poesía de gotán:

As I add new definitions of terms, I will be going back through the already published translations and hyperlinking them back to this page.

Many of the words that appear again and again in Golden Age tango lyrics have no adequate one or two word translations in English. These terms are tied historically and culturally to late 19th and early 20th century Buenos Aires, and I have made the editorial decision to leave them untranslated in italics in the texts, and refer you, my readers, back to this glossary.

(el) arrabal noun
A low-income, working class neighborhood on the outskirts of the city of Buenos Aires. Some choose to translate it as “slum,” but the English connotations of that word don’t have quite the right flavor. Most of the tangos have a fond attitude toward the neighborhoods they call arrabales.
Related forms are arrabalero/a noun, a person from the arrabal, also adjective of/from/pertaining to the arrabal.

criollo/a adjective, noun
This very old word originally referred to people of (purportedly) 100% Spanish blood who were born in the overseas territories of the Spanish Empire (as opposed to peninsulares, born on the Iberian peninsula). In post-independence Argentina, over the course of the 19th century, it came to refer to those people, places, and things that were thought to have a more “authentic,” “native,” or ” old Argentine” quality, untainted by the influence of subsequent immigrants from other European nations.

porteño/a adjective
Literally meaning “of the port” or “of the harbor,” the word porteño has come to specifically refer to a native of the port city of Buenos Aires (people from the province of the same name are called bonaerenses). Outside of Argentina and tango, it can also refer to natives of the port cities of Cádiz in Spain and Valparaíso in Chile.



19 thoughts on “Glossary

  1. At one time I thought that arrabal referred to the provincia of Buenos Aires as opposed to the capital federal. I have since learned through research that the boundaries of the city ended at Av. Puerreydon-Jujuy (known earlier as CentroAmerica), so it wasn’t that far from what we know as “downtown” to the outskirts. In the 1890s, the House of Maria La Vasca was just outside the city limits at Jujuy and Carlos Calvo where she ran a dance place where prostitutes worked. The house still stands and is walking distance from where I live. The city is so large today, but it was so small when many tangos referred to arrabal.

    Posted by jantango | 03.19.2010, 5:41 AM
  2. che Derrick,
    ever heard of a Di Sarli-Podesta song called Soy aquel viajero? Beautiful melody and lyrics, but I found that there’s no transcriptions for the song, so I decided to do it myself, only that there’s just one part that I can’t get, much like La Cicatriz. Here is the draft, with the word in question in parentheses. If you can get your contacts to figure out what is said before I do, we can maybe translate this song simultaneously:
    contemplo desde el barco la ciudad sombreada por la luz que da el anochecer
    pronto el turbion de su calle me arrastrara por encontrarte
    y siento que (la gumida) emocion aumenta la ansiedad que traigo al regresar
    otra vez con la esperanza de atarme a tus besos que no se olvidar
    miro a los que esperan y se van y la ilusion de verte agranda mas mi soledad
    soy aquel viajero que partio sin un adios y sabe que al llegar tu voz no escuchara
    tengo que encontrarte, corazon, no se si por mi bien o si esta vez para llorar
    solo se que he vuelto por tu amor que no olvide, que no podre olvidar jamas
    (pardon the lack of accents, my laptop was reconfigured, and I can’t get the Spanish keyboard to work properly)

    Posted by Jaimito El Zorro Gris | 11.05.2010, 7:20 PM
  3. Hi, Derrick.

    We miss you in SF. Does this website have the lyrics in Spanish as well as English?


    Posted by Joe Caldwell | 04.24.2011, 2:20 AM


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The sound files on this site are included for illustrative purposes only. Those wishing to obtain high quality versions for their personal collections should purchase commercially available copies. If you can't get to a record store in Buenos Aires, a great many tangos are available, song by song, in meticulously digitized versions from http://www.tangotunes.com/ and others can be found on the iTunes music store or Amazon (transfer quality varies widely). Though he no longer has inventory available, Michael Lavocah's superb http://milonga.co.uk/ can help you determine which CDs might be best to buy used.
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