Speaking a language is good, but speaking it like a native speaker is a thousand times better. Do you live study, or work in Spain and want to feel like one of the gang? Here are the Spanish phrases you should learn to both understand others and be understood yourself.
10 Spanish Phrases To Learn If You’re Visiting Spain
1. Mucha mierda
The expression mucha mierda (lit. “a lot of shit”) has an unusual origin. In the past, it was only said to theater actors who were hoping for a large audience. If many people came in carriages, the horses would leave the area full of horse poop while waiting for the play to end, which itself became a sign of success when the entrance to a theater was full of crap.
Today, it’s used in many other situations, for example for an exam, a concert or any other type of performance.
2. Hablar por los codos
to talk a lot
We all have a friend that talks all the time, whatever the topic. Well, if you and I are friends, that person is definitely me. The origin of this expression isn’t very clear, but it has something to do with the fact that people who talk a lot also use body language so that, to a certain extent, they also talk por los codos (lit. “with the elbows”). Another way to say the same thing, and my father’s favorite, is no calla ni debajo del agua (“doesn’t shut up even underwater”), which probably doesn’t need any explanation.
3. Ponerse las pilas
to get with it
You can use ponte las pilas (lit. “put your batteries in”) when someone is confused, doesn’t know what’s going on or doesn’t understand a joke. And don’t we all need some long-lasting pilas (“batteries”) from time to time?
4. Llueve sobre mojado
something pointless to say or repeat
When there’s no reason to talk about something because there’s nothing to add or say, it’s llueve sobre mojado (lit. “rain on the wet”). It means it’s pointless. The ground is already wet and the rain doesn’t help or add anything new to the surface. There’s even a song about this Spanish phrase that makes it quite clear.
5. Estar piripi
to be a little tipsy
I don’t really know where this expression comes from. What’s clear is that the word itself, piripi, sounds pretty funny, don’t you think? Well, in reality it’s as funny as the way you feel when you are piripi. To be piripi is to be a little tipsy. It’s how you feel after a few pints of beer, when you think you’re telling amazing jokes and you look sexier than every and you think you’re speaking that second language like a native speaker. Being piripi is the best feeling in the world! It’s surely the main advantage of drinking alcohol.
6. En un abrir y cerrar de ojos
in the blink of an eye
It’s something so fast that it’s almost imperceptible. Abrir y cerrar los ojos (“opening and closing the eyes”), also known as blinking, how fast do we do that? Well, very fast. And when something can happen that quickly, that’s when you use this expression or an equivalent one, like en un pispás.
7. Echar una mano
to lend a hand
Please, don’t literally echar una mano (“throw a hand”), that would be terrifying — unless you’re Buster Bluth. Like “lend a hand,” this phrase means to help someone. The origin is fairly obvious — when you offer someone a hand, you want to help them. That’s why there’s another expression, this time with a negative connotation, dar la mano y tomar el brazo (“give the hand and take the arm”), which refers to people who take advantage of those who help them. Don’t do that, it’s bad!
8. La gota que colmó el vaso
the straw that broke the camel’s back
La gota que colma el vaso (“the drop that fills the glass”) refers to the moment where everything is already bad, but calm, and all of a sudden an action or comment makes everything explode. This is one of those Spanish phrases that has a clear English equivalent, even though they’re slightly different. The comment that turns what seems like a quiet dinner into a soap opera, with shouting and throwing plates against the wall… well, maybe that’s going a bit far, but you know what I mean. You don’t want to be that drop.
9. Dejar plantado / dar plantón
to stand someone up
It’s how to say you were left by yourself when someone didn’t show up to meet you, particularly on a date. Like a solitary tree in the middle of a garden, sad and depressed. Well, maybe not that dramatic, but dejar plantado a alguien (lit. “to leave someone planted”) isn’t acceptable. Not even plants deserve that! Even they deserve good company.
10. Otro gallo cantaría
everything would be different if…
It seems that the origin for this expression can be found in the Bible. Jesus predicted that the apostle Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed, and it ended up happening just like that. So the expression otro gallo cantaría (lit. “another rooster would crow”) hints at different outcomes that could have been possible if something didn’t happen the way it did. It can also be used as though it were a hope. For example, “If the president hadn’t won the election, otro gallo cantaría!” Or to a child who’s doing poorly at school, “Otro gallo te cantaría if you studied more.”
Now, let’s see the expressions in practice!
Yesterday I got a little piripi, hablé por los codos and in the end completely forgot I had plans with Macros, so I le dejé plantado. It was la gota que colmó el vaso because I had echado una mano at the theater and they wished me “mucha mierda” the day of the premiere, I’m a disaster! En un abrir y cerrar de ojos me puse las pilas and I asked for forgiveness, but he answered dryly: “Llueve sobre mojado.” He was right… if I had paid more attention, otro gallo me cantaría.
This article was originally published on the Spanish edition of Babbel Magazine.