The word “che” is ubiquitous in Argentina. Sure, before arriving, I had seen Motorcycle Diaries. I was privy to legacy of the famous revolutionary Che Guevara, but I honestly had no idea why Argentines seemed to constantly refer to him. I remember thinking to myself, “Why is everyone talking about Che all the time?” Upon arriving to Rosario I soon realized they weren’t in fact referring to him at all. It is actually quite the opposite. Mr. Ernesto Che Guevara got the nickname “Che” while traveling outside of Argentina because, like all Argentinians, he used the word so frequently.
But wait, if the use of this word didn’t come from Che Guevara, where did it come from? Well as best as we know and according to Mr. Spadilla (Linguist), the word “CHE is a suffix from the Mapudungun language, this native language is still spoken in Southern Latin America including Argentina and Chile. The suffix ‘che’ means ‘people’. For example ‘curiche’ meaning dark people (curi: black+che: people), ‘mapuche’ (mapu: earth, field+che: people) referring to those who belong to this native group. In Argentina, the term CHE was taken from Mapudungun and it is still used today in a variety of ways.”
To begin, it’s used to get someone’s attention, similar to “hey” or “hey you” in English. Let’s see it in context: “Che, Luciana, ¿vamos a bailar este sabádo?”, “Hey, Luciana, are we going dancing this Saturday?” Or perhaps you want to get the attention of the bartender, “Che, otra Quilmes por favor.” “Hey, another Quilmes, please.”
It’s also used as a way of saying “friend” or “pal,” and is applied to everybody – old people, young people, familiar faces, new acquaintances, though you might not want to use it with people in a higher social position than yourself (bosses, professors, etc), unless you know them very well. It can be used before or after a phrase. For example: Che, estas empanadas están riquísimas” meaning, “dude, these empanadas are so good.” Or, “Vamos a un partido de fútbol che,” meaning, “let’s go to a football game, mate.” It can come in handy in the case you forget someone’s name, “Che, so good to see you again.”
Lastly, it is often used as a meaningless injection or casual crutch to fill space or keep a conversation going, very similar to the word “um.” Let’s say there’s an awkward silence with someone you have just met, “¿Che… y de dónde sos?”, “Um…where are you from?”
So there you have it, the truth behind what most people think to be a namesake. Add it to your dictionaries so that when you arrive to Rosario, you will fit right in!
Written by Vanessa Galban
Edited by Stephanie Cariker