In its early days, tango was a dance of the lower class. For this reason, most early tango songs are stuffed with Lunfardo words, the slang from Buenos Aires. Many lunfardo expressions arrived with European immigrants, mainly Italians. The slang also includes some Aboriginal words, others from African origin or from French, English and Portuguese.

A lot of lunfardo words have sexual connotations so unless you are sure this is what you want to say, you might want to stick to traditional Spanish. (NB: Pierna and gamba both mean leg)

The story behind Lunfardo

Lunfardo originated as prison slang in the late 19th century, so that guards could not understand prisoners. It then spread and became commonly used by the other classes. The word lunfardo itself (originally a deformation of “lombardo” in several Italian dialects) means “outlaw”.

Al mundo le falta un tornillo

Al mundo le falta un tornillo is a great example of tango lyrics describing the harshness of life for the lower class, using a myriad of colourful lunfardo expressions.

Al mundo le falta un tornillo (1933)
Todo el mundo está en la estufa,
Triste, amargao y sin garufa,
neurasténico y cortao…
Se acabaron los robustos,
si hasta yo, que daba gusto,
¡cuatro kilos he bajao!
Hoy no hay guita ni de asalto
y el puchero está tan alto
que hay que usar el trampolín.
Si habrá crisis, bronca y hambre,
que el que compra diez de fiambre
hoy se morfa hasta el piolín.
The world has a screw loose
It’s hell for everyone,
It’s all sadness, bitterness, no fun at all,
everyone is neurasthenic and strapped for cash…
Hard to find anyone chubby anymore,
even I, with my hearty appetite,
have lost 4 kilos!
Today there’s no dough anywhere, even for robbers.
The price of the traditional puchero dish is now so high,
you’d need a trampoline to catch any.
They say there’s a crisis, there’s hatred and hunger,
and those who buy 10 pence worth of cold meats
today scoff even the wrapping.

Estufa: boredom – From Italian / also means stove
Cortado: strapped for cash – From Spanish slang
Garufa: fun, partying – word of unknown origins
Guita: money – from Spanish slang
Bronca: hostility, enmity, hatred – From Spanish

Listen to the song


See you tomorrow for another Tango Advent Calendar window – much more exciting that those with little chocolates inside…


Nati y Bruno