Do you Speak Argentine?

The expression “dar bola” has a long debatable origin. Here in Argentina, we use it to express something similar to the the English phrase “pay attention to”.
No le des bola or don’t pay any attention to him/her, however, is more complex than you would imagine.
According to Héctor Zimmerman in his book Tres mil historias de frases o palabras que decimos a cada rato, he links the phrase to the early 1920’s when young kids began spending their free time in cafes and billiard halls.

All too often someone with little experience and a failure to dominate the pool cue would accidentally hit the pool ball off the table, either ripping the felt or sending the ball flying through a nearby window. In which case, leading to comments like, “A ese no le den bola (o bolas)”

Quickly the phrase caught on and mutated to “dar pelota” when it began being used in *world football as a way to refer to the passes players gave (or didn’t give) during a game.

However, if you go further north, for example Mexico and some Central American countries, dar bola is in reference to shining your shoes. El Bolero, or the man on the corner who makes a living doing so, has been known to yell, “¿Vas a darles bola?” Are you going to give them a shine? The verb being bolear, another way to say lustrar.

In anycase, the modern day meaning cannot be negotiated. Today we use it almost exclusively to speak about attention that we either do or don’t give to someone or something.

Here are some examples:

¡Che! ¡No me estás dando bola! – Hey, you aren’t paying attention to me!
¡No le des bola! – Don’t pay any attention to them.
Dale un poquito de bola. – Give him/her a little attention.


*World football is a term that Claudio, one of our Spanish teachers, has coined to refer to the English word soccer as he believes that the U.S. is the only country that actually uses that word, while nearly all other English speaking countries use football to speak about fútbol.

Written by Stephanie Cariker

Director of Spanish in Rosario