Argentine slang takes inspiration from almost anywhere, often using mundane nouns and spicing them up to give them new meaning, so how could fruits and vegetables escape that fate? We’ve had perejil as a previous “translation trouble” — a garnish that becomes much stronger with a dose of lunfardo — so I thought I’d take readers to our linguistic verdulería for a different sort of five-a-day.
Mandar fruta/cualquier verdura
“Send fruit” and “any vegetable” mean the same thing so we can group them together: it basically means doing something on the fly without taking it seriously. The phrases apparently come from long-distance comforts in the 19th century, with people asking their family to “send them fruit” from home when they moved to other parts of the country. The stories differ in how mandar fruta went from earnest plea to admonishment but it seems to stem from the disappointment of receiving packages without fruit: saying in contrast that “any old vegetable” or cualquier verdura was sent instead.
Now, mandar fruta means to say things without understanding and cualquier verdura can also become hacer cualquiera or cualquier cosa — doing something poorly, usually in a rush and completely missing the mark.
This came up in conversation with the innocent and potentially philosophical question: “What does it mean to be a banana?”
A banana is basically a showy person who thinks they’re all that — and in trying to be cool they look ridiculous in their inflated sense of self. It can be a noun modified for the person’s gender, e.g. sos un banana, or a descriptor: es re banana (they’re so banana).
Here’s a bonus: the warning phrase “A papá mono/mamá mona con bananas verdes.” This basically means “Don’t try to fool me” — you wouldn’t trick a parent monkey, a seasoned and mature fruit expert, with unripe bananas. Growing up abroad in a bilingual household with a wisecracker for a father, I genuinely learned this one as “To father monkey with green bananas” — only to realize on returning to Argentina that I didn’t know its original Spanish form. Translation troubles, indeed.
With the same sentence structure as sos un banana, the unassuming turnip can also become a bit of a put-down. But better to be a turnip than a banana in Argentina (what a sentence) because nabo usually just means that someone’s a bit of a chump. If you forgot your keys, you might call yourself a turnip. If someone tells a particularly bad joke, they could be called a turnip without fear of genuinely offending them. In fact, if you wanted your gentle blow to someone’s intelligence to be even softer and kind of dorky, you can use naboleti.
¡Chupate esta mandarina!
When you have an ace up your sleeve, particularly if you’ve accomplished something and want to throw it in someone’s face, you can tell them to “suck on this tangerine.” This is usually negative or to the other person’s detriment — presumably because tangerines can be bitter — but can also be used to express surprise. I’ve heard it a lot in the card game truco, when a winning hand is thrown down with an exultant ¡chupate esta mandarina!
The closest English equivalent, an approximation which I find delightful — “How’d you like them apples?”
¡Apa la papa!
This is basically the opposite of chupate esta mandarina, although I don’t hear it often. Apa la papa is so satisfying and fun, though, that I really think we should say it more. Apa and epa are simple and versatile exclamations but as with anything in life, you add a potato and the result is necessarily positive — congratulatory amazement, even. Someone graduated? ¡Apa la papa! You did the thing? ¡Aapaa la papaa!
Really draw out those A’s for full effect. Go on, have some fun with cries of tubular triumph today.