Funny Spanish idioms


Here is a list of entertaining Spanish idioms and their English equivalents.

La carne de burro no es transparente.
Literal translation: The flesh of the donkey is not transparent.
English equivalent: You make a better door than a window.

Sacarse el gordo.
Literal translation: To draw the fat one.
English equivalent: To hit the jackpot.


Gato escaldado del agua fria huye.
Literal translation: The scalded cat flees cold water.
English equivalent: Once bitten twice shy.


Cada perico a su estaca, cada changa a su mecate.
Literal translation: Each parrot on its perch, each monkey on its rope.
English equivalent: To each his own.


Comer frijoles y repetir pollo
Literal translation: To eat beans and belch chicken.
English equivalent: His bark is mightier than his bite.


Da un beso a la botella.
Literal translation: Give the bottle a kiss.
English equivalent: Take a swig.

Claro como el agua de Xochimilco
Literal translation: Clear as the water of Xochimilco
English equivalent: Clear as mud.

Está pensando en las musarañas.
Literal translation: He or she is thinking about the creepy-crawlies.
English equivalent: He or she is daydreaming.

Denglish, Franglais, Germish, and Spanglish – English words find new life across the globe

Lesson: How English words evolve in other languages

Last time we discussed false friends, words that look the same or similar to words in other languages, but have different meanings. Related to false friends are pseudo-anglicisms. These are English words other languages adopt, but use in ways English speakers would likely misunderstand.

Here is a list of some interesting pseudo-anglicisms:

pseudo-anglicism foreign definition
autostop (Greek) hitchhiking
baskets (French / Romanian) sneakers
beautyfarm (German / Italian) spa
college (Finnish) sweater
desk  (Japanese) title  for office worker
dressman (German) male model
face control (Russian) checking if a person looks appropriate (a common practice in Russian night clubs)
funeralmaster (German) undertaker
gadgets (Italian) goodies
gimmick  (Filipino) a night out with friends
golf (Italian) sweater
handphone (Korean) cell phone
handy (German) cell phone
junk  (Dutch) drug addict (In English it would be “junkie”)
magnetron (Dutch) microwave oven (sounds more like a superhero name to me)
mansion (Japanese) condominium apartments
pocket (Dutch) paperback book
relooking (French) makeover
shampooing (French) shampoo
slang (Filipino) a strong foreign accent
skin scuba (Korean) scuba diving
smart (Japanese) skinny
speaker / speakerine (French) Announcer (radio, TV, railway)
style (Vietnamese) Appearing teenage, playful, modern
talkmaster (German) talk show host
topfit  (Dutch / German) physically fit
twen (German) a person in his/her twenties

Some of these I really love. Wouldn’t it sound good to say, “I won’t be back until tonight, honey. I’m going to the beautyfarm,” or, “I’ll get you your stupid food in a minute. Let me throw it in the MAGNETRON!!!”

It’s amazing how much of  American culture we have exported. (Though it’s frightening to think how many people in foreign countries may know who Snooki is. On behalf of America, sorry about that one.)

For your enjoyment, here is a list of more pseudo-anglicisms.

Freud was right the first time: Sometimes a cigar is not just a cigar


Lesson: The dangers of false friends when learning a language

The next time you visit Germany, don’t say danke schön when you receive a gift. In German, “gift” means “poison.” And when in Italy, beware of signs reading “casino,” unless, of course, you are looking to go to a brothel.

“Gift” and “casino” are two examples of “false friends.” False friends are words that look the same or similar to words in another language, but have different meanings. They can be a roadblock to language learners, who may wrongly attribute a familiar definition to the new word (sometimes with accidental comedic effect).

Two kinds of false friends are “cognates” and “false cognates.”


Cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. Or, said another way, they share a parent on the language family tree. For example: night (English), nuit (French), nacht (German), and notte (Italian) were all derived from the same Proto-Indo-European word. Cognates become false friends if Language A borrows a word from Language B, but over time, Language B changes the word’s meaning.

False cognates are words that look similar, but actually formed from two separate languages. In these cases, it’s just coincidence that one word looks like another.

Here are some funny examples of false friends with English words:

Foreign word English word Foreign word definition
after (German) after anus
bald (German) bald soon
bras (French) bras arm
constipado (Spanish) constipated a cold
embarazada (Spanish) embarrassed pregnant
fahrt (German)fart (Swedish) fart speed
fat (Swedish) fat dinner plate
gift (Swedish) gift married
killa (Swedish) kill tickle
limo (German) limo lemonade
mama (Georgian) mama father
smoking (French, German, Spanish, Swedish) smoking tuxedo jacket

False friends are one of languages’ lovable (and sometimes irritating) eccentricities. Be sure to keep note of the embarrassing ones in your learning adventures, or else you may be deeply disappointed when a suave gentleman comes to your door with a glass of lemonade instead of a limo.

If you are interested in a longer list of false friends, click here.