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Plaza de España Seville | © FranciscoColinet
Plaza de España Seville | © FranciscoColinet
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15 Spanish Sayings That Make No Sense In English

Picture of Tara Jessop
Updated: 9 February 2017
When it comes to language, sayings and proverbs usually say a lot about a country’s culture and past. These Spanish expressions are full of wisdom, humor, and wit but really make no sense when translated literally into English. Can you guess their equivalents?

‘Camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente.’

Translation: The sleeping shrimp is carried by the water current.

Meaning: You snooze, you lose. If you’re not quick on the mark, someone else will seize the opportunity, or it will be lost forever.

‘A lo hecho, pecho.’

Translation: To what is done, present your chest.

Meaning: What’s done is done. There’s no going back, so you might as well put on a brave face and face what’s coming to you.

‘En boca cerrada no entran moscas.’

Translation: In the closed mouth, flies do not enter.

Meaning: Sometimes you’re just better off keeping your mouth shut. If you don’t, be prepared to face the consequences.

‘Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos.’

Translation: Raise crows, and they will pick your eyes out.

Meaning: Be careful to not waste your kindness on ungrateful people who will simply abuse your generosity.

A creepy crow | CC0 Pixabay
A creepy crow | CC0 Pixabay

‘A mal tiempo, buena cara.’

Translation: In bad times, a good face.

Meaning: Hold your head high even when the going gets tough.

‘El que quiera pescado que se moje el culo.’

Translation: He who wants to catch fish must get his arse wet.

Meaning: You have to be ready to work hard at something if you want it; things won’t just fall into your lap.

‘Más vale ser cabeza de ratón que cola de león.’

Translation: Better to be a mouse’s head than a lion’s tail.

Meaning: It’s better to be a big fish in a small pond than a little fish in a big ocean. Better to be the best at something less ambitious than average at something more impressive.

A friendly door mouse | Pixabay
A friendly door mouse | CC0 Pixabay

‘Moro viejo nunca será buen cristiano.’

Translation: The old Moor will never be a good Christian.

Meaning: Old habits die hard; you can’t change someone from who they really are.

‘Quien fue a Sevilla perdió su silla.’

Translation: He who went to Seville, lost his seat.

Meaning: If you leave your spot, you’ll lose it. Move your feet, lose your seat.

‘A falta de pan, buenas son tortas.’

Translation: If there’s no bread, cakes will do.

Meaning: You’ve got to learn to make do with what you’ve got; beggars can’t be choosers.

A pretty cupcake | CC0 Pixabay
A pretty cupcake | ©Pixabay

‘El que no llora, no mama.’

Translation: He who doesn’t cry, doesn’t suckle.

Meaning: Things go to those who need them; only the squeaky wheel gets greased.

‘Zapatero a tus zapatos.’

Translation: Shoemaker, to your shoes!

Meaning: Keep to what you know, and mind your own business. Don’t go meddling where you’re not needed.

‘Gato con guantes no caza ratones.’

Translation: A cat with gloves does not catch mice.

Meaning: Be prepared to get your hands dirty if you want to get the job done.

A paw-licking cat | CC0 Pixabay
A paw-licking cat | CC0 Pixabay

‘Las cuentas claras y el chocolate espeso.’

Translation: Keep your accounts clear and your chocolate thick.

Meaning: In business, it’s best to be transparent about arrangements and keep good records.

‘A pan de quince días, hambre de tres semanas.’

Translation: To 15-day old bread, a three-week hunger.

Meaning: Beggars can’t be choosers; if you’re hungry, you’ll eat what you’re given.