[#019] Amargo y retruco, carajo

As Halloween is getting closer, some of you may be wondering if rioplatófonos celebrate it too. Well, that’s a tricky question… Today we’ll look at three cultural aspects of the Rive Plate area: a celebration, a traditional beverage and a popular game.

Halloween is not really a traditional celebration around this area. Nevertheless, it has recently become kind of popular and you may spot some children wearing costumes here and there, asking for candy or sweets. Sometimes it’s specially organised by parents in a specific neighbourhood or just along some blocks. Other times it’s a special activity organised by some schools. And then, of course, it also works as an excuse for young people and adults to go out to nightclubs or have parties. But no, it’s not like the whole town gets creepy decorations or anything. Or at least not yet.

Now, as a consequence of this recent “popularization” of Halloween, some people have started to express their discontent saying that we should only stick to our own traditional celebrations, and not adopt others which are not really part of our culture. Have a look at the following picture:


Here we can see two kids celebrating Halloween and saying “¿Dulce o truco?“. Another possible version for “trick or treat” is “truco o trato“, but you will soon see why the words “dulce” and “truco” are specially chosen for this picture. Next to the kids we see a gaucho. For those of you who are not familiar with gauchos, we can briefly say that they are the typical traditional residents of the pampas. You are not likely to come across them in urban areas, but you can see them riding their horses in the countryside. In this picture, this gaucho answers “¡Amargo y retruco, carajo!“, which leads us to the other two things that I want to mention today: the typical drink and game.

First of all, the word “amargo” (“bitter”) refers to what this guy is drinking: mate, a traditional drink in all of the River Plate area, and especially in Uruguay. There’s a whole ritual to it, but in a nutshell, it’s a sort of tea that we have. You can see this gaucho is holding a gourd. That gourd is filled with yerba mate (the actual tea leaves), and then we introduce a “bombilla“, i.e. a straw, which has a special filter on its end. So then we pour hot water into it and take a sip. Voilà! The “real” or true mate is supposed to be bitter, but some people can add sugar to it to make it sweet. A gaucho wouldn’t probably approve of that, though.

Oh, and probably the most important thing: even though you can have it on your own, this is actually a shared drink. Yes, there’s only one straw for it, we know… But no, we don’t care. It’s a group thing and you can always share mate with your family and friends. There’s always a “cebador“, someone in charge of pouring it. This person always tries the first mate. Then he pours a new one and gives it to somebody else. This other person drinks it all up. Then the mate goes back to the cebador, who will pour a new one again, and give it to the next person in the group. The mate is passed on like that until there’s no more water left.


And here’s a good tip: be careful with being polite when having mate. You may feel tempted to say thanks when you receive or have finished a mate, but saying “gracias” when handing it back means that you’ve had enough. So if you say thanks after your first mate, then that’s all you will get!

Then, we have the word “retruco“. This word comes actually from a very popular card game called “Truco“. It’s not exclusive to the River Plate area, but it’s still very common here and everybody knows about it. I will not explain the rules or how to play it here myself, but I will leave a video with information about it anyway for those who want to know more. All I’ll say is that the name of this game comes from a special move that you can make during the game. When a player goes for “truco” (literal translation of “trick”), instead of playing for just 1 point, there are 2 points at stake. If the other player is confident enough and thinks he can win the hand, he can call for “retruco“: 3 points at stake. And if the original player decides to go even further, then there’s “vale cuatro“, which is worth 4 points.

Here’s the video with the guy explaining how to play Truco:

Question: Did you notice whether this guy has a rioplatense accent when he pronounces some Spanish words? There’s one place in particular where you should be able to tell (1:50). When he presents the cards and says their names, he refers to three of them: “sota, caballo y rey“. One of these three words can help you realize if he speaks Spanish like a rioplatófono or not. If you can’t guess what I’m talking about, click here.

Anyway, going back to the original picture of this post… The kids go “¿Dulce o truco?“. They are clearly speaking in the context of Halloween, so “dulce” stands for “sweet treat” and “truco” would refer to a kind of prank or mischief to scare the man if he refuses to give candy. But when the gaucho answers “¡Amargo y retruco, carajo!“, he’s disregarding Halloween and focusing on his traditional culture. When you talk about mate around here, you can say “¿Dulce o amargo?” to ask if the other person likes it bitter or sweet. The gaucho, of course, likes it amargo. And when you spout “truco” here, the first thing that crosses your mind is the card game. That’s why this gaucho answers “retruco“, as if he were raising the bet.

Finally, the gaucho also says “carajo“. We have already talked briefly about this word on our previous entry. So we’ll just say now that it’s an interjection that shows surprise or anger.

Ok, then. You’re now free to go celebrate Halloween and eat candy! Or play Truco online instead, while having some mate amargo. Or maybe both! Why not? 🙂


[#018] ¡La pucha!

A couple of weeks ago, Mafalda turned 50. Yet, she still looks as if she were only 6! Have you ever heard of her?

She’s the main character of a very popular comic strip written and drawn by Quino, a well-known Argentine cartoonist. Mafalda is a girl who always makes interesting observations about complex and mature topics, and is always worried about humanity and where the world is heading to.

As people remembered and celebrated her birthday, some decided to share her strips online, and I came across this one:

Mafalda (2)

Reading “la pucha” made me think that I could explain the meaning of this expression in this blog. Now, I’ve read that “pucha” means “vagina” in Mexico, but it has a totally different meaning in español rioplatense. In the River Plate area this is actually a euphemism, that is to say, a mild word or expression that is used instead of a more harsh or offensive one, as is the case of “heck” used instead of “hell”, or “shoot” instead of “shit”.

So… Any idea of what “la pucha” could stand for here? It stands for “la puta (madre)“; but when this expression is uttered, we are not really talking about a whore (direct translation of “puta“). This is actually an expression of surprise, anger or frustration. A good equivalent in English would probably be “dang”, a euphemism for “damn”.

In this comic strip then, Mafalda seems to be playing with her friend Felipe, and apparently they are both pretending to be in a cowboy film. Felipe shouts “Bang!” — he’s just shot his toy gun. Mafalda then says “¡la pucha!“, as things didn’t go well for her, and falls down and fakes being dead. Felipe doesn’t like the fact that Mafalda uses a typical rioplatense expression, implying that that’s not what a cowboy would normally say, so she’s probably killing the mood. Near the end of the strip Mafalda resorts to another euphemism. Did you also spot it? She says to her friend “¿por qué no te vas un poco al cuerno…?” as she criticises the use of foreign words in our culture. (Oh, shit! I mean… Shoot! I’m writing all of this in English, haha! Sorry, Mafalda!)

Irse al cuerno” does not really mean “to go to the horn”, which would be its literal translation. That makes no sense. Instead, it stands for “irse al carajo“, which in this case could be translated as “to go to hell” or “to fuck off”.

You may be familiar with other words like “caramba” or “caray“, which are also euphemisms for “carajo“, but these are only used as interjections, to show surprise or anger. Anyway, these two words are not frequently used by rioplatófonos, and they just can’t be used as euphemisms in the expression “irse al carajo“.

dia de mierda

Another euphemism commonly used in the River Plate area is “miércoles” (“Wednesday”), when we want to avoid saying “mierda” (“shit”). For example, if we do not want to sound so rude in an informal context, we can ask “¿qué miércoles pasa acá?” (“what the heck is going on here?”), or we can express anger or frustration by saying “¡qué día de miércoles!” (“what a shitty day!”, even if it’s not actually a Wednesday).

There are lots of expressions that work in the same way, but we’ll be seeing them in the future, little by little. For now, you can just concentrate on “pucha“, “irse al cuerno” and “miércoles“.

By the way, going back to Mafalda… Did you know that you can take a picture of you sitting right next to her if you come to Buenos Aires? Yes! You can meet her in San Telmo, a traditional neighbourhood in Buenos Aires. She’s sitting on a bench, waiting for you, right at the corner of Defensa and Chile street. Come on, come and say hi to her! 😉