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:
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“.
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! 😉