There’s no better example of Mexico’s inventive and folkloric language than its popular sayings. Even more so when there seems to be a different one for every situation in life… Have you ever wondered which mastermind could turn such these simple messages into such elaborate expressions? My favorites are 3, 7 and 14! These Mexican sayings are expressions, usually ironic and endearing, that have some hidden teaching, advice or folk wisdom. We don’t know where exactly they came from, but we do know that they’re used on a daily basis around the world.
15 Funny And Entertaining Mexican Sayings
1. Al nopal solo se le arriman cuando tiene tunas
Literal Translation: “The prickly pear cactus is only approached when it has fruit”
It’s about opportunistic people. What does it have to do with a nopal? The nopal (“prickly pear cactus”) is a plant that’s usually neglected and forgotten, maybe because it looks rather plain and has lots of spikes — that is, until it bears fruit (prickly pears) and becomes everyone’s favorite.
2. No hay que buscarle ruido al chicharrón
Literal Translation: “No need to look for noise in the pork rinds”
It’s used to calm someone who tends to think negative thoughts or actively look for problems. For example, if a person insists on annoying someone and is making them lose patience, they’re told no le estés buscando ruido al chicharrón. An equivalent in English would be “don’t poke the bear.”
3. Ves que el niño es pedorro y le das frijoles
Literal Translation: “You see that the child has gas and give him beans”
It’s a somewhat unique way to say “stop making things worse.” Beans, as is well known, cause flatulence, and even more so when given to someone with a history of “irritable bowels.”
4. El que nace pa’ tamal, del cielo le caen las hojas
Literal Translation: “When you’re born as a tamale, leaves fall from the sky”
If you’re good at something, opportunities to shine will fall even from heaven. In short: you can’t escape fate.
5. Guajolote que se sale del corral, termina en mole
Literal Translation: “The turkey that gets out the pen ends up as mole sauce”
Another way of saying: breaking the rules can bring serious problems sometimes. Like the turkey that was covered with mole because it tried to escape.
6. Para todo mal, mezcal; para todo bien, también
Literal Translation: “For everything bad, mezcal; for everything good, also mezcal”
This is one of the Mexican sayings that is very clear. Mezcal is good for everything: alleviating sadness, healing hearts and celebrating. The truth is that Mexicans tend to invent reasons to get together and party, preferably with mezcal!
7. Caminando y meando, pa’ no hacer charco
Literal Translation: “Walking and peeing, to avoid making a puddle”
This is the colorful, inventive, and very Mexican way of saying: stop talking so much and just start doing all the things you say you’ll do. I’m sure you’re already writing these Mexican sayings down, right?
8. El muerto y el arrimado a los tres días apestan
Literal Translation: “The dead and freeloaders start to smell after three days”
A “very subtle” expression for when you want to get someone out of your house. And there’s not much to read between the lines… As it says, “arrimados” or freeloaders start to get annoying after a few days.
9. No se puede chiflar y comer pinole al mismo tiempo
Literal Translation: “You can’t whistle and eat pinole at the same time”
If you whistle while eating pinole (“powdered corn”), you spit it all out. In other words, there are situations in life where, no matter how difficult, you have to choose one path or the other. It can’t be both.
10. Contigo la milpa es rancho y el atole champurrado
Literal Translation: “With you, the cornfield is a ranch and the corn drink is chocolate”
This saying is for the romantics who are tired of everyday expressions. It means: everything is great when I’m with you. Are you writing this one down, too?
11. No hay que dejar el sarape en casa, aunque esté el sol como brasa
Literal Translation: “Don’t leave your scarf at home, even if the sun is blazing”
It’s an elaborate way to say: you have to take precautions. Although it’s about the weather, it applies to all aspects of life. Now that you know, follow the advice and never go out without a scarf.
12. No le estés dando vuelta al malacate porque se te enredan las pitas
Literal Translation: “Don’t turn the winch around because you’ll get caught in the agave”
Pita is a type of agave with leaves that are used to extract fibers that later are made into yarn using a malacate (a traditional tool). The saying means: don’t make things more complicated, so as to avoid getting tangled.
13. El muerto al pozo y el vivo al gozo
Literal Translation: “The dead to the pit and the living to joy”
It may seem like a tactless and somewhat obscure Mexican saying, but it has a lot of truth behind it. You say it to someone who has lost a loved one, or who is going through a hard time, to remind them to keep going and move on with their life.
14. Alegre el indio y le das maracas
Literal Translation: “Make the Indian happy and give him maracas”
They’ll say this if they see you encouraging someone to do something they like. It’s like inviting someone with a drinking problem to an open bar or a shopaholic to a mall.
15. A acocote nuevo, tlachiquero viejo
Literal Translation: “For a new acocote, an old tlachiquero”
“If you’re still new at something, let the expert figure it out.” The tlachiquero is the person in charge of extracting the tlachique (“nectar”) from agave with the help of an acocote (“a hollow fruit used as a container”).
A version of this article originally appeared on the Spanish edition of Babbel Magazine.