My top ten Spanish idioms

“No tiene ni padre, ni madre ni perrito que le ladre” by Matthew Wright

This article was written by Erin McIntyre, published on 30th April 2012 and has been read 3369 times.

Idioms are a vital part of learning a language and perhaps even more so the culture. So using the Collins Easy Learning Spanish Idioms eBook on Kindle for iPhone (also available in paperback) made it really easy to read a little on the metro as I hopped about Barcelona. I’ve compiled my ten favourites idioms (in no particular order), here they are:
1. “Más se perdió en Cuba” – more was lost in Cuba. This is the same as: “it’s not the end of the world” in English. As a bit of a Hispanic history geek I love this saying. For those of you who don’t know Cuba was the final Spanish colony to fall, in 1898, it signalled the end of the once vast Spanish Empire, and was obviously not taken lightly by the Spanish. This truly shows how idioms are so culturally relevant. Although seeing as I’m not a native Spaniard and in no way look like one, I feel a little hesitant to use it, I feel I may get a few funny looks...

2. “Tragar sapos” (literally to swallow toads) means to go through hell for something/someone. The pure gag reflex that accompanies this idiom means it definitely deserved a space on the top ten.

3. “Hasta las tanats” this means until the so many (hours), so out until all hours in English. I first heard this in a conversation with some Spanish friends and managed to work it out through the context of the conversation and it has become a bit of a pet favourite saying of mine.

4. “No tiene ni padre, ni madre ni perrito que le ladre” This is literally translated as he/she doesn’t have a dad nor a mum nor a little dog to bark for him/her and means that somebody is all alone in the world. I particularly like the imagery of this idiom, even if it is on a more sombre note than some of the others.

5. “No estar muy católico” This is the equivalent of the English saying “to be feeling a bit under the weather”, but, as you may be able to guess, literally translates to as not feeling very catholic. I haven’t actually heard anybody say this when they are feeling a little off colour but I love how so many Spanish idioms tie in with the deeply entrenched history of Catholicism.

6. “Sacar agua de las piedras” This is so very close to the English idea to get blood from a stone; except that in this case you are getting water. It’s used to mean that someone works miracles or is incredible. I’ve used it myself a couple of times over lunchtime conversations at the school where I work when talking about things which staff have done.

7. “Ir sobre ruedas” To go on wheels. Or better put to go smoothly. The thinking behind this idiom is simple and logical. That’s why I liked it. If something is on wheels it runs smoothly. I can use this in so many of my conversations at school as I’m generally asked how things are going, it’s not gotten me a funny look yet; sometimes even a nod of approval.

8. “Llueve sobre mojado” It never rains, but it pours. (Literally it rains on what’s already wet) In the current economic crisis this is a phrase you should definitely be aware of. You will talk about the crisis if you engage in conversation with a Spaniard for any length of time and you will probably hear this phrase.

9. “tirarse de las barbas” To tear your beard out. The equivalent of the English to tear your hair out. I always find hearing this idiom amusing as women (of the non-bearded 18th/19th circus variety) use it as frequently as men.

10. “Se le cayó el alma a los pies” His soul sank to his feet. Meaning his heart sank. Another sombre image but one I feel that really makes you empathise with somebody. I’ve heard it quite a lot on Spanish soap operas as well as it featuring in the Collins idio

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