The Meaning of ‘Atorrante”‘

Argentine Spanish is strewn with words and colorful phrases from Lunfardo, a rich vocabulary born on the streets of Buenos Aires in the second half of the 19th century. Now considered a fixture of the Spanish language in Argentina (especially in and around Buenos Aires) and Uruguay, linguists cite the use of Lunfardo as a defining characteristic of the Rioplatense dialect. Add a dash of Argentine flavor to your Spanish vocabulary with the Transpanish blog’s ongoing feature highlighting some of the most frequently used terms in Lunfardo.

In Lunfardo, the word atorrante commonly refers to one who avoids work and other responsibilities or one who lacks honesty and respect, with concern only for his own personal gain. In addition, atorrante carries the following meanings:

  • When used to describe a man or a woman (atorranta in the case of a female) – scum, bum, tramp, layabout, crook, slacker, good-for-nothing, naughty, cheeky
  • When used to describe a woman – whore, slut, easy, promiscuous
  • When used to describe a child – prankster, mischievous, cheeky
  • When used to describe an animal – mutt

The origin of the word “atorrante” is uncertain; however, there are two widely held explanations as to its etymological roots.

(1) It’s said that in the early 20th century, vagabonds and indigents slept inside huge cement pipes being installed for an important public works project in the City of Buenos Aires. Allegedly, the French-made pipes were emblazoned with the name of the manufacturer A. Torrent, and the men spending the night in these pipes gained the moniker “atorrantes” as a result.

(2) At the turn of the 20th century, unemployed men who came looking for work at general stores were offered the job of roasting coffee beans (to roast/toast = torrar). The raggedy-looking folks given this task later came to be known as atorrantes.

Related words in Lunfardo:

atorrantear – to loiter; to go out and have fun, especially at night; to go out in search of someone to have sex with

atorrar– to sleep

The word “atorrante” appears in the lyrics of popular 70s tune “Cara de tramposo” by Argentine pop and tango singer Cacho Castaña.

Cara de tramposo

Cara de tramposo y ojos de atorrante
con el pelo largo y la lengua picante

Dejó la Argentina buscando horizontes
en un viejo barco fue de polizonte
en tierras lejanas buscando fortuna


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