20 Weird But Useful Spanish Expressions Every Learner Should Know


June 3, 2017

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Every language has its own set of weird expressions and Spanish is no stranger to some of the craziest idioms.

Today you’re going to get to know common themes in Spanish idiomatic expressions and get an insight into the thoughts and culture of the Spanish people through their usage of these expressions. All that through this list of 20 fun expressions.

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Ready? Let’s begin.

1 . Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente.

Literally: Shrimp that falls asleep, gets taken by the stream.

You might not guess the context to which this common expression is being used, just by looking at it. This saying compares people with that of snoozing shrimps who get carried away by the water currents. In English, it’s somewhat similar to “You snooze, you lose.” Or if you don’t do anything about something, you’ll get swept away.

What’s the shrimp got to do with it, you ask? Well, they do illustrate the point of the expression pretty well, don’t you think?

2. El muerto y el invitado, a los tres días apestan.

Literal meaning: The dead and the guest, stink after three days.

This expression is not just morbid, it’s also quite rude. It is some sort of reminder to guests not to overextend their welcome because as the saying goes, after three days, the guest would stink like that of a corpse. Stinky and unwelcome. Harsh.


03. Amar sin deseo es peor que comer sin hambre.

Literal meaning: Loving without desire is worse than eating without hunger.
This somewhat ironic expression compares two important areas of life: loving and eating. Loving someone without any desire is just like forcing yourself to eat even when you’re not hungry. Do you agree?

04. Dios da pan al que no tiene dientes.

Literal meaning: God gives bread to the toothless.

This might sound like a crazy expression bordering on blasphemous, but it’s actually a serious one that talks about life’s injustices. It is often used when alluding to someone who receives a gain or opportunity they won’t even be able to use or take advantage of. Like giving bread to a person who does not have teeth to bite it off.

05. Muerto el perro se acabó la rabia.

Literal meaning: With the dog dead, rabies is gone.

Yet another spanish expression mentioning death, in this case of a dog, and it is used to point out that for eliminating consequences, the solution is to go directly to the source and eliminate it. Involving dogs is going a bit too far, don’t you think? But it does get the point across.

06. Costar un ojo de la cara.

Literal meaning: To cost an eye of the face.

One of the most dramatic expressions there is, this one is used when something is hard to get or too expensive, it is comparable to giving an eye to pay for it.

In English, we say to cost an arm and a leg. Both of which boils down to the same meaning: it’s going to cost you a small fortune.

07. En el país de los ciegos, el tuerto es el rey.

Literal meaning: In the country of the blind, the one-eyed is king.

This expression implies that in a group of disadvantaged people, the less disadvantaged one is the best they could come up with. So in a group of blind people, someone with just one eye would already be their king. Interesting imagery, eh?


08. Se juntó el hambre y las ganas de comer.

Literal meaning: Hunger and the desire to eat got together.

What happens when hunger and the desire to eat come together at the same time? This expression compares that scenario to two bad people who get together to join forces. Can you imagine how that would turn out?

09. Orinar fuera del perol.

Literal meaning: To pee outside the pot.

This odd colloquial expression is used when someone misses the point of a conversation or doesn’t know exactly what they’re talking about. It’s being likened to shooting pee outside the pot— way off the mark. A bit weird, I know, but it’s funny and quite a useful expression to learn.

10. Estar con un pie en la urna.

Literal meaning: To have one foot inside the coffin.

Here we go again with another odd expression talking about death. When you have one foot inside the coffin, it only means one thing: you’re close to death or in a life-threatening situation.

11. Una vez cada muerte de obispo.

Literal meaning: Once every death of a bishop

At this point, you’ve probably realized already that death is a common subject in Spanish expressions. This time, it’s the turn of the bishops. Instead of saying “every once in awhile”, the Spanish speakers would say “Once every death of a bishop”.

12. En tiempo de vacas gordas.

Literal meaning: In time of fat cows.

This might seem like a funny expression to you, but it actually has a biblical origin. If you’re familiar with the bible, you might remember the passage about good times and fat cows and bad times with skinny cows. Here the fat cows are referenced as a way to describe abundance.

13. A perro flaco no le faltan pulgas.

Literal meaning: A skinny dog does not lack fleas.

Animals are another common subject in Spanish expressions. In this case, it’s all about a skinny dog with fleas. This expression is used when someone is already doing bad and something even worse keep happening. A bit similar to “when it rains, it pours”, except with dogs and fleas. Yep, weird.

14. Matar la gallina de los huevos de oro.

Literal meaning: To kill the hen of the golden eggs.

What happens when you kill the hen that lays golden eggs? Well, apart from the fact that you must be incredibly insane to do so, you’re also killing the source of your good fortune and wasting a great opportunity.

15. La curiosidad mató al gato.

Literal meaning: Curiosity killed the cat.

Another expression about death, but this time, it’s the poor cat. You probably know this expression already in its English counterpart, but it doesn’t hurt to know how to say this in Spanish, right?

16. El muerto al hoyo y el vivo al gozo.

Literal meaning: The dead to the hole and the living to the joy.

Again with the dead, geez. But what makes this expression weird is its seemingly insensitive aspect. It means that when a person dies, they should be buried and those that are still living should go on and enjoy life. It can be used to condole with someone in grief, to encourage him or her to go on living despite the grief.


17. Por la plata baila el mono.

Literal meaning: For the money the monkey dances.
Why say “money runs the world” when you instead can say “for the money the monkey dances”?

18. No le busques la quinta pata al gato.

Literal meaning: Don’t look for the cat’s fifth leg.
Would someone be literally interested in looking for a cat’s leg, let alone a fifth one? No clue. But this expression is used when someone is trying to find something that is none of their business.

19. Le dieron gato por liebre.

Literal meaning: They gave him a cat for a rabbit.

Let’s say you bought a rabbit–picked it, paid for it–but what you got instead is a cat! You don’t need a cat! You paid for a rabbit, what the heck? That, my friends, is a scenario that means you have clearly been ripped off: you got a cat for a rabbit.

20. Éramos muchos y parió la abuela.

Literal meaning: We were too many and grandma gave birth.

Imagine this scenario: You live in a super crowded house. Then–bam!–your grandma went ahead and gave birth to a new child. Say whaaat?? That’s exactly what this expression tries to suggest: you already have a lot of problems, and then here comes a new one.

Weird? You bet.

Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments.

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About the author 

Janey is a fan of different languages and studied Spanish, German, Mandarin, and Japanese in college. She has now added French into the mix, though English will always be her first love. She loves reading anything (including product labels).

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