Four Fun Expressions in Spanish Teach an Important Lesson About Language
Most people are aware that there is almost always more than one way to express an idea. For instance, if one does not know the name of an object — even in his or her own language — its function may be known. If you didn’t know “coffee maker” you might say “thing to make coffee in.”
When it comes to concepts that are often expressed as proverbs or, as in Aesop’s Fables, a little moral saying to sum up a lesson about life, some languages express the same lesson in very different terms. Let’s examine four idiomatic expressions in Spanish and compare them to the English expressions that communicate the same lesson, but with very different imagery.
1. To express the idea of finding oneself with two equally bad alternatives, English speakers have the expression about being between a rock and a hard place. In Spanish, the same idea is expressed in more swashbuckling terms. Their phrase is estar entre la espada y la pared — literally, to be between the sword and the wall.
2. In English, when we want to say someone is kidding us, we say You’re pulling my leg. In Spanish, one would say Me estás tomando el pelo — literally, You’re pulling my hair!
3. English has a colorful expression about how we should not let a bit of bad news impact us too much when we say Don’t cry over spilled milk. In Spanish, the expression is a bit more to the point. They say A lo hecho, pecho — which admonishes the listener not to take too much to heart (expressed as “chest”) what has happened — what is hecho, or done. English speakers may also express this by saying What is done is done.
4. Finally, English speakers may be very prosaic about telling people not to look for trouble, but in Spanish, there is a colorful expression — with regional variants that aren’t really important for the moment: No andes buscándole los tres pies al gato. This translates roughly as Don’t go around looking for three feet of the cat. You may wonder how this means not to look for trouble. Well, if you grab only three of a cat’s four paws, watch out for the one it has free!