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10 Fun Idioms en Español
By Colleen Foster
Language plops down at the playful intersection of art and science. Whether it’s English or German or Mandarin, it’s ever-evolving: Slang emerges and fades out and comes back around again as retro, certain syntax becomes obsolete via repeated error or sometimes just sheer laziness, and creative turns of phrase become norms. Oh, plus regional differences. (Are those “sprinkles” or “jimmies” on your cupcake?) All this is why you are never “done” learning a language per se.
As I’ve told my Spanish tutorees, there is no fluency fairy who comes down and taps you with her magic wand so you can finally kick back and breathe in the golden dust of Being Fluent. There is no finish line, nor a time where you quit botching a language on a daily basis. I have well over two decades as a native speaker of English and it is a given that every single day I will a) encounter a new word or phrase and b) say something that makes it sound like it’s my twentieth language and I learned it locked in solitary confinement watching Teletubbies. (Just watch, undoubtedly there will be something along those lines in this article.)
But the never-ending aspect of learning to speak, read, write, and listen in a language is what makes it such a rush. And one of the highlights is the quirky idioms, or commonly used figurative phrases. Here’s some goodies from the idioma (a Spanish word meaning "language," not "idiom": HA, false cognate!) of Spanish.
1. Con las manos en la masa
Most angloparlantes--that’s you, gringo--would say something along the lines of “caught red-handed.” Not surprisingly, this conjures up images of Lady Macbeth scrubbing her hands raw post-murder. Or maybe with her hand in the cookie jar. But when an hispanohablante is caught doing something against the rules or downright illegal, they’ve been discovered con las manos en la masa, or “with their hands in the dough.” Interfering with the bread before it makes its way to the oven.
Spaniards love them some bread. It’s a wingman, after all, to wine, and a culture with such strong roots in Catholicism of course would incorporate sayings derived from the sacrament of Holy Communion. Which brings us to...
2. Cada muerte de obispo
So much for “once in a blue moon,” or the second full moon of a calendar month. If you’re in Spain and something happens very rarely, it’s “every death of a bishop.”
Why is this? Are bishops expected to have the life expectancy of Yoda? Is it such a position of prestige and are they so few in number that it’s more simply a statement on population stats? Hmmm.
It is totally feasible for them to resign, however, which is why, besides not having the same catchily morbid ring as “death,” the phrase isn’t cada renuncia/dimisión de obispo, “every resignation of a bishop.”
Considering what we’ve learned from somewhat recent and 1415 events, even rarer would be “every resignation of the Pope.” But that’s a whole other ballgame, or...
3. Harina de otro costal
Popes resigning is “wheat from a different bag,” harina de otro costal. Whereas often English-speakers will bring in the good ole American pastime of baseball or maybe say “a horse of a different color,” Spanish-speakers are reluctant to mix up their stores of wheat.
4. Don de gentes
If you need a mnemonic device to remember this one, think of Don Draper from Mad Men. He tends to have don de gentes: charisma, a way with people, which is very fortunate in an advertising agency. Then again, I suppose most people could pull off a convincing don de gentes if both they and whomever they’re communicating with were lubricated by a steady intake of booze throughout the day.
This is not to say, however, that in domestic situations, we’ve never seen Mr. Draper...
5. Entre la espada y la pared
You could be stuck between a rock and a hard place, or you could be “between the sword and the wall.” Perhaps this harkens back to the Don Quixote days of Spain, when dueling knights would get themselves into that kind of fix. Or maybe there aren’t as many random, large rocks in Spain. Either way, having the sharp tip of a sword up against my chest and a wall behind me seems rather significantly more daunting.
Even worse if you’re not suited up in armor. Or if you’re really down on your luck...
6. En cuero
Nekkid. Your birthday suit. That’s what en cuero, “in leather,” is. It reminds of that old Jerry Seinfeld joke about leather shrinking and poor cows hollering at the farmhouse door that their get-up will get ruined if you don’t let them in. There’s nothing that’ll do a number on suede like heavy rain, after all.
7. Llover a cántaros
Forget raining cats and dogs, it’s raining pitchers up in here. This makes a lot more sense as far as the literal experience of standing out in torrential rain debating whether or not it’s time to pull a Noah and build an ark. But it does lack the varied possible historical explanations of the English one, such as canines and felines getting an unwanted slip ‘n slide on 16th-century thatched roofs.
Speaking of dogs...
8. A otro perro con ese hueso
“To another dog with that bone.” That’s where someone might exasperatedly tell you to go if they think you’re messing with them, or pulling their leg, as we say.
Harmless joking’s all well and good. Don’t go goading people with huesos incessantly, though, because it gets obnoxious. It will annoy first dates. And it certainly won’t get you an exclusive significant other.
9. Media naranja
Calling your boyfriend or girlfriend your “half orange” is absolutely adorable, and beats “other half” any day. (And makes for cute dating site names.) That’s why this saying comes up in Spanish 101 and 102 classes, something the teacher always throws out to show listless language students who just want to get a C for their gen eds that Spanish is more than chanting “Me gustan los zapatos.”
10. Consultar con la almohada
It would not by any stretch of the imagination be unreasonable to guess that you’re reading this at some ungodly hour like 2 or 3 a.m. That’s prime time for browsing the internet unproductively. And if said procrastination is a method of evading heaps of worries and necessary decisions knocking around your head, I’m giving you permission now to consultar con la almohada, or “consult with your pillow”—sleep on it.
Look, studies have proven that a consultation with your pillow will improve your decision-making capacity. Assuming there’s not a life-threatening emergency, the issue(s) will be there waiting for you tomorrow morning.
Or mañana por la mañana.
#Real #Language #Spanish #Idioms #Translation #LinguisticMatters #Words #Spain #LatinAmerica #CulturalDifferences
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