Communicating effectively in Spanish requires an understanding of some of the language’s more unusual words and phrases. For instance, in many cases, a person learning Spanish may be able to understand a literal translation of a sentence, but that does not necessarily mean they understand the context of it.
Here, we take a look at 15 Spanish words and expressions you need to know, with a particular focus on some of the more bizarre and funny phrases you may encounter along the way.
1. “Vivir en nube de pedos”
A popular idiom used by Spanish speakers in Argentina, this phrase means “to be out of touch with reality” and the most obvious English equivalent would be to describe someone as “living in their own little world”. However, the Spanish phrase literally translates to the hilarious expression “to live on a cloud made of farts”. The word “pedos” or “farts” also appears in various other slang phrases or expressions in the country.
2. “La de la vergüenza”
Used within Spain itself, but also in other Spanish-speaking countries, this phrase is most commonly heard when people are sharing food from a single plate. The literal translation into English is “the one of the shame,” and it refers to the final piece of food remaining at the end, which nobody dares to take, due to a feeling of social awkwardness or embarrassment. For example, at a party, the final slice of pizza might be described as “la de la vergüenza”.
If you wish to insult someone in Spanish, you may opt for the word “baboso,” meaning “moronic” or “slimy”. Although the word can be used as a general insult, is is perhaps most effectively used when describing a “seedy” man, especially if they are giving unwanted attention to a woman.
4. “Me pica el bagre”
Often heard in Spanish-speaking rural areas of South America, this phrase means “the catfish is biting me,” which seems like quite a striking image. In fact, it is used to describe feelings of intense hunger. More specifically, it refers to the cramping or pinching sensation you sometimes feel in your stomach when you haven’t eaten for quite a while. Of course, the catfish referred to in the expression is entirely metaphorical.
5. “Disfrutar como un enano”
When in a Spanish-speaking part of the world, one of the most hilarious expressions you may hear is “disfrutar como un enano,” which means “to enjoy yourself like a dwarf”. At first, this may seem like a completely bizarre turn of phrase, but it is deployed in much the same way as the English expression “to have a whale of a time”.
6. “Te tira los tejos”
Used in order to describe somebody who is flirting with another person, the phrase “te tira los tejos” means to “throw the disks at you” in English. In terms of situations where it may be used, it could serve as a replacement or expressions like “picking up” or “hitting on” someone. Alternatively, perhaps a more direct example would be the English phrase “giving someone the eye”.
A word most commonly encountered in Argentina, but also used fairly widely in other parts of the world, “Che” is similar to English words like “dude,” “pal,” “mate” and “bro”. It is almost always a term of endearment and can also serve as a verbal filler, helping to maintain the flow of a casual or informal conversation. In addition, the word may be utilised in an attempt to get somebody’s attention quickly.
8. “Creerse la última Coca-Cola en el desierto”
Frequently heard in Latin America, the translation for this expression is “you think you’re the last Coca-Cola in the desert,” but it essentially means “you think you’re really special”. Coca-Cola is used to describe soft drinks of all types, rather than the specific brand and this particular expression may be said to somebody who is arrogant or full of themselves. It is roughly comparable to saying “you think you’re the best thing since sliced bread”.
9. “Estirado la pata” / “Colgar los guayos”
When a Spanish person dies, it may be said that they “estirar la pata” or “stretch the leg”. This is an equivalent to saying someone has “kicked the bucket” in English. Another popular phrase, meaning much the same thing, is “colgar los guayos,” which literally translates to “hang the football shoes”.
The word “bicho” means “a bug or small animal,” but can also be used as an insult, to mean someone who is insignificant. In most cases, rather than being a truly cutting insult, it somewhat childish and may be used in the same way that an English speaker might use a word like “twit” or “twerp”.
11. “Corto de luces”
Literally meaning “short of lights,” this popular Mexican phrase is basically equivalent to saying somebody is “not the brightest spark”. It might be said when describing someone who is stupid, clumsy, or takes a while to pick up on things – often as part of good-natured joking. Other English comparisons include describing someone as “not the sharpest tool in the shed,” or saying “the lights are on, but no one’s home”.
12. “Hablando del rey de Roma”
If you are ever in the situation where you are speaking about somebody just as they appear, you may say “Hablando del rey de Roma”. This expression means “Speaking of the King of Rome,” but in practice, it works in much the same way that “speak of the Devil” might be said in English.
Although you are learning Spanish so that you can communicate more effectively, there may still come a time when you wish somebody would just stop talking. If you don’t mind being rather abrupt with them, you may say “cállate,” which means “shut up”. On the other hand, if you want to be even more forceful with your request, you may opt for “cállate la boca!” (“shut your mouth!”)
14. “Ponte las pilas”
In English, the phrase “wake up” can mean “start paying attention” and “ponte las pilas” is used in much the same way by Spanish speakers. When translated directly, it means “put in your batteries,” which is not too dissimilar from English expressions, like “switching on” or “switching off” when you either regain or lose focus on something.
15. “Mata el gusanillo”
Another food-related expression to finish off with – the phrase “mata el gusanillo” is used in many parts of the world where Spanish is the main language and means “kill the bug” or more specifically “kill the worm”. However, it is primarily used in order to describe the act of snacking between traditional meal times. A rough English equivalent would be to say you are “keeping hunger at bay”.