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The Argentinian Dictionary: Argentinian phrases for everyone

We spoke to the creator of this Instagram account that translates Argentine expressions into English. If you don't follow it, after reading this note you're going to start doing it.

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diccionario argentino

There are people who have the sensitivity to grasp those things that for others go unnoticed. Things every day, the things we take for granted, the things we don't question. For example, those  phrases  that come out of our mouth that, for us, are loaded with meaning. But, for someone from other latitudes, it's a complete nonsense.

With that premise in mind was that  Moira Mc Intyre  gave life to  The Argentinian Dictionary,  an Instagram account in which he translates into English —literally —  some of the phrases that Argentinians use the most  . He also adds to them the definition of what it means to us. A kind of guide for unsuspecting foreigners who want to really interact with a pure strain argento.

The result is a desopilant compiling of phrases that we say every day and that, put into perspective, are meaningless.  “ You smoke!  ” (you smoke!) ,  “jewel never taxi”  ,  “to spit the barbecue”  ,  “what a bad milk!   ” (what a bad milk!) ,  “it's all a topic”  ,  “to change the water of the olives”  ,  “do me the second”  ,  “neither fu nor fa”  , are some of the many expressions that take up this Argentinian dictionary that has no waste.

But let Moira — an Argentinean based in Barcelona— tell us firsthand what this project is all about, which began as a quarantine pastime and became a real event. So much that you already have your own  website with an online store  and — perhaps — a book on the horizon.


How did the idea of the Argentinian Dictionary account come about?

 The idea came up during the quarantine . I live in  Barcelona  and work on my own account (7 years ago I bought 2 trucks from the 50s, restored them as food trucks and opened a company to rent them for all kinds of events) and with the pandemic I found myself without a job, without an encouraging picture to return to work in the short or medium term and, being a highly sociable person, friend, who loves to travel and do things (of those that are put on in a plan before knowing what the plan is), I was suddenly stuck in a 30-m2 studio with the only company of my kitten and an aloe vera, and quite discouraged.

Just in those days, checking my social networks, I saw a story about a Portuguese friend where she translated a typical expression of her country, reminding me of the number of times I had to  explain Argentine terms, expressions and phrases to my friends from other parts of the world  . And that's when I thought that, with the number of phrases that Argentines have, it would be nice to have a kind of  dictionary with our typical phrases and expressions , that could help share with the world something as rich in our culture as is our language. So I got to work.

The idea of translating the phrases literally seemed funny because it is the way an English-speaking speaker who doesn't speak much Spanish (and doesn't know the language expressions) would surely do it:  crumbling the phrase and translating it word by word.  I realized that just the idea of thinking the phrases had fun, and that's what I needed at that time of quarantine and not being able to leave my house: reading and cooking as if there wasn't a tomorrow was fine (the other activities that consumed my time in those days), but this was something I knew ; that I was going to stay positive, that it would take up my time, but above all, that it would make me laugh despite the circumstances.


Is anyone else behind the account?

 Moira, an Argentinian “restless ass”  who, as I told you before, lives in Barcelona. From this 11 years ago:  I came for 5 months and ended up staying to live,  among other things because of the ease of being able to get on a plane for two mangoes and go anywhere for a couple of days (I'm a kind of compulsive traveller).  I dance tango and folklore  since my adolescence (tango by inheritance from my grandparents and folklore by my dad, who took me to the clubs and areng me to start dancing or go on stage to sing), I really like to write and I am in love with our language  , which I think is one of the richest and most distinctive things we have (it's no coincidence that, wherever you go, if you say that you are Argentine, the first thing they tell you is “boludo” or “che”).

When I had the idea of starting  the Argentinian Dictionary project, I proposed a friend to do it together. We had been about to start an entrepreneurship and because of COVID-19 we had to cancel everything. But, at a little time to start, she decided not to continue because she had other projects in mind, so  I proposed to my mom if she wanted to help me and collaborate with me . She is also Argentinean, but  her mother tongue is English  (only English was spoken at home, Spanish only learned it at school), so she is in charge of reviewing my texts and making me the necessary corrections. It helps us stay in permanent contact, and it was also a nice way to keep us company during the quarantine.


Where do you get the ideas to put together the dictionary?

At first they were phrases that occurred to me, of the many times I had to explain to foreign friends when they were looking at me if I didn't understand a word of what I was saying to them. But over time, as we were adding  followers on Instagram  (we reached 100,000 in less than 4 months), we were getting more and more  ideas and suggestions  by message. Since I was already going crazy about answering messages and going through all the ideas clean,  I put together an online form  and proposed to people that all the suggestions for phrases send them to me around, because that way they were automatically saved and it was easier to be able to sort them (in addition, so I have the names of those who sent them, and when I publish them, I give a personal thanks to the people who took the time to send us their ideas). Today we have  more than 6000 suggestions  that people have been sharing to us.


What impact does it have on foreigners? Do you receive feedback?

A lot of them! We didn't think it could have such an impact on people not outside the country, but  many foreigners write to us  saying they are using the page to learn Spanish and all the idioms there are in Argentina (I recently wrote a guy from Oman and another from Syria. and I couldn't believe it). Even many couples, in which one of the members is Argentine and the other foreigner, write us to tell us that they use the page to shorten the language gap, and that now their partners understand them more or even that they already use the expressions. We have also been written about some university that makes exchanges with US students to tell us that they use the dictionary to teach our expressions to the kids before they come, that way they get to know some of those expressions they're going to hear on the street, but they're not taught in no kind of spanish.


And among the Argentines?

The truth is, I  get a lot of congratulations messages  because they love the idea. I think too, as happened to me, people needed something to laugh about during the quarantine. And, in addition to being fun,  it is to show the world our culture , and to be able to make it known through our language, but with a touch of humor. And that's something he likes. People also participate a lot in the polls I do on Instagram stories: once I asked them to send all football phrases that we apply in our daily lives, and that's how I inaugurated  on Sunday Football , which is that every Sunday I post a phrase that is a meth... aacute; fora originated in that sport; or again that I asked to send me anecdotes that they had ever done some absurd translation and shared a lot of travel stories and English lessons, where they had translated something like that a little into “our style”. It was a lot of fun!


What are the phrases that you liked most personally?

I find it hard to choose. I like them all. Many sayings were always used in my house, and when I start translating them and writing definitions, some remind me very much of my childhood (although those, many of the youngest don't even know them). But I think the expressions that I like the most are those that only when I try to translate them I realize how absurdity they sound in another language, such as “ now after ”, which is a beautiful contradiction we use, or “ I'm going to go ”, where we use three times the same verb conjugated differently. I love those. And also comparisons, which we do both: “ Like ass and pants ” or “ heavier than watermelon necklace .”


Do you have any idea of exploiting this project in some other way? (for example, a book, a web, a blog)

 I just launched the web a little bit ago . They've been asking me to make t-shirts, mugs and other products with the phrases for a long time, so I got to work and now  we have two online stores : one in Argentina with shipments across the country (we work with a local supplier that makes on-demand prints from a lot of products) and other that is for international shipping, with a supplier that has centers in various parts of the world, for all those who want to buy from other countries.  They're also asking us to make a book , so hopefully we can do it soon.


What does it mean for you to be argentinian?

 Being Argentinean is to live the passion at all levels  (there is no worse insult to be told “chest”). It's your old man's roast or grandma's pasta on Sundays. It's the close family and matte evenings with friends.  It is talking about economics with the neighborhood's greengrocer , discussing politics at a table with friends or theorizing all the possible plays of a football match as if it were chess.  It's analyzing and psychoanalyzing everything and everyone , on a couch or with a beer in hand in some bar.  It is polarizing and discussing everything : either you are on one side or you are on the other (as if between white and black there are no infinities of gray). It's getting to a meeting with 20 people and  giving a kiss to everyone, even if you don't know them , one by one (that when you could... and now it's surprising horrors doing it). It's having football metaphors for different moments in our daily lives.  It's complaining about everything and laughing at ourselves , at the same time. It's the friend's hand, your sister's hug or your mother's advice.  It's knowing that if you fall, there's always going to be someone stalling the fall.  It's the taste of fried and matte cake on a rainy day. It is to be proud of who we are, for our shirt, for our culture, for our country and for being able to say to the world:  “I am an Argentine”.  

Publication Date: 30/03/2021

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