Translation troubles: chau, 2023

Find out what the newsroom voted as our Argentine words and phrases of the year

What a year it’s been — and not just because the Herald returned in March. I opened this week’s column to the team, asking for their favorite “translation trouble” or word to describe this year. So here are the newsroom’s most-voted terms and phrases: feliz año nuevo, readers, see you in 2024!


Yes, our winning word of the year is arguably the weirdest example of us thinning the veil between English and Spanish (used exclusively within the newsroom). And honestly? I couldn’t agree more. 

This one came from an article by Facundo in June, when a source described a social media storm as falopa de Twitter. A literal translation would be something like “drugs of Twitter” but of course, there’s more to it than that.

Argentine slang has several words for cocaine and falopa originated as a term for “low quality.” However, it’s often used to talk about something being “out there,” as if under the influence — e.g. a harebrained idea could be described as falopa. In that context, the solution we found was “nonsense.”

Falopa was an early translation trouble and that column was where I first presented the idea that we often find ourselves thinning the veil, blurring the lines between the languages to reflect that we are an Argentine newsroom. 

Since nobody should take themselves that seriously, following that high-and-mighty premise I revealed that we say “falop” all the time in the newsroom. As in, “What a load of falop,” “That’s so falop,” or similar. Why lose such a brilliant word to translation?

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As journalists, of course we would choose something current, a term that has come to represent the end of 2023. Cacerolazo: a protest that specifically involves people banging pots and pans, whether convening somewhere or making noise from their homes. 

In Argentina you think cacerolazos, you think of the 2001 crisis — the nationwide protests, the fierce police crackdown, the 39 people killed, and the fall of Fernando de la Rúa’s government. Since President Javier Milei announced his mega-decree two weeks ago, there have been spontaneous protests all over the country and multiple cacerolazos with chants from over 20 years ago making a comeback (including Que se vayan todos).

As we have seen in multiple translation trouble columns, the Spanish suffix –azo is a linguistic cheerleader: it basically hypes the size, force, or importance of something. Argentines use it a lot for emphasis: a song you love is a temazo, not just a tema. There’s also an Argentine tradition of naming social uprisings by tacking it onto the end of relevant placenames: the 1969 Cordobazo being the prime example.

In this case, our root is the object used to voice dissent in a peaceful and rather cathartic way: cacerola (pot/pan) + azo. Sometimes you’ll see the term ruidazo, from ruido (noise) because that’s what happens when you have thousands of people thwacking metal.

A protester at a cacerolazo outside Argentina’s Congress building. Photo: Valen Iricibar (Buenos Aires Herald)

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On a personal note, this one is a particular point of pride and was included in the Trans Journalists Association’s Stylebook and Coverage Guide.

English-language coverage of travestis steers clear of the term because its direct English translation is a slur — the thing is, it was a slur in Spanish too. The community reclaimed the word, naming themselves with a deep cultural pride that has resonated across Latin America. 

As per the TJA guide, assuming that gender identities are equivalent across languages may lead to a simplistic translation that could be both offensive and inaccurate. For example, almost all press surrounding the Google Doodle of Diana Sacayán described her as a trans woman instead of the proud travesti pioneer that she was: the terms are simply not synonymous.

The Herald has consistently used the term travesti from day one with a brief explanation for readers unfamiliar with it. This means we can properly cover the trans/travesti community. Argentina had its first non-binary march in July to showcase the sheer number of identities that exist outside of the gender binary: by naming travestis (although not all travestis identify as non-binary), the Herald was able to do that.

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Dibujo atómico

This one managed to slip the “translation troubles” net: in August, Boca and River Plate were fighting over how many members each of these very popular clubs have. If you want to get into the finer print of the nth iteration of this classic rivalry, check out the article, but one described the other’s reported stats as a dibujo atómico. An atomic drawing — in Fernando’s translation, a “huge fake.” 

Before anyone says Argentina — or indeed the Herald — is anti-science, we’re not saying atomic drawings are shams. Let’s look at dibujo (drawing): usually used in verb form, dibujar, this refers to manipulating reality for someone’s benefit. In this case, fudging the numbers to make it look like there were more members.

Then there’s atómico (atomic). In English, we say something is a big, huge, massive deal. Argentines go for atomic, presumably due to the enormity of an atomic bomb (think “going nuclear”) and not the minuscule dimensions of the atom. It’s also played for comedic effect, used to ridicule: if someone does something particularly idiotic you might say it was an estupidez atómica.

Put them together and you have a double whammy: two evocative Argentine terms for one fun translation trouble because the English equivalent just isn’t as colorful. No wonder it’s a newsroom favorite.

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As a little extra to send off the year, here are the runner-ups from previous translation troubles: 

What were your favorite translation troubles of 2023? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!


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