Che, Ponete las Pilas!

Yes, this post is long overdue. Let’s switch things around this time and start off with some expressions for entertainment. And, since we’ve had a lot of demonstrations (peaceful pot banging mostly), strikes (the ongoing farmers strike), and disagreements (the decidedly inept government of the Kirchners), we’ll use that as the theme. 

First off, our title. The ubiquitous che! Che can come at the beginning or the end of a sentence as a simple interjection, or to avoid saying a person’s name. It’s like calling them “mate” or “dude.” But it is often used as a filler, a meaningless interjection just thrown in there.

  1. che – hey, hey you, man, dude, mate.
    “Che, que esta pasando?”
    “Looks like there’s another demonstration.”         

     “Man, Cristina has really dropped the ball.”
    “Te parece, che?”

  2. quilombo – a mess, chaos, commotion.
    “Che, que quilombo.”
    “No kidding. I’m heading out to the streets to bang pots with the protesters. Wanna come?”
    “Ni en pedo.”
  3. enquilombado – a complicated situation
    “Estamos enquilombados!”
    “You said it. The whole thing’s a complete mess.”
  4. quilombero(a) – a person who creates a mess
    “Ella es una quilombera total!”
    “Well, either she is or her husband is. Either way, it ain’t pretty.”
  5. piquetero(a) – protesters
    “Viste cuantos piqueteros habian?”
    “I saw them and heard them. Pots were banging all night!”
  6. ponerse las pilas – (literally, put in your batteries) get a move on, take charge
    “Can she solve the problem?”
    “Si, si se pone las pilas.”

There are some great sites covering Argentinean slang. Try the Argentine Spanish Slang Dictionary, El Castellano’s Dictionary, or Wally’s Dictionary. The last two also have sound files.  

Pronunciation: ll and y

The second most important aspect of Argentine Spanish to learn before you get here is the pronunciation of the ll (as in calle) and y (as in yo). Typically, they are both pronounced like a y in other Spanish dialects. 

Standard Pronunciation 

  • calle -street (click here to download the mp3 file and listen to the standard pronunciation)
  • yo – the pronoun I (click here to download the mp3 file and listen to the standard pronunciation)

The pronunciation of both the ll and the y change depending on which part of the country the speaker is from. We’ll look at how the porteños pronounce them, since most people will be visiting Buenos Aires and this pronunciation is the one that confuses.

ll and y are both pronounced as “sh” (for example, shop). So, the word calle becomes “cashe” and yo becomes “sho.”

Argentinean Pronunciation

  • calle – street (click here to download the mp3 file and listen to the Argentinean pronunciation)
  • yo – the pronoun I (click here to download the mp3 file and listen to the Argentinean pronunciation)

Here’s a short dialog to get you used to it. Click here to download the mp3 file of this dialog and listen to the Argentinean pronunciation of ll and y.

  • A:     Te llame ayer.
  • B:     Yo tambien te llame, pero me tuve que ir a la calle Ayacucho.
  • A:     ¿Para que?
  • B:     Un juego de llaves.


  • A:     I called you yesterday.
  • B:     I called you too, but I had to go to Ayacucho Street.
  • A:     What for?
  • B:     A copy of my keys.


Filed under argentina, culture, customs, language

13 responses to “Che, Ponete las Pilas!

  1. I think the sound files are working now. Sorry I couldn’t get them to play directly. Guess we’ll be sticking to pictures for now 🙂

  2. Che, this was a great post! 🙂

  3. Che, thanks Tina. I’ve been at media pila for the past two weeks. Now that the sun is back, I think my batteries have been recharged. Phfew!

  4. This was a great post and very helpful, especially for all of us amateur sociolinguists! When I played the MP.3 file I was shocked. I guess I thought “llame” was pronounced jah-me, not sha-me, but NOW I know the truth about yeísmo and I’m trying to practice my new accent. 1,000 Gracias, che!

  5. It’s a good thing I got those sound files working. Just reading about the yeísmo doesn’t really cut it. When you get here, you’ll see that people from Mendoza pronounce it a little differently… it’s more of the jah-me sound. And in Cordoba they also pronounce it differently… sounds more like zhah-me to me. Accents are awesome! By far my favorite Argentine accent is Cordobese. They sound sort of like elegant Southerners (similar to a New Orleans accent). It’s musical. Plus, they are known to be the most creative with their Castellano. It’s said the Cordobese have the best sense of humor, but they also tend to exaggerate (some might say lie, but I’ll just say they’re colorful).

    Hey, looks like you got “che” down. Que barbaro!

  6. Filologo

    Che, que al pedo que estas en la vida que te la pasas haciendo quilombo con esta cosa de los blogs, que de pedo encontre el tuyo.
    Ponete las pilas y habla de las peleas de parejas en plena vereda, que a mi novia el otro día la callé en la calle ayacucho porque estaba en quilombera y no paraba de gritarme, y le dije “vos sos o te hacés, tu voz me aturde ya, gritando en plena calle”.
    Saludos, tu blog está muy bueno.
    Just a question: to an english speaking person, what would be the worst thing to learn about the spanish?
    I know it´s verbs, but wich one is the most difficult, confusing?

  7. Jajaja… me mataste Filologo! So glad you’re enjoying our blog. Let’s see, the most difficult thing about Spanish? Well, besides verb conjugations which are hard at first but then not so bad, I think the difference between traer and llevar is hell to comprehend. I always, always, always get it wrong. Ir and venir was hard at the beginning because we use them differently, but that one is easier to figure out.

  8. Piqueteros are not the ones banging pots.
    Middle class protesters are.
    Piqueteros are lower class “associations” from Buenos Aires suburbs. Not from Adrogue and stuff but from other poor areas.
    They usually carry flags with them with incriptions such as M.T.S (Movimiento Trabajadores Socialistas) o PO (partido obrero)
    Some support (and have supported) the government and some are against it.

    Your posts are really good though!!!

  9. Thanks for writing to clear up the use of piqueteros. You’re right that there is a difference in the traditional piqueteros who are often out in Plaza de Mayo and on the downtown streets. But here in Argentina they also use the word piquetero for those who block the streets, essentially not making a distinction between the two in terms of the name they use. But yes, the traditional ones are often involved in worker’s organizations and do push a socialist agenda more than those who were banging pots back in June.

    We’re glad you’ve liked the posts. We’ve got to get back to writing…. too, too busy lately.

  10. Filologo

    Remember this about traer and llevar
    t-b= traer-to bring, or to go somewhere, grab something and bring it here (traeme el mate que esta en la cocina, or “vení a mi casa y traeme el libro” o “me traje un juego de mate de argentina”)
    lle-c=llevar, is to carry (llevame la bolsa que tengo las manos ocupadas), or to deliver something somewhere (andá a la casa de tu abuela y llevale unas facturas, o llevale este sobre al jefe).
    Esa es la idea, má o meno;)

  11. Thanks for the tips. It’s crazy but if I have time to think it through, I understand the difference. Then when I’m speaking and not thinking, I get it wrong. Ah, the brain and languages. What a mystery!

  12. mau

    Nice blog…btw, “che” is not a spanish word. It belongs to the guaraní language, and means “My”, “Me” or “I”;in spanish “mi” or “mío”o “yo”.Also “che” is a mapuche word meaning “man”, in spanish “hombre”. Guaraní is spoken in northeast provinces of Argentina and is the second official language of Paraguay. Mapuche tribes still live in south Argentina and Chile.
    Quilombos were the towns erected in the middle of the brazilian jungle by the black slaves that managed to escape from plantations. Some quilombos lasted 50 years or more. And quilombo is an african word, look at this:
    Best regards from Uruguay

  13. Mau… thanks for adding this info on the origins of the slang used here Argentina. It’s always nice to know where words that get adopted by a people come from. Sort of like when in English slang we use the word “boondocks” which is actually a Tagalog word meaning “mountains.” In American slang it means… way the hell over there. Kind of like “che”… whether it was the guarani yo, mi, mia or the mapuche hombre.. Nowadays in Argentina, when they use “che” it’s got all sorts of meanings. Languages are just so adaptable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s