Tango Etymology

Argentine Tango inherited influences from different cultures. Through history, people from all over the world had contributed to the creation of tango.

There are many theories in regards to roots of the word Tango.

One of them is that the word tango is actually an onomatopoeia: the word Tango would represent the sound of the drums that were used in early tango. There are various factors that challenge this theory: the drum was never a typical tango instrument, the first tango instruments were violin, guitar, flute, and later bandoneon.

The second theory is that the word Tango originated from the Portuguese word tangere, which means 'to touch'. However, taking into account that early tango was not characterized by the closed posture, the word tangere cannot be accepted as an origin.

The most acceptable theory is the one that argues that Tango is a word with African roots. In several African languages, tango means indoors – the closed space which was used for dancing. In Spain, Tango represented African dances; moreover, some forms of Habanera are known as Tango Andaluz. Therefore, it is obvious that the word tango was used much before the tango dance. It is believed that the first tango steps originated from those African tango places, where it was danced with no close embrace, which again dismisses the theory supporting Portuguese word tangere.

Some people believe that the word tango originated from South Africa, from the word tambo which means party or celebration.

Most likely, the word tango arrived to Argentina from the Atlantic Ocean. Buenos Aires played a big role in the slave market, and that is the fact that is frequently avoided, and so is the theory that uses it as evidence.

The Africans that moved across the ocean in XIX century, to Rio de la Plata, searching for their freedom, play a primary role in the birth of the word tango.




Back to Articles