1. Ser Gardel | To be Gardel
You are Gardel when you are the way you wanna be, when you don’t need anything else. This expression means “to be on the top,” like Carlos Gardel, the most famous tango singer in history. Being Gardel is attaining a supreme level of self-sufficiency and privilege. You are Gardel if, in summer, you get a canvas pool to put up with Buenos Aires’ heat. And, if you get a house with a swimming pool, you are Gardel with an electric guitar!
2. Me cortaron las piernas | “They’ve cut my legs off!”
On June 30, 1994, Diego Armando Maradona’s World Cup in the USA came to an end when he was marched off the pitch by a nurse, having failed a drug test. That awful day, his career on the national team was surprisingly finished. At the saddest moment of Argentinian sports, Diego said this unforgettable phrase that is still used to refer to an injustice. Of course, we exaggerate that expression to complain about trivial things, like the absence of ketchup on a hot dog stand, for example.
3. Pegar un tubazo | To hit someone with a tube.
Don’t be alarmed if an Argentinian asks you to hit him with a tube; he’s simply saying “call me.” It doesn’t matter if you do it from a telephone, a cell phone or Skype.
4. Ir a llorarle/cobrarle a Magoya | To go crying to (or get your money from) Magoya.
Magoya is the first name of a being whose origin, life story, location, and other biographical data are totally unknown. But there is one thing we do know well: Magoya will never be there when we search for him. Magoya represents an indubitable void. We have never seen him (it?), and we won’t. We just know that if someone warns us: “Do not sell that thing to X, because he never pays his bills,” we do it under our responsibility. And if, finally, X fails to pay what he owes, someone will send us to charge Magoya.
5. Estar hasta las manos | To be up to one’s hands
Sometimes, recognizing and accepting love is really hard. Telling it to a friend is much more difficult. That’s why, perhaps trying to mitigate the impact of the news, Argentinians admit: “I think I’m up to my hands with this girl.”
But we also say we are up to our hands when we are really busy and we don’t have enough time to do everything we have to do (which can also a consequence of being up to your hands in love).
6. Buscarle la quinta pata al gato | To search for a cat’s fifth leg
Argentinians are used to being worried about (or in) trouble. And when we don’t have anything to complain about, we look for it. We buy things with distrust, listen to people wondering if they are telling the truth and see conflict where it doesn’t exist. We love searching for a cat’s fifth leg and, from time to time, we find it!
7. Andar como turco en la neblina | To go like a Turk in the haze
If, as the tango says, “you’re confused and you don’t know what trolley to follow,” then that’s because you go like a “Turk in the haze.” It seems that the origin of this phrase comes from Iberian Peninsula. Many years ago, in Spain, pure wine (no water) was called “Turkish,” because it wasn’t “baptized.” To be drunk was “to catch a Turk.” Is there a better image than a drunk lost in the haze for describing that feeling of being confused?
8. No hay tu tía | There’s no your aunt
“There’s no way to do it, bro. Although you try, there’s no way to solve the problem There’s not your aunt!”
The “atutía” was a substance derived from copper smelting. It used to be used as medicine for certain eye diseases. In Spanish, “atutía” sounds like “tu tía,” which means “your aunt.” “There’s no atutía” was the original phrase to say that something had no remedy. Over time, distortions turned it into “there’s no tu tía”. So, when something has no solution, there’s no your aunt.
9. Hacer algo de cayetano | To do something silently or without telling anyone
If you have the pleasure of visiting Argentina and a friend of yours asks you to do something “de cayetano,” be careful. You don’t have to dress up like San Cayetano, the saint of working. Nor do you have to go to religious procession on August 7. “De cayetano” means “silent” or “without telling anyone.” So, if you’re strolling through the Obelisco and you find a $50 bill, pick it up, but “de cayetano…”
10. Tirar los galgos | Release the greyhounds, or drop pickup lines
Argentina has notoriously beautiful women. In attempting to seduce them, Argentine men improvise speeches, sometimes with success, other times not. Obviously, this is not about a hunting with dogs, (as is practiced in rural areas), but both ways of releasing Greyhounds may have much in common.
11. Ponerse la gorra | Put on the police cap
Argentinians don’t like authoritarian behavior…except their own! There is always somebody who, in moments of joy, prefers to get serious. That’s why we immediately order them to “take the hat off.”