Thursday, December 27, 2007


On a little break in Khartoum for Christmas, and I was listening to some Gotan project … and “gotan” is tango, in the “vesre” Spanish which the RioPlatense area is most known for, particularly Buenos Aires, where it is incorporated into a very elaborate slang system known as Lunfardo. Tango music and dance is so closely associated with Lunfardo, that one could say that today this is its main function, as new, less localized slang systems come into use among youth, which don’t have much to do with Lunfardo. The onrush of Italian immigrants to Argentina between 1880 and 1900 brought Buenos Aires’ population to around 40% Italian, which inevitably led to a sort of pidgin, which became known (or at least parodied) as cocoliche, supposedly after a certain Antonio Cuccoliccio whose speech was mocked and imitated by comedian Celestino Petray to great applause:

Mi quiamo Franchisque Cocoliche e sono creolio hasta lo güese da la taba e la canilla de lo caracuse, amico.”

Many of these Cocoliche terms came to be incorporated into the general slang, which was developing concurrently with the use of vesre, germanía, jeringonza as well as guaraní and other indigenous languages, and other external influences around the seedy underbelly of the Buenos Aires crime world, which seems to have been the milieu in which tango was most popular. The best place for a lot of glosses on Lunfardo words is the Spanish "gotan glosario". But the Spanish wiki site has much more in-depth descriptions of the formations and etymologies of the words, including this one on cop slang:


Police. Word of unknown origin from Lunfardo of unknown etymology. Could come from the Portuguese “encanado” which is to say: “imprisoned in a jail cell made of canes (sticks).” In fact the term cana is used with identical meaning in Brazil. Before it was very widespread among tango writers in their lyrics, and today it is in frequent use among the whole population. The Lunfardo word cana seems to be abbreviated from canario, a word already used in spain since the 16th c. at least (Cervantes mentions it with the meaning of ‘cantor’ – delegate or confidante of the police), others suggest that the etimology is founding the French word canne (rod, stick, i.e. billy club/nightstick) as a metonymy for the stick which police use.

Other versions indicate that it was because of the mistreatment of retired police because of the small quantity of the same (i.e. sticks?). Upon seeing the color of their skin, the robbers made fun of them saying “canosos” or “canas.”

Order to the “cana” means at the same time “send to prison” and by extension, accuse (or with a certain comic tone) put someone to trial who has made some misstep, for example: “Cacho did some sort of nonsense and Juana accused him (lo mando en cana) in front of everyone.” On the other hand “batir la cana” or “dar la canaveri” could mean omit or leave out an intention or act that one wants to keep secret.

(see also cobani, vesre for abanico)

for more language games do not see Ludwig Wittgenstein. His language-games are not very fun.

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