Why You Should Learn Idiomatic Expressions in Spanish
An idiom or idiomatic expression is a phrase that generally has a figurative meaning. These symbolic expressions, called expresiones idiomáticas in Spanish, form part of the cultural identity of all social groups.
When you are acquiring a foreign language, idiomatic expressions usually come last in the vocabulary lesson.
Then again, learning them well is fundamental, no to only to speak Spanish correctly, but to express yourself more naturally and truly speak like a local.
Basic Spanish Expressions
These Spanish phrases will help you to get around and up your language game. Do not be afraid to use them. Own them and say them as you mean them!
|SPANISH IDIOMATIC EXPRESSIONS||MEANING|
|Estirar la pata||To pass away|
|Tomarle el pelo||To deceive/cheat someone|
|Dar gato por liebre||To fool someone by giving them something similar but from inferior quality|
|Tirar la casa por la ventana||To throw a really big party|
|No tener pelos en la lengua||To speak your mind without thinking|
|Echar agua al mar||To do something pointless|
|Montar un pollo||To make a scandal|
|Coser y cantar||To achieve something without too much trouble|
|Echar más agua a los frijoles||To prepare more food because unexpected guests have arrived to your house|
|Tener mucho morro||To be brave or shameless|
|Pedalear la bicicleta (de otro)||To date someone else’s partner|
The Translation Dilemma
Idioms are structured with language’s raw material, consisting of words, like any other sentences.
Nonetheless, the allegorical significance do not derives from the lexical semantics or grammatical composition of its individual elements.
It emanates from the totality of the text, working as one block.
Even though you may be familiar or fully understand single words in Spanish, when these are literally translated to English, they may not make any sense; as the true meaning comes from the sum of the words when put together as a whole.
- Meter la pata. ->The literal translation is ‘to put the leg in’ but it actually signifies ‘to screw up’.
From time to time, there are equivalents in both languages, although they might not use the same words, they can share the same connotation.
- Al pan, pan y al vino, vino. -> Call a spade a spade. It indicates to call things by their real name.
In this instance, taking language lessons from a native Spanish speaker has great advantages because (needless to say) idioms are already part of their vocabulary and cultural identity.
The Role of Spanish Idioms
Idioms serve as imagery or symbols of teachings, historical references, warnings or even jokes; showcasing the moral values, religious beliefs, social structures, political rightness, and economic ideals that forge the worldview of a community.
Thus, Spanish idioms are diverse and colorful as the territories where Castilian is spoken.
Christianity, for example, has permeated Spanish history, art, music, and literature in many ways.
And while the Catholic Church has dropped its congregation numbers in Spain (and some Latin American countries) ‘God’ and ‘Christ’ still remain part of everyday talks.
- Estar hecho un Cristo. -> It indicates to be wrecked, worn-out or in bad shape (probably ill too). The expression comes as a visual reference from the physical state that Jesus Christ ended up with before he was crucified. He was forced to wear a crown of thorns, hit by stones, whipped and exhausted from carrying the heavy wooden cross.
Nowadays, it is generally used to insinuate that someone looks terrible.
- Miguel volvió del entrenamiento militar hecho un Cristo. -> Miguel came back from the military training looking terrible. The expression implies that Miguel probably had a hard time and now needs a hot shower and some rest.
In addition, there are many old sayings that refer to God’s help or his omnipotence.
- Al que madruga Dios lo ayuda. -> The translation would be something like “if you wake up early you will receive God’s help”. But the appropriate English equivalent is “the early bird catches the worm”. The expression has been around for almost five hundred years! Regardless of one’s religious beliefs it is currently used to portend a key recommendation: to be diligent in order to succeed at work or any given circumstances.
- A quien Dios se la dé, San Pedro se la bendiga. ->Again, the translation would be something like “to whom God gives it, should receive Saint Peter’s blessing” or “when God gives, Saint Peter blesses”. It has no English equivalent but it suggests that when God sends something (good or bad) to someone’s life, his apostle Saint Peter has no other option but to accept it and give it his blessing. The key message is one’s acceptance of God’s will. Whatever fortune or misfortune we have been sent, we must embrace it.
Interestingly, there are other idiomatic expressions that contradict the teachings of “receiving without complaints” and recognize our power and free will to make things happen.
- A Dios rogando y con el mazo dando. -> This is the most common idiomatic expression that implies that we need to show up and put the work in, besides faithfully sending our prayers at bedtime. The translation would be something like “Beg to God but do not stop hitting the mallet”. Today, it can be used to point out that someone is not doing their part of the deal or that they need to make a bigger effort.
Learn Spanish Idioms Today
As you can see, some idioms can be adages or proverbs like Es pan comido (piece of cake), which refers to a task that is really easy or simple to achieve.
However, some phrases can be born from current affairs such as technological advances.
That is the case of the verb ‘to google’, which has been adapted to Spanish as guglear. So, when people say “gugléalo”,they actually mean “go and search it in Google”.
The Real Academia de la Lengua Española (The Royal Academy of the Spanish Language), the highest authority in Castilian studies, is still debating whether it should be added to the dictionary or not. Yet, people don’t need permission from a top power to embrace the expression.
It has simply made its way amongst daily conversations between native Spanish speakers because languages are alive and constantly evolving. Thus, there are new idioms continuously added to the collection.
Spanish Animal Idioms
I will tell you a little bit about myself when I was younger…My sister and I would andar como perros y gatos.
Maybe this was you and your sibling when you were young? It literally means: To conduct yourself like dogs and cats. In English, it’s “fight like cats and dogs.” I am the oldest child and I always felt as if I was the ser perro viejo.
Literally meaning: To be an old dog, or in English “ A wise old owl.” I was always so bossy to my sister and thought I knew it all! I thought I was a “big shot”, un pez gordo. Literally meaning : A fat fish.
While I was busy thinking I was a un pez gordo, I also found my self buscarle tres pies al gato. Literally meaning: To look for three feet of the cat, or in English, “looking for trouble.”
Perhaps I wanted attention? Or was just curious?
I am not sure why I acted out, but my mother would get upset with me and tell me I was si esta vibora te pica, no hay remedio en la botica. Literally meaning: If this viper bites you, there’s no remedy in the pharmacy/drugstore, or in English, “playing with fire.”
I sometimes got punished when I acted out. I thought I knew more than my mother. I think all young teenagers go through this stage. Did you?
As a young teenager I didn’t like studying or school very much and I often would pensar en las musarañas. Literally: to think about the field mice, or in English “daydream.”
However, my mother always taught me that I must do well in school if I wanted to do well in life, and although I thought I knew it all, I secretly did believe my mother and listened to her (of course I wouldn’t let her know this though).
She also told me, camaron que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente. Literally meaning: Sleeping shrimp are carried by the current, or in English, “you snooze you lose.”
And boy was she right! I am glad I ended up listening to my mother and got good grades despite how much I hated school, because if not, I would have missed out on many opportunities in life. I guess you can only cría cuervos y te sacaran los ojos.
Literally meaning: Breed cow and they will poke out your eyes, or English, “You reap what you sow.” This is so true!