Language determines how we think. In much the same way that an eye sees not itself, but a mirror.
In this series, Argentine Slang to Expand the Mind, I explore linguistic relativity in the context of Argentine slang, and vice versa, through the lens of my own personal experiences with language and culture, whilst continuously shifting in register between academic pontification, spiritual mumbo jumbo, and hip-and-clickable digital media content babble. OKAY? Okay.
Today I’m going to talk about some anglicisms used in contemporary Argentine slang. That means, words that come from English and are assimilated into the local lingo. (But…are they assimilated? Or do they assimilate? Who am I to imply that words don’t have a will of their own by casually using passive voice to describe their actions? How could I be so sure they aren’t sentient beings? I certainly wouldn’t put it past them.)
Most people who grow up in the US really don’t have an understanding of the extent to which (for better or for worse) our country’s culture has been exported to (which maybe is a really nice way of saying “shoved down the throats of”) just about every “periphery” country in the world.
And why would we? How could we? If you’ve never lived outside of the US, you can’t know what it’s like to live outside the US. (I guess that’s why I wanted to leave.)
Maybe we’ve heard something about the dozens of military occupations, the tens of thousands of McDonald’s restaurants, or the ongoing wars for oil. And maybe, just maybe, we’ve heard stories about the covert operations by the CIA to co-opt literally every government in South America in order to serve US interests (AKA “democracy”).
But, believe me when I tell you, no liberal arts university education can prepare you for how it feels to touch down for your first experience in a South American country (it was Ecuador), leave the airport and get into a cab, and Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in my Pocket” is playing on the radio.
(A maybe-worth-mentioning detail to this story is that when my parents dropped me off at the airport in Miami some 30 hours earlier, guess what song was playing on the radio as I got out of the car. That’s right, none other than Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in my Pocket.” Talk about a glitch in the matrix…)
And anyway, I’m not here to delve into the dark side of US imperialism! I’m here to talk about language! But call me Robin Thicke, ‘cause with this week’s topic, I’m seeing some b l u r r e d l i n e s! (Case in point: our readers in Argentina will without a doubt get that reference.) (Whether they will find it as hilarious as I do, however, is a different story.)
But seriously, can you imagine getting into a cab in the US and hearing an Ecuadorian alternative rock hit from the 90s playing on the radio? I mean, ah re, maybe in another dimension! It’s like, you grow up being exposed to almost all music from your own country, with lyrics in your native language, and you just assume that the rest of the world is doing the same. As in, also being exposed mostly to music from their country, with lyrics in their native language, not literally being exposed to all the same music you were.
But that’s what was happening all along. And not just music, but TV programs, movies, viral internet content, videogames, memes, all of it. Even the underground stuff! Even the dad music! (Especially the dad music.) But then, of course, each country has their own pop culture as well, that exists alongside the imported mainstream in a sort of hodgepodge duality.
And this is the global context in which anglicisms have become commonplace in the Argentine vernacular, and new ones are showing up every day among the increasingly digitally-connected youth and subcultures.
And don’t get me wrong, cultural exchange is awesome, and I’m just as stoked on these anglicisms as I am about all the rest of Argentine slang (and certainly I wouldn’t be so hypocritical as to criticize English-language influence on marginalized cultures in an article for an English-language publication based in Buenos Aires, would I?) — but I think it’s worth noting that, as with any relationship, when things are one-sided, it’s a good indication that the dynamic might be a bit toxic.
And with that, we’ve reached the end of my long-winded intro; let’s dive right in.
So, any English word (could be any part of speech, but usually verbs and nouns), or even a phrase containing multiple words (like a phrasal verb) can be made into spanish verb, by adding -ar or -ear to the end of the infinitive. And then you can conjugate it following the typical rules of conjugation in Spanish.
One example of this is the verb flashear, which I wrote a whole article about. Flashear is also an interesting example because it takes a word from English, that has a particular meaning in English, and uses that word to create a word with a completely different (although obliquely related) meaning in Castellano.
Another example that comes to mind of a word from English that’s taken on new meaning as a verb here is luquear (sometimes spelled lookear; it comes from “look”). To luquear something can mean to give something a certain aesthetic, or “look,” for example, a company that sells home decor might advertise hip products to luquear your apartment. Or, it can mean to be “sporting” or “showing off” a certain look, item, or brand (clothes/hair/makeup), or to be “looking like” a certain celebrity or character. For example “estoy luqueando un nuevo top de Polyester,” (I’m sporting a new crop top from Polyester.) (Yes, top is another anglicism in this example, it’s used to refer to a crop top.) or “estoy luqueando a Marilyn Monroe” (I’m looking like/done up like Marilyn Monroe). Luquear also has another use, more akin to the phrasal verbs “looking for” or “looking to,” which refers to asking passersby for money to buy something, or as the Dirty Kids in the US say, “spare-changing.” For example, “esos pibes están luqueando para unos puchos” (those kids are spare-changing to get some smokes).
I once saw stand-up comedian (stand-up comedy is called “stand up” [pronounced estan-doop] here, by the way) and sexologist Valéria Farfan Ale perform (at the release party for a really awesome book of erotic poetry that we published a piece on in 2019), and she based her whole set around the verb squirtear (it refers to female ejaculation). She performed a rap, the chorus of which included a run-down of some conjugations of the verb (yo squirteo, tú squirteas), while walking through the venue offering seltzer water to audience members (from a sifón, which are commonplace here). Hilariously raunchy, right? Here, I was able to hunt down a video:
Some other examples of Spanishified English verbs that I’ve heard/read frequently are chatear (to chat; typically via phone/internet), frikear or freakoutear (to freak out), spoilear (to give a spoiler, give away the plot twist of a movie or series), stalkear (used to refer to social media stalking, not necessarily the Ingrid Goes West kind, but the innocuous kind that we’re all guilty of), ghostear (to ghost someone; stop replying to their messages), mansplainear (to mansplain, condescendingly explain something to someone who obviously doesn’t need that thing explained to them), likear (to like a post on social media), fanear (to fanboy/fangirl — but more progressive because you don’t need to use binary gender terms to express the concept, yay!), trollear (to troll, like internet trolling, but can also be used to refer to when someone overzealously supports a political candidate, sports team, etc.), crushear (to have a crush), shippear (from “shipping,” when fans create fictitious/hypothetical relationships between celebrities or fictional characters), spammear (to spam), chillear (to chill, relax), janguear (to hang out), hackear (to hack, either literally, like to hack the main frame, or figuratively, like “life hacks”) and flexear (to flex, stunt, show off), to name just a few.
You can also make verb phrases by combining nouns with hacer (to do/make), for example hacer daydreaming (to daydream), hacer workout (to work out), hacer bullying (to bully), or hacer relax (to relax).
Many of these words have to do with how we relate to each other digitally, because, as you can imagine, online forums, social media platforms, and RPGs, where English is used as the lingua franca of the Western World, are fertile breeding grounds for new anglicisms. These words also get picked up in offices, workplaces, and other fields where internationally marketed softwares and equipment are employed. For example, referring to a conference as un call, or the fact that nobody here uses correo electrónico to refer to an e-mail, they’re called mails, and nobody says bandeja de entrada, they say inbox. I’ve sometimes hear people express annoyance over words like like this, and to be honest, I find it a little annoying myself — I mean, it makes sense to use an anglicism when it’s to express something that doesn’t already have a word in Spanish, like “crush” or “awkward” or “webinar,” but why say el call when you could just as easily say la llamada?
While in many cases using anglicisms is associated with being hip, cool, and avant garde, in other cases, the use of anglicisms is associated with people (stereotypes) who harbor certain attitudes or represent certain phenomena — think yuppies and gentrification. Or who harbor the (obviously erroneous but unfortunately very common) idea that Argentine cultural expression somehow implies a lower quality or status than the USA-imported mainstream. So, for example, a brand/business might call their product or service “top” or “pro” instead of “de primera calidad,” or offer “tips” instead of “consejos,” or prepare food for “take away” or “delivery” instead of “para llevar” or “a domicilio,” in an attempt to (albeit unconsciously) appeal to such attitudes.
And, as a side note, that is also what for me is honestly one of the most uncomfortable aspects of navigating my identity as an estadounidense in Argentina. I sometimes feel like I’m awkwardly straddling an imaginary paradoxical line between these two superimposed fallacies of “everything that’s hip and cool in the world” and “everything that’s wrong with the world.” There’s a whole spectrum of prejudices that exist, both positive and negative, and you never know whether that person you just met at a party sees you more as an exotic bastion of freedom, coolness, quality, and rock-n-roll, or an invasive embodiment of imperialism, globalization, consumerism and cosmopolitanism. And the complex reality is, you are all of those things and none of them. And that’s a strange identity pill to swallow.
(But the silver lining is that no matter who you are or where you go, there are people who will see past the identities the world has imposed on you, and love you for who you really are.)
Anyway, speaking of identity crises, with nouns there’s always the question of what gender the anglicism will be. And there’s often a lack of consensus. Like, I mentioned “el call” earlier, but sometimes it’s “la call” (which makes more sense because llamada is feminine). I got corrected once for saying “la selfie,” because actually it’s “el selfie,” but I defended “la selfie” with the argument that it’s a photo, and la foto is feminine. Almost every time I hear internet it’s el internet, but my professor at interpretation school always corrects me, she insists it’s la internet because it refers to la red cibernética (the cybernetic web) and red is feminine.
Then you’ve got words derived from proper nouns, like googlear (to google something, look something up on the internet) and photoshoppear (to photoshop/edit an image), and — here’s a fun one — zapar (to jam, improvise with a group of musicians), which many people swear came from Frank Zappa, but others say that’s just a myth.
And speaking of music, we’ve got la track (interchangeable with la pista), we’ve got la mix and mixear (the mix, to mix, interchangeable with la mezcla and mezclar), and we’ve got cables plug and miniplug (quarter inch and eighth inch cables). We’ve got el indie, el jazz, el rocanrol, a gazillion other musical genres, and el under (the Argentine underground music scene) (pronounced like ander), an anglicism that’s very dear to our hearts here at La La Lista.
For partying, we’ve got el after (the after party), we’ve got la rola (ecstasy, molly), which, please don’t quote me on that one cause I’m actually not sure if it’s an anglicism, but I always thought it came from “to roll” (the verb for being high on molly). There’s also el dealer (the drug dealer, also called el tranza) and el blunt (the blunt), and sometimes glitter instead of brillitos. OH, and one of my personal favorites, which I used for over a year before realizing that it was an anglicism: skere (also sometimes pronounced with only the consonants: SKRRRRRR), which comes from the expression “let’s get it!”
We’ve got terms derived from social movements that have gained international ground thanks to the internet, for example queer is used here as an umbrella term by/for folks with identities on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, and acronyms-made-words like terf (trans exclusionary radical feminist), afab (assigned female at birth), amab (assigned male at birth), and let’s not forget about acab (all cops are bastards), are used as well.
You can turn any word into an extra-special abstract noun by adding –eishon. People sometimes add -eit (like -ate) or -eishon (like -ation) onto the ends of words to either kind of make fun of English, to speak silly English gibberish (like how people sometimes add -o onto the ends of words to speak fake Spanish: “I-o no-o speak-o Spanish-o”), or to make something sound extra important or fancy. I remember being absolutely floored when I learned about the existence of El libro de la folcloreishon (The Book of Folkloration), which is the actual title of the definitive collection (“real book”) of Argentine folklore music standards.
You can also change the -o at the end of spanish gerunds to -ing, which gives a sort of goofy/cutesy aesthetic to what you’re saying — at least that’s my interpretation/intention when I hear/say things like “estoy laburanding” (I’m working) or “estoy yending” (I’m going/on my way). Other anglicisms that have the effect of sounding “cute” (again, my opinion) are sori (sorry) and plis (please). We’ve also got plenty of other phonetically-adapted English words/phrases, like fakia (fuck yeah), cul (cool), nais, (nice), broder (brother, used as a unisex term of endearment), inlov (in love), friki (freaky; usually used with a positive connotation, or the sexual connotation), and ailaviu (I love you).
You can make English words into Spanish adjectives by adding -eado/a/x or -ero/a/x, like, for example (to combine with one of the expressions from the previous paragraph) you could say “estoy inloveada” to mean“I’m smitten,” or you could say “estoy stuckeada” (I’m stuck), or “estoy creepouteada” (I’m creeped out). You could call something/someone is “cringero” (cringey)(pronounced creen-shay-ro), and then also there’s el cringeo (the abstract concept of cringe or act of exuding cringe.) Cringe is a big one here, to be honest (or maybe it’s just the people I hang out with?), and it’s cringe as in referring to the aesthetic or vibe/feeling, not the body language expression, as per the original definition. And what’s interesting is that there actually is a Spanish expression here that is reasonably equivalent to the definition that cringe has taken on in internet-meme-culture, and that’s verguenza ajena (literally “secondhand embarrassment”).
Internet meme culture (just going to scrape the surface on this one cause I’ll definitely get carried away), is a huge driver of some of the most excellent and wacky anglicisms. For example, things like “esto es un mood” o un “whole mood.” Yes, Spanish does have a word for mood, but it’s not the specific use of mood as conceptualized by the “mood” meme format. And a lot of people learn and recognize English words used in various viral meme formats, who don’t necessarily speak English and wouldn’t necessarily understand the meaning of that word in any other context — but they understand its use within the meme. Another example of English in Argentine memes is the use of “when” in memes like the one shown below. Also, meme pages/genres often have names ending in -posting, for example carpinchoposting.
Okay, okei, and OK (pronounced like oak) are very widely accepted in Argentine Spanish, and “ok” is also commonly used on the end of social media handles of businesses/brands/artists, for example, the instagram handles of these local bands: @excursionistas_ok, @resignados.ok, and @justoantesok.
Expressions like “el men” (used to refer to a singular man) belong to a category of anglicisms that bend the rules of English in ways that can seem quite funny to native English speakers, other examples include “estoy relax” (relaxed) and “estoy destroi” (destroyed). If you’re a full, or a full with something that means you’re really busy or have a lot on your mind.
AHHHH! The wonderful world of anglicisms in Argentine slang! I could go on forever but I really have to stop now before the length of this article causes a big ol’ headache for my poor dear editors who don’t deserve that.
So, en fin, there are LOTS of anglicisms used in Argentine slang. And that’s super copado (cool). But it’s also worth acknowledging that there is a lack of ida y vuelta (back and forth) happening between cultures, and recognizing that the disparity that is evident in these language dynamics is a reflection (or maybe the mirror itself) of the reality of an unequal global society in which some cultures dominate while others are marginalized. Y nada, it would be really cool if there were more equity in language exchange. Hago daydreaming about that world.