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The 10 Best Slang Expressions In Spanish

Knowing a language is often more about mastering the linguistic turns than knowing a lot of words... Improve your command of Spanish with these 10 useful expressions.

Illustrations by Elda Broglio

Speaking a language is cool, but speaking it with genuine expressions used by locals is, like, ten times better. Nobody wants to sound like a boring grandfather or a monotonous audiobook, and that’s why we thought we’d help you out with 10 of the most useful Spanish slang expressions.

1. Mucha mierda

(break a leg)
Literally: "a lot of crap"

Mucha mierda has a nice background story. People used to wish actors and actresses "a lot of crap," referring to the poop left outside a theater by the waiting carriage horses while everyone inside enjoyed the play. Many steaming piles outside a theater meant the theater must be packed, and therefore the play must be a big success. Mucha mierda is now said for any situation when luck is needed: an exam, a concert, or any kind of performance.

2. Ponerse las pilas

(get cracking; put one’s skates on)
Literally: "put batteries on"

You can use ponerse las pilas when someone is out of the loop, being too slow, not understanding the topic that is being discussed, or not getting a joke. Who doesn’t need some long-life batteries every now and then?

3. Hablar por los codos

(to be a chatterbox; to talk nineteen to the dozen)
Literally: "to talk through the elbows"

We all know that friend who talks on every occasion, no matter what. Well, if you are my friend, that person is me. The origin of this expression is not quite clear, but it has something to do with the fact that chatterboxes usually gesticulate too; so, in a way, they speak "through the elbows" as well. Another way to say that someone speaks a lot (my dad’s personal favorite) is no calla ni debajo del agua, which literally means someone who "doesn’t even shut up underwater." And yes, he often applied it to me: "Cristina habla por los codos, ¡no calla ni debajo del agua!"

4. Estar piripi

(to be tipsy/sozzled)

The origin of this expression is not clear. What is clear is that the word "piripi" just sounds funny, doesn’t it? It’s actually as funny as the way you feel when you ARE PIRIPI. Being piripi is simply being slightly drunk, but it’s actually more than that. It’s that feeling you get after a couple of beers when you feel witty and you tell some bad puns and probably speak through your elbows and you consider yourself sexy and you think you speak that foreign language as a native. Being piripi is THE BEST. It’s probably the main advantage of alcohol consumption.

5. Echar una mano

(to help someone out)
Literally: "to throw a hand"

Don’t ever literally throw me your hand because that would be scary, unless you are Buster Bluth. Echar una mano means to help someone out. The origin of this expression is pretty self explanatory; when you lend someone a hand, it’s to help them in some way. That’s also the reason why we have a second expression, dar la mano y tomar el brazo, which literally means "to offer the hand but to take the arm." Well, you know what that means, so be kind and don’t do it.

6. Dejar plantado / dar plantón

(to stand someone up)
Literally: "to plant" / "to seed" someone

This expression comes from the way a stood-up person stands alone in the middle of somewhere. Like a lonely tree in the middle of a dry and depressing yard. Well, maybe it’s not that traumatic, but dejar plantado a alguien is definitely not a nice thing to do. Not even the plants deserve it. I like you, plants, let’s hang soon.

7. En un abrir y cerrar de ojos

(in the blink of an eye)
Literally: "in an opening and closing of eyes"

Such a fast thing to do, it’s almost unnoticeable. Opening and closing your eyes, AKA blinking, how fast do we do that? Well, VERY fast. And when something can be done in such a tiny amount of time, THEN is when you will use this expression. The Flash does everything this way.

8. Llueve sobre mojado

(to kick a dead horse)
Lit. "rain over a wet surface"

When there’s no point in talking about a subject because there is nothing else to to say about it, well, then "it’s like raining over a wet surface." In other words, it’s pointless. The ground is already wet, and the rain is no longer something new or effective. There’s a song that carries that title which can explain it better.

9. La gota que colmó el vaso

(the straw that breaks the camel’s back)
Literally: "the drop that overfilled the glass"

The last drop refers to that moment when things are already in a bad place, but calm, and a comment or an action makes the whole thing explode. That one mean comment that turned an apparent quiet dinner into a Latin telenovela, with screams and plates crashing against the wall — well, that might be too much, but you know what I mean. You don’t wanna be that drop!

10. Otro gallo cantaría

(things could have been different)
Literally: "another rooster would sing"

It seems like this expression has its origins in the Bible, particularly when Jesus predicted that the apostle Peter would reject him three times before the rooster would sing. That ended up happening, so "another rooster singing" would only mean that maybe something different could have happened and, therefore, there would have been different consequences. It can be used as a hope, like in "if only." "If this president wouldn’t have won the election… ¡Otro gallo cantaría!" But it can also be used for a life lesson. For example, you might tell a kid who keeps failing exams: "Otro gallo cantaría if you studied more."

Now let’s see all these expressions in action:

Ayer me puse un poco piripi, hablé por los codos y al final se me olvidó completamente que había quedado con Marcos, así que le dejé plantado. Fue la gota que colmó el vaso, porque me había echado una mano con la obra de teatro y me deseó "mucha mierda" el día del estreno, ¡soy un desastre! En un abrir y cerrar de ojos me puse las pilas y le pedí perdón, pero él me contestó bastante seco: "Llueve sobre mojado". Qué razón tiene… si hubiera estado más atenta otro gallo me cantaría.

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