ask me “Emilyann, are you going to finish writing your article before the day it’s due?” I might respond, “Ahre.” Or if I tell them “I’m going to get the article done a week before it’s due!” They might respond, “Ahre.” In these examples, the interpretation could range between kind of sassy and maybe a little rude, or more kind of charming or bashful, like a loving poke at the fact that I’m a procrastinator de mierda. You see? There’s aways a whole spectrum of possible interpretations. That’s part of the beauty of ahre.

It can also be used as part of a sentence, for example, “ahre que vas a entrar en el supermercado sin tapabocas” (ahre that you’re going to enter the supermarket without a mask). It can even be used as a noun, specifically in the Spanglish internet-meme-originated expression: “biggest ahre ever.” It can even be used sort of like a question, or at least with a question-like inflection, that would tend to imply that you are expressing disbelief while also rhetorically seeking clarification of the seriousness level of what was just said.

It’s an excellent expression for people who like to use sarcasm to mask their insecurities or to avoid emotional vulnerability or accountability, or people who like to keep you guessing about their intentions or true beliefs. For example, the fuckboy who texts “I’m in love with you” and follows it up ten seconds later with “ahre.” Classic. And then he expects you to take him seriously after that? Biggest ahre ever!

When we get into the territory of double ahres or ahres in quotation marks, things get really meta…think like, the interjectional equivalent of a shit post. I won’t say any more on this phenomenon, but I wanted to alert you to its existence.

Let’s go back to my original examples — the chan after I said that interjections are like the Antichrist of language, and the ahre after I said that language teachers are dummies. So, the main difference in these two situations is that when I said ahre, it was to indicate that I was trying to be funny, I wasn’t being serious. It was just a joke. Or, a statement so untrue that it’s laughable. When I said chan, on the other hand, it wasn’t because I was trying to be funny with the Antichrist thing. Chan can be used in a joking manner, but it is not used to imply that something is meant to be taken as a joke.

When I said chan about the Antichrist thing, it served a couple different purposes, in my mind. On the one hand, it was like saying: “Wow, okay, when you actually stop to think about the implications of the comparison I just drew here, shit gets intense. Like on an esoteric, epistemological level. Like, dang.” And on the other hand, it was like saying: “Oh dang did I really just say that? Geez, what I just said was pretty weird, huh?” Like, a way of showing my self-awareness about having said something a bit off.

The crazy thing is, most of that meaning just happens in my head. I mean, those specific purposes and meaning can exist in my mind when I choose to say “chan,” but maybe the other person is picking up a whole different angle of interpretation, or not catching the full extent of my intention. I can project on the other person that they’re interpreting me exactly as I’m intending to be interpreted, which is typically what we do when it comes to communicating with language in general, but how likely is that, really?

Chan connotes shock, disbelief, and surprise, commonly with at least a slight air of disapproval upset, or confusion. Think of it as like an eyebrow raise with a furrowed brow, with a side of …if a scoff and gasp had a baby, and then a guffaw and a cringe had a baby, and then those two babies had a baby. (Another thing I associate it with —and this is just me and probably really random, but maybe I’m not the only one? — is the “dun dun” sound effect from Law and Order.) For example, remember the ahre fuckboy from earlier? Imagine I’m telling my friend about that situation: “So, get this, he texts me ‘I’m in love with you’ and then immediately after he says ‘ahre’!” A logical response on the part of my friend would be: “Chan!” (But the exclamation point is kind of redundant actually, and I typically don’t see chan used with exclamation points, because they are kind of implied in the chan.)

Choosing what interjection to use is like choosing what accessories to wear with your outfit, or what outfit to wear to which occasion. They can be bold expressions of style, mood, and intent. In using chan or ahre or other interjections in conjunction with expressed ideas, we can convey which aspect of our personality is most present or active in what we are saying. In recognizing this, we can start to gain an understanding of how interjections, in a sense, “reach beyond language.” And when we learn about the interjections used in other languages, we start to gain an understanding of how the idea that “learning a second language is like developing a second personality” really has a lot of truth to it. 

I hope you enjoyed this installment of Argentine Slang to Expand the Mind! Be sure to check out the first article on flashear and the second article on onda if you haven’t already. And stay tuned for the next one!

deep cut: ahre behind the scenes in the La La Lista editors group chat