Have you ever stopped to think about how funny English speakers must sound to speakers of other languages when they say "there's a frog in my throat" or "I'm going to spill the beans"?
One of the more entertaining aspects of language learning is getting to know the idioms and metaphors in a second language and it's no different for all of you who are learning Spanish.
Today, we'll break down 20 Spanish idioms and metaphors that can sound silly and even rude in English. Each will be figuratively and literally translated.
Then, we'll leave you with a further 20 everyday Spanish idioms for day-to-day use. Get ready to sound like a native with these useful and entertaining new phrases!
Learning Spanish Idioms
You might be wondering why you need to learn idiomatic expressions in different languages. Well, if you're all ears, learning these phrases is a piece of cake and you can break the ice with Spanish locals and sound cool as a cucumber!
Get it? We use idioms all the time in day-to-day speech and understanding these silly phrases is actually a vital part of language learning.
Getting to know some common and useful Spanish idioms can help you to follow conversations and avoid scenarios in which you are offended by something because you've misunderstood the context.
Understanding idioms and metaphors in Spanish will also help you to understand TV shows, movies, social media videos, magazines, and any other Spanish content you choose to enjoy.
Check out Lingopie if you're looking for awesome movies and TV series in Spanish. With Lingopie's interactive subtitles and transcripts, the language is accessible and easy to learn.
20 Funny Spanish Idioms that Sound Rude in English
1. Dame pan y dime tonto
Let's start with a silly one. The literal meaning of this phrase is "give me bread and call me stupid." It basically means "call me what you want, as long as I get what I want". This is a phrase best suited to the world of business and the tendency to step on toes in order to succeed.
2. Aunque la mona se vista de seda, mona se queda
Okay, this one sounds a bit rude because it is! This Spanish idiom means "even if the monkey dresses in silk, she's still a monkey." It is similar to the English-language idiom "you can't put lipstick on a pig," and it means some things are just ugly!
3. Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente
Are you calling me a shrimp?! Well, yes. This phrase means "a shrimp that falls asleep is taken away by the current," meaning if you don't pay attention, opportunities will pass you by.
This phrase isn't insulting, but someone unfamiliar with the context might misunderstand.
4. Lavar cerdos con jabón es perder tiempo y jabón
The literal translation of this Spanish idiom is "washing pigs with soap is a waste of time and soap." You'd be forgiven for thinking someone is getting called a pig here, but they aren't.
This figuratively means that something is a waste of time. If you want to dismiss what someone is doing as a wasted effort, this idiom is useful.
5. No hay burro calvo, ni calabaza con pelo
This is a funny one. Its literal translation is "there is no bald donkey nor any pumpkin with hair," but it means that you should only talk about what you know.
Any saying involving bald donkeys sounds potentially offensive in English, but this isn't an insult! It is a caution to stick to what you know.
6. No tener ni pies ni cabeza
If you say in Spanish that someone has "neither feet nor a head", this means that they make no sense. Honestly, this one can be a bit rude, so your instincts were probably right.
7. Estar como una cabra
The figurative meaning of this idiom is to be crazy but literally, it means "to be like a goat". Calling someone a goat pretty much always seems offensive in English - and in this case, that's a fair assessment!
8. Tener la negra
This is an odd one. In Spanish, you can say "to have the black" meaning "to have bad luck". Unfortunately, to an English ear, this can sound a little uncomfortable. However, there is no offensive connotation in Spanish.
9. Tomar el pelo
The literal translation of tomar el pelo is "to take the hair", which doesn't really mean anything, offensive or otherwise. However, this saying metaphorically means you are teasing someone. The English equivalent is "pulling someone's leg".
10. De tal palo, tal astilla
This interesting idiom literally translates as something like "such as the stick, such the splinter."
That doesn't make a whole lot of sense in English, but you might discern that you are, in fact, being called a stick. This could cause offense, or at least confusion, if you don't know the metaphorical meaning of this phrase, which is "like father, like son."
11. Ponerse la mala leche
The literal translation of this phrase is "to get in bad milk", which just sounds bizarre in English. It means "to be bent out of shape" or "to be in a bad mood".
If there's one thing Spaniards love, it's a phrase that uses the word "milk"!
12. Ser la leche
Perhaps this one doesn't sound offensive to native English speakers, but it certainly sounds bizarre. If you say something like "It is the milk!" then you are saying it's really awesome!
The English equivalent would be "it's the bomb!" or simply "it's great!"
13. Cagarse en la leche
It can be a little confusing that some "milk" phrases are so positive, while others are very very negative. Make sure you have learned the meaning of each phrase and know exactly when to use them in context.
If you say in Spanish that you "sh*t in the milk" (me cago en la leche), it means you are deeply disgusted or angry about something. It is a very vulgar expression and about as offensive as it sounds in English!
Check out this guide to Spanish curse words - some of them are pretty colorful.
14. Echando leches
If you translate this saying literally, it means that someone is "throwing milk" or "ejecting milk". Yes, it sounds a bit gross.
However, what this means figuratively is that you are "getting the hell out of there." You can also say cagando leches, or "sh*tting milk," which sounds even ruder!
15. Ser una rata
You probably don't need too much help with these next Spanish expressions.
The literal meaning of ser una rata is "to be a rat" and it means the same as it would in English - to be an untrustworthy person.
16. Ser un gallina
Something English and Spanish speakers have in common is their love of animal-themed metaphorical expressions.
The literal translation of this metaphor is "to be a chicken", and once again, it means the same as it would in English. To be a chicken is to be a coward. If someone calls you a rat or a chicken in Spain, feel free to take offence!
17. Ser un melón
The literal translation of ser un melón is "to be a melon" and it means to be stupid. This is another one that English speakers shouldn't have too much trouble with.
18. Buscar la quinta pata al gato
Literally translated, this saying means "to look for the fifth leg of the cat". While your first instinct might be to assume this is a dirty expression, it actually means "to make something much more complex than it needs to be".
19. No importar un pepino
If you say something "doesn't matter a cucumber", the literal meaning is that it doesn't matter at all. No me importa un pepino is roughly equivalent to the English "I don't give a damn."
20. Dormir a pierna suelta
Last but not least, the literal meaning of this idiom is "to sleep with loose legs"! This could definitely be misinterpreted by an English speaker, but it just means to sleep very well.
The English equivalent idiom is "to sleep like a baby". Phew!
20 Bonus Spanish Idioms for Everyday Use
- Costar un ojo de la cara - To cost an arm and a leg (literally: "to cost an eye from the face")
- Estar hasta las narices - To be sick to death of something (literally: "to be up the noses")
- Hablar sin pelos en la lengua - To be outspoken (literally: "to talk without hair on the tongue")
- En casa del herrero, cuchillo de palo - The shoemaker's son always goes barefoot (literally: "in the house of the blacksmith, knife of stick"). This basically means that often when someone has a skill or a trade, their own family is the last to benefit from it.
- Dar la vuelta a la tortilla/ darle la vuelta a la tortilla - To turn the situation around (literally: "to flip the tortilla")
- Más vale tarde que nunca - Better late than never
- No hay mal que por bien no venga - Every cloud has a silver lining (the literal meaning of this phrase is a little hard to translate due to the double negative but it is something like "there is no bad that for good does not come")
- Donde comen dos, comen tres - There's always room for one more (literally: "where two eat, three eat")
- Al mal tiempo buena cara - Look on the bright side (literally: "to bad weather a good face")
- Encontrar tu media naranja - To find your other half (literally: "to find your half orange")
- Buscar el príncipe azul - To look for Prince Charming (literally: "to look for the blue prince")
- Entre la espada y la pared - Between a rock and a hard place (literally: "between the sword and the wall")
- Tener sangre azul - To be born with a silver spoon in your mouth/ be from a rich family (literally: "to have blue blood")
- A falta de pan, buenas son tortas - Beggars can't be choosers (literally: "if there's no bread, cakes will do")
- Ser pan comido - To be easy (literally: "to be eaten bread")
- No pegar ojo - Not to sleep a wink (literally: "not to hit an eye")
- Llover a cántaros - Raining cats and dogs (literally: "to rain pitchers")
- Mi casa es su casa - You are welcome here (literally: "my house is your house")
- No hay color - There's no comparison (literally: "there's no color")
- Dar en el blanco - To hit the bullseye (literally: "to give in the white")
FAQs: Spanish Language Idioms
Should I learn the literal meaning of Spanish idioms or just the metaphorical meaning?
Learning the metaphorical meaning of idioms will serve you far better than the literal meaning, as literally, these phrases do not mean much at all.
It is a good idea to learn the English equivalent of Spanish idioms rather than the literal meaning so that you know when to use them correctly in context.
Will the literAL Translation OF AN English IDIOM MAKE SENSE IN Spanish?
No, the literal translation of an idiom in English will make no more sense in Spanish than it does in English.
For instance, if you say "he is pushing daisies" in English, you are relying on the figurative meaning of this phrase being understood. Translating this directly into Spanish will not get you far.
Do I REALLY NEED TO LEARN Spanish idioms?
It is a good idea to learn the most common Spanish idioms so when you watch TV and movies, read books or speak Spanish with natives, you can understand the situation.
At least knowing some basics will make you sound more authentic when you speak and help you to follow social situations.
Don't forget to also listen to a lot of Spanish music to help you build vocabulary and improve pronunciation.
How does watching TV and reading in Spanish help me to learn idioms?
Any content made in a Spanish-speaking country, whether it is TV or literature, will expose you to metaphors and idioms used in appropriate situations.
This helps you to deepen your vocabulary and determine the meaning of idiomatic phrases based on context.
Related: Learn How to Say Slang Words and Phrases in Spanish
Idioms tend to mean very little when translated literally, so exposure to these phrases in authentic situations is very helpful.
Summing Up: Common Spanish Idioms and their English Translations
Congratulations! You're now an expert in Spanish idioms!
As you know, learning idioms and metaphors in Spanish is an essential part of language learning if you want to sound like a native speaker and understand social situations.
Knowing these phrases will also help you to understand movies, TV shows, and other forms of Spanish-language media on a deeper level.
If you are looking for some great Spanish TV shows and movies to sink your teeth into, check out Lingopie.
Related: The 8 Best Podcasts to Learn the Spanish Language
On this streaming platform, you will find a lot of great content from Spain and Latin America with dual subtitles, interactive transcripts and more engaging features.