Translation troubles: electoral edition

A look at some of the bilingual struggles the Herald faced when covering the primaries

Last Sunday we had the Argentine primary elections (PASO for their Spanish acronym) with a plethora of electoral phrases and terminology coming up even before the vote took place. Here are four examples — with many more to come before the general election in October.

Que se vayan todos

This is a classic Argentine phrase that had already come up in different stories unrelated to the elections and then elbowed its way to the forefront being chanted by supporters of a certain far-right candidate who clinched a third of the votes in Sunday’s primaries.

Que se vayan todos, “let everyone leave,” was a demand born in marches protesting the turmoil that led to the 2001 socioeconomic crisis. It was a general call for the entire system to be upended and politicians to step down following years of economic downturn, a demand for real change.

The term has become a shorthand for expressing anger and the fervent desire for real change — in fact, when we did translate it, it was in the voices of angry football fans. Despite its almost everyday nature, hearing it being chanted in support of a presidential candidate was bizarre.

Carancheo electoral 

This one came up in conversation in the newsroom. The week preceding the PASO was a difficult one marked by violence, including the death of an 11-year-old girl in a fatal robbery at the doors of her school in Lanús. In reading Argentine news stories, our intern Molly read the term carancheo electoral — evoking politicians swooping down like vultures to make the most of a situation to garner more votes. 

Caranchos (Caracara plancus) technically aren’t vultures but are carrion feeders, hence being made into a verb to describe political expediency and, often, lawyers. It’s kind of a better insult when you overthink it — as I am wont to do with translation troubles — because they are in fact opportunistic raptors that just can’t be bothered to hunt most of the time. 

They are also used to decry something messy because their nests are famous for looking, well, disheveled. If someone says your hair looks like a nido de caranchos (carancho nest), get a comb and maybe someone else to talk to, stat.


Argentine candidates wait for the results in their respective party or coalition’s “bunkers” — an olive branch seemingly outstretched between battling JxC candidates Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Patricia Bullrich when it was announced that they would await the results together. In searching for the origins of the term, búnker político is apparently a Spanish term for an extreme right-wing group resistant to political change toward the end of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s regime. In Argentina, it’s just a hotel or community center where politicians, journalists and supporters hang out on election night — not to diminish the importance of the place that inspired one of PoxyClub’s greatest hits from 2011.

Anyway. We ended up going with “campaign headquarters,” which is a simple enough translation, but modern examples of búnker with that meaning seem to be exclusive to Argentine electoral coverage. And it sounds so hardcore to wait for the vote count holed up in a bunker as if awaiting nuclear war.

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Cuarto oscuro

Again, this was less protracted translation discussion and more an appreciation of our idiosyncrasies. In Argentina, we refer to where we vote as the “dark room” — often a school classroom, that we enter alone, with the windows covered and ballots spread across the desks waiting to be put in your empty envelope. In my voting experience, some places even turn off the lights. You then take the envelope to the corridor outside, placing it in the ballot box in front of supervisors and others waiting their turn. 

Apparently, the term is used mostly in Argentina and Paraguay, with Uruguay preferring cuarto secreto or “secret room.” It’s a formal term enshrined in our electoral code, not slang or shorthand. We went with the generic “polling station” and on exploring why there wasn’t a specific term for exactly where you cast your vote — like “voting booth” in the UK — US friends informed me that if voting in person, it’s often in communal halls featuring rows of voting machines with a little space between them.

This is anathema to our cuarto oscuro: several in the newsroom voted in Buenos Aires City for the first time and using the single electronic machine in view of election personnel was disconcerting. Because we had both electronic and paper ballots, the cuarto oscuro was just a cardboard booth — also unnerving. Maybe now that electronic voting has been scrapped for October, we’ll recover that treasured moment of standing in a dark room alone with our decisions. How else will you feel the weight of the democratic process?

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