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Yabla's Top 10 Spanish Idioms and Their (Very Different!) English Equivalents

Sometimes, various languages use very different idiomatic expressions to communicate exactly the same idea! As an example, the English expression "It was the straw that broke the camel's back," which refers to the last of a series of unpleasant events that causes some more extreme consequence, is conveyed with a Spanish saying with a totally different literal meaning: Fue la gota que derramó el vaso (It was the drop that spilled the glass). The purpose of today's lesson will be to bring to your attention several such idioms.

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Translating Idiomatic Expressions 

As you may have noticed, Yabla sometimes includes brackets that indicate what a word or phrase means "literally" as opposed to how it has been translated. This is because, while we want our subscribers to learn the literal meaning of the words they are reading, we also want them to glean the intention behind a particular expression (which is more obvious in some cases than in others) and/or depict what a native English speaker would say in the same context. With that in mind, let's take a look at Yabla's Top Ten Spanish Idioms from our Yabla Spanish library.

 

1.  La práctica hace al maestro

This Spanish equivalent of "Practice makes perfect" literally means "Practice makes the master":

 

Es así de sencillo: La práctica hace al maestro.

It's that simple: Practice makes perfect [literally "Practice makes the master"].

Caption 7, Los Años Maravillosos Capítulo 13 - Part 4

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2. Tomarle el pelo (a alguien)

Who knows why the concept of jokingly deceiving someone is expressed with "to take" or "pull one's hair" in one language and "to pull one's leg" in another? 

 

¿Qué tango, me estás tomando el pelo?

What tango, are you pulling my leg [literally: Are you pulling my hair]?

Caption 46, Muñeca Brava 30 Revelaciones - Part 3

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3. Andarse por las ramas

The Spanish idiom andarse por las ramas and its variants mean "to walk around/between the branches" and have the same meaning as the English saying "to beat around the bush," or avoid getting straight to the point. 

 

Mi abu también dice que yo ando entre las ramas,

My grams also says that I beat around the bush [literally "I walk between the branches"],

Caption 20, X6 1 - La banda - Part 1

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4. Al que madruga Dios lo ayuda

Literally translated, Al que madruga Dios lo ayuda means "God helps he who gets up early." Meant to tout the benefits of early rising, similar sayings in English include "The early bird catches the worm" and "Early to bed, early to rise makes the man healthy, wealthy, and wise."

 

Además, yo siempre madrugo, ¿vio? Porque, "Al que madruga..." "Dios lo ayuda".

Besides, I always get up early, you know? Because, "The early bird..." "Catches the worm" [literally "God helps him"].

Captions 33-34, Muñeca Brava 47 Esperanzas - Part 6

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5. Hablando del rey Roma

Spanish-speakers use the expression "Speaking of the King of Rome" instead of "Speak of the devil" in circumstances where one is, for example, talking about someone when that person appears.

 

Miren, hablando del Rey de Roma.

Look, speak of the devil [literally "the King of Rome"].

Caption 60, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 5 - Part 4

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For insight into even more idiomatic expressions from the intriguing Colombian series Confidencial: El rey de la estafa (Confidential: The King of Cons), we recommend the video Carlos Comenta- Confidencial- Vocabulario y expresiones (Carlos Comments- Confidential- Vocabulary and Expressions). 

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6. Hacer el oso

Word for word, hacer el oso means "to play" or "act like a bear"! However, this oft-used Spanish expresion, employed frequently in countries like Colombia, is used to say that someone is "making a fool of him or herself."

 

Hermano, deje de hacer el oso.

Brother, stop making a fool of yourself [literally "playing the bear"].

Caption 40, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 4 - Part 1

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To learn more such "Colombianisms," we suggest the lesson Colombian Slang: 100 Words and Phrases to Sound like a True Colombian.

 

7. Importar un pepino 

The word "darn" in English is an exclamation of disappointment, for example, when something goes wrong, while "not to give a darn" means "not to care." The Spanish equivalent importar un pepino, on the other hand, translates to "mattering as much as a cucumber" to the party in question:

 

¡Y el peor de todos es Pepino Pérez, que le importa un pepino todo!

And the worst of all of them is Pepino Pérez, who doesn't give a darn [literally "a cucumber"] about anything!

Caption 14, Kikirikí Agua - Part 1

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8. Con las manos en la masa

The image of getting "caught with one's hands in the dough," as the expression (atrapado) con las manos en la masa describes, seems like the perfect way to convey the notion of "getting caught red-handed" (in the act of doing some bad deed). 

 

Con las manos en la masa atraparon al ladrón

Red-handed [literally "with his hands in the dough"], they caught the thief

Caption 1, Eljuri Un fósforo

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9. La mosquita muerta

The expression la mosquita muerta, or "small dead fly," describes a person who appears nice or innocent but is actually evil or untrustworthy. Similar English expressions include "a wolf in sheep's clothing" or a "snake in the grass."

 

Como se equivocó la mosquita muerta esa.

What a big mistake that wolf in sheep's clothing [literally "small dead fly"] made.

Caption 11, Tu Voz Estéreo Embalsamado - Part 4

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10. Listo el pollo, pelada la gallina

Although the literal meaning of the Argentinian saying Listo el pollo, pelada la gallina is "The chicken's ready, the hen's plucked," it is used to announce the completion of some goal or task, making it similar to the more straightforward English expression, "Mission accomplished." Here, Mili from the popular Argentinian soap opera Muñeca Brava utters the second part of this expression to make this point:

 

¡Listo el último! -Va, ¡pelada la gallina!

The last one's ready! -Come on, mission accomplished [literally "the hen's plucked"]!

Caption 73, Muñeca Brava 47 Esperanzas - Part 3

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If Argentinean Spanish particularly interests you, you might read this lesson on the Top Ten Argentinian Slang Words You Need to Know

 

We hope you've enjoyed this lesson on Yabla's Top Ten Spanish Idioms and their English equivalents. If you are interested in learning more about what goes into translating idiomatic expressions and more, we recommend the lesson The Art of Translation, and don't forget to leave us your suggestions and comments

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