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12 Phrases Only Spaniards Understand

Spain Student Work Languages
by Ana Bulnes Oct 29, 2014
1. Hacer de tripas corazón | To make heart from guts

We make heart from guts when we do something we don’t really want to do or something we’re scared of doing. Since we need to face the situation, we try to do it by leaving our feelings and emotions aside (that’s the heart), and acting with our guts.

2. Se me ha ido el santo al cielo | My saint left for heaven

Which saint? Shouldn’t he or she already be in heaven, anyway? We say this whenever we forget to do something we’re supposed to, or when we forget what we were going to say.


“What was that you were about to say?”
“I don’t know…se me ha ido el santo al cielo.”

The phrase is said to have been pronounced for the first time by a priest who, during mass, was speaking about a saint and suddenly forgot what he was going to say next about him. So yes, the saint had just left for heaven.

3. Llevarse a alguien al huerto | Take someone to the vegetable garden

When you convince someone to do something (usually, to have sex), you take that person to the vegetable garden. This expression has its origins in La Celestina, a Medieval classic from Spanish literature. The female character, Melibea, is convinced by Celestina (an old, meddling woman) to meet Calixto, her soon-to-be lover, in a garden at midnight. No further details are needed.

4. Irse por los cerros de Úbeda | To wander about Úbeda’s hills

Politicians excel at this. People go wandering about Úbeda’s hills when they start digressing and rambling, getting off subject. Of course, it can be an unconscious thing, or done deliberately to avoid answering a question you’ve just been asked.

The origin of this? In the 12th century, King Fernando III was about to attack Úbeda (a city in Jaén), and one of his captains disappeared just before the battle. He came back when the city had already been conquered, and, when asked where he had been, he said that he had got lost in Úbeda’s hills. Yes, sure, everyone thought.

5. No está el horno para bollos | The oven is not ready for buns

Whatever you were going to say, ask, or do, just leave it for now. This is not the best moment, and you’d probably make it worse. In this expression, the situation is the oven, and the buns are whatever it is that you wanted. Like, say, asking your travel buddy to lend you some money seconds after having had a big fight. Hold it. Leave it for tomorrow.

6. Hacerse el sueco | Pretend to be Swedish

Pretend to be Swedish? How can we Spaniards do that? Easy: by pretending not to understand, especially when whatever is being said is clearly a message to us. If any Swede is reading this, please don’t be offended. This idiom is a result of an unfortunate evolution: that sueco comes from soccus, a kind of clog Roman comedians used to wear that made them walk in a clumsy way. So the original expression was to “pretend to be clumsy, dumb.” Not Swedish!

7. Tirar la casa por la ventana | To throw the house out of the window

You just frowned trying to think a way of doing that. But we do it whenever we start spending a lot of money, much more than we usually do. Why do we say we throw the house out of the window? Because, apparently, that was something lottery winners used to do in the 19th century. They threw everything they had (Furniture! Kitchen utensils! Clothes!) out of the window. Because, you know, now they could actually afford to do that.

8. Ponerse las botas | To put the boots on

New boots? Winter is coming? Nope! When Spaniards put their boots on, it just means that they had a lot (a lot!) to eat. Why? Because in the old days boots were very expensive (large and made of leather!), so only the wealthy knights, those who could afford to eat well, could actually wear them.

9. Coser y cantar | To sew and to sing

A clear example of how time has made an expression quite contradictory. How many people find sewing easy nowadays? Not as many as a few decades or centuries ago…but we keep repeating that something is like sewing and singing when we want to say it will be really easy. Let’s just hope no one ever tries to make us sew and sing.

10. Tomar el pelo | To take someone’s hair

Yes, we also think English is a crazy language when we learn the expression “to pull someone’s leg”. How in Earth could that mean to tease someone? Taking someone’s hair is far more logical…and no, in this case there’s not even a clear explanation to make us understand the origin of the phrase.

11. Hablar por los codos | To speak through the elbows

You know those people who just won’t stop talking? They speak through the elbows (because it’s impossible all that chatter comes just from their mouth). We also say they no se callan ni debajo del agua (won’t shut up, not even under water). This one is clear and easy.

12. Llevarse el gato al agua | To take the cat to the water

Another easy one. Picture yourself trying to get a cat into the water. Not an easy task, right? When someone takes the cat to the water, it means that they managed to do something difficult…usually winning an argument or convincing people to do things her way.

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