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The Italian dialect word lunfardo, meaning a criminal, began as lombardo, then became lumbardo, and finally lunfardo. It was applied to all criminal slang, which—along with brothel slang and the flood of immigrants in the late nineteenth century—gave a major boost to Argentine argot, to the extent that the boundary between Lunfardism and Argentinism is sometimes vague. This lexicon lost or assimilated terms over time while some words changed meanings: ortiva was first synonymous with informer but came to mean embittered.

The manifest expressive force of Lunfardo spread throughout society and was expressed in artistic and journalistic forms (for example, costumbrista poems and articles in the magazine Caras y Caretas and in the newspapers Última Hora and Crítica, until the 1930s). It also strengthened the repertoire of folk singers, including the lyrics for tango music and the género chico criollo, or short, light plays. It was also found in some naturalist novels. With Versos rantifusos (1916) by Yacaré (Francisco Fernández) and La crencha engrasada (1926) by Carlos de la Púa (Carlos Muñoz del Solar), Lunfardo reached poetic heights. Roberto Arlt incorporated it into his novels (beginning with El juguete rabioso, 1926) and his Aguafuertes porteñas, in the daily, El Mundo, between 1928 and 1933. In the 1960s Ernesto Sábato, Julio Cortázar, and many writers, poets, and dramatists took it up. But it was especially radio and television comedy programs that renewed this legacy and disseminated it down to the end of the twentieth century, although in the last decades of the century young people and the music they sing—from "national" rock to cumbia villera—have been the main proponents of Lunfardo. There are many dictionaries of Lunfardo's vocabulary. The initial compilations of Leopoldo Lugones, Luis MariaDrago, Antonio Dellepiane, Luis Villamayor, and others were later systematized by José Gobello in Lunfardía (1953), Oscar Conde in Diccionario etimológico del lunfardo (1998), and others.

See alsoCortázar, Julio; Sábato, Ernesto; Spanish Language.


Conde, Oscar. Diccionario etimológico del lunfardo. Buenos Aires: Perfil Libros, 1998.

Gobello, José. Lunfardía: Introducción al estudio del len-guaje porteño. Buenos Aires: Argos, 1953.

                                        Eduardo Romano