Free thoughts on language learning

Discussions on learning Spanish, English and other language issues. Occasionally, we may stray from language learning topics if there is something that catches my interest.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Tango Terms of Endearment +

(email with your choice for the 2nd free course of the month at

My wife and I have been bitten by the Tango bug and try to never miss our weekly class. Last week I had the good fortune to be the stage manager for a tango show (I Tango - see earlier blog entry) that toured to Stowe, Vermont, New York City, and Washington, DC. The tango orchestra was a terrific group called, Color Tango (Click here for a 30 sec. sample) and featured some of the best tango dancers in the world.

Tango is a very rich art form both musically and as a dance form. It is not an art form that has separate professionals and spectators as is mostly the case with Classical music or ballet. People from all walks of life and of all ages are passionate practicioners. It also has its own set of social rules for how one behaves on the dance floor and in a dance setting. Let's look at some of the terms for the dance itself and the codes of behavior. At the end of this post I'll include some links for further exploration.

But first a note on pronunciation since it comes from Argentine and Uruguay

Pronunciation Guide:
• In Buenos Aires 'll' or 'y' is pronounced 'zh', almost an English 'j';
• a 'qu' sounds like the 'c' in cat;
• a 'z' is pronounced like 's';
• and a Spanish 'j' is a hard, throaty 'h' sound.

Abrazo — The embrace; a hug; or dance position.
Arrabal — The slums.
Arrabalero — A person of low social status. A person of simple and direct ways who speaks plainly and uses coarse language. A slum dweller. (this seems related to the English word "rabble" but that's just a guess - anyone with a more informed etymology on this please chime in!)
Bandoneón — An accordion like musical instrument originally created to provide missionaries with portable pipe organ music for religious services in remote locales which has been adopted by tango musicians to create the mournful and soulful sound of modern tango music.
Codigos — Codes: Refers to the codes of behavior and the techniques for finding a dance partner in the milongas in Buenos Aires. Civility, respectfulness, and consideration are the hallmark of the true and serious milonguero. (a person who attends tango dance salons)
Compadre — A responsible, brave, well behaved, and honorable man of the working class who dresses well and is very macho.
Compadrito — Dandy; hooligan; street punk; ruffian. They invented the Tango.
Garcha — A rather rude lunfardo term to be used only among friends; noun, 1. penis, pija masculino; 2. worthless or of bad quality, trucho comprar; 3. bad luck: ¡Qué garcha! This sucks! cagada malo garchar; verb, 'to screw' coger sexo. In tango, it may refer to a blind step against line of dance causing a collision for your partner, a garcha! May also be used as a pejorative, as in "Politicians are all garchas!" Akin to "screw-off" or "screw-up" in English slang (yes, this has been cleaned up a little:-).
Lunfardo — The Spanish/Italian slang of the Buenos Aires underworld which is common in tango lyrics and terminology. (I wouldn't leave you without a definition of Lunfardo after that racey introduction)
Porteño (feminine; Porteña) — An inhabitant of the port city of Buenos Aires.

Click for the full glossary of tango terms.


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