Spanish Idioms – Cats, Turkeys & Husbands Falling from the Sky
I have spent the last couple of weeks in Denmark due to a big family event that I wanted/had to attend. I hadn’t been back home for three whole years, which is a really long time not to see family and friends.
While in Denmark I wanted to keep up with my Spanish. I didn’t have much time to study on LingQ and it was a bit challenging to remember what I’d learned so far as I tend to think in English these days, and suddenly had to concentrate on speaking Danish all the time. It’s a good thing Steve is always making helpful videos on his YouTube channel to keep me on track, like this one on porque vs por que vs por qué.
The other day my sisters and I were talking about strange idioms in Danish. We have some weird ones such as “Det man siger, er man selv”, which roughly translates to “You are what you say”. This means that if you send negative thoughts into the universe and talk badly about other people, then you’re really just talking about yourself. You can discuss the accuracy of this saying amongst yourselves.
The point is that I started wondering if there are similar Spanish Idioms that I can use to practice that will help improve my vocabulary. Turns out that there are numerous, a lot of them are weird and funny, which makes them a perfect tool for learning.
Spanish Idioms About Cats
Some Spanish idioms are pretty weird, and therefore great to learn from. I love weird stuff, I remember weird. One of the weirdest Spanish idioms is, quite fittingly, the one we know in English as “Something is rotten in the state Denmark”.
First of all I can assure you that nothing is rotten in the state of Denmark, no more than anywhere else anyway. Secondly – and more importantly – the Spanish version is as follows: “Hay un gato encerrado”. When I say this Spanish idiom it rhymes, which means it’s easy to remember. Rhyming means that I can sing it and that helps, but directly translated it means: ‘There’s a cat shut up’? Eeerm what?
As it turns out Spanish speaking people have a thing about cats in their idiomatic expressions, such as these: “Buscar las cinco patas al gato” (directly translated: Look for the five paws of the cat), I think the English equivalent is “splitting hairs” i.e. to make things harder than they have to be. “Defenderse más que gato boca arriba” (directly translated: Defend oneself more than a cat mouth upward) the proverb/idiom refers to when someone defending themselves like a cornered animal – claws and all.
Funny Spanish Idioms
There are other Spanish idioms that are just funny and make me laugh out loud. How about “Estar en la edad del pavo”, which means something like “To be the same age as a turkey”.
Is the turkey young? Is it old? No one knows. What we do know is that no one wants to be the same age as the turkey because seemingly it’s a tough age.
As far as I understand it, Spanish speaking people use this term, when someone acts inappropriately but can’t help themselves because they don’t know that what they are doing is inappropriate – that’s pretty funny and sort of nonsensical.
Or how about this one: “Pedir peras al olmo”, meaning something to the effect of “Asking the elm tree for pears”. This basically means that someone is asking for something that isn’t possible, because, as we all know, elm trees don’t produce pears. Funny though – how do they come up with this stuff?
Spanish idioms Similar to English Sayings
I have come across a few Spanish idioms that are very closely related to English ones. When I say close, I don’t mean that they sound the same because obviously they are in different languages, what I mean is that the essence and the connotation is the exact same.
For instance in English there is a saying that goes “The bad workman blames his tools”. There are two Spanish idioms for this. The first equivalent in Spanish is “El mal escribano le echa la culpa a la pluma”, which translates into ‘The poor writer blames the pen’. The other one is “El cojo le echa la culpa al empedrado” – The limping man blames the pavement.
Both the English and the Spanish versions essentially refer to a person who refuses to take responsibility for his or her own actions and blames their circumstances. To be fair, I think we’ve all taken a tumble on an uneven pavement, so is it at all possible that the limping guy has a point?
Or how about this one: “It’s raining cats and dogs”. We say this in English when it’s raining heavily, but in Spanish they are a bit more romantic about bad weather. When it rains heavily in Spain or Mexico it almost rains husbands (weird). The Spanish saying is “Estan lloviendo hasta maridos”.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want husbands, cats or dogs falling on top of my head – sounds rather painful.
Spanish Idioms Are Great For Learning
The thing about Spanish idioms is that they are frequently used by native speakers. I’ve mentioned that they exist in all languages: English, Danish and most importantly Spanish. Idioms are essential for speaking a language like a native.
I have cited a few Spanish idioms, but there are hundreds and hundreds of them. Where some of them are common to most Spanish language speakers, others are only used in one or a few countries in the Spanish-speaking world. There are even Spanish idioms that are only spoken in specific regions, but common to them all is that they are fun and easy to remember and therefore a great learning tool.
Want to read more posts about Spanish? Check out these posts by LingQ co-founder Steve Kaufmann. He taught himself Spanish, as well as 14 other languages!