It’s said that in order to find out more about the culture of a country, one need look no further than the language, or languages, spoken by the people who live there. To prove this theory, let’s take the example of the United Kingdom, where two of the most well-known idioms are ‘it’s not my cup of tea’ and ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’… It’s quite clear that a country’s language reflects what is most important to the people who speak it.
Bearing this in mind, today we’re going to learn 8 Spanish idioms, or modismos, which are based on one particularly important aspect of Spanish and Hispanic culture: food. ¡Qué aproveche!
Note: the meaning of some of these idioms may vary from country to country, so watch out!
1. Ser la leche (Literally: To be the milk)
Ever wanted to enthuse about something in Spanish but already exhausted classic words like genial or bien? Well, next time you want to say that something or someone is really cool, you can use the idiom ser la leche.
For example: ‘Me encanta esa película, ¡es la leche!’ = ‘I love that film, it’s the best!’.
However, the catch with this expression is that it can also be used to mean the exact opposite.
For example: ‘¡Es la leche! Cómo puede ser tan terco?’ = ‘He’s really something. How can he be so stubborn?’. In this context, la leche is used to describe someone in a negative way. So how do people know when it’s being used as a positive or a negative word? Well, as with many expressions, it all lies in the context and the tone of voice of the person using it, so keep an eye (or an ear) out!
2. Estar de mala leche (Literally: To be of bad milk)
Our second idiom also uses the word leche, but this time with the verb estar. This is because this expression refers to a person’s current state and, as we know, changeable things normally use estar. So what does estar de mala leche actually mean?
Here’s an example: ‘Hoy es mejor no hablar con Juan, es de mala leche’ = ‘It’s better not to talk to Juan today, he’s in a bad mood’.
The word uva, meaning ‘grape’ can also be used instead of leche (estar de mala uva), but has the same meaning: to be in a bad mood.
Note: the phrase ¡Qué mala leche! can be used to express sympathy, like the phrase ‘Too bad!’ in English.
For example: ‘¡Qué mala leche que no pudieron venir a la boda!’ = Too bad they couldn’t come to the wedding!
3. Ser pan comido (Literally: to be eaten bread)
This is the only idiom on our list which can be directly translated into English with another food-related idiom, although in the English version it’s a different type of food. Can you think what it might be? Well, pan comido literally means ‘eaten bread’, although this still doesn’t help us to decipher the meaning of the idiom.
Let’s look at an example to make it clearer: ‘Con todo el trabajo que he hecho, este examen va a ser comido’ = ‘With all the work I’ve done, this exam’s gonna be a piece of cake!’.
So, ‘eaten bread’ is a Spanish version of the English idiom ‘a piece of cake’!
4. Importar un pimiento / un pepino (Literally: To matter a pepper / a cucumber)
How important is a pepper to you? And how about a cucumber? Apparently not very important, at least not in Spanish! This commonly-used idiom means ‘I don’t care’ or even ‘I couldn’t care less’, if you’re really riled up!
Here it is in context: ‘A mi madre no le gusta mi novia, pero me importa un pimiento su opinión’ = ‘My Mum doesn’t like my girlfriend, but her opinion doesn’t matter to me / but I don’t care’.
5. Estar como una sopa (Literally: To be like a soup)
This expression is perhaps one of the easiest on the list to work out from its literal meaning.
Let’s have a look at it in a sentence: ‘Estaba lloviendo a mares y cuando la pobrecita llegó a casa, estuve como una sopa.’ = ‘It was absolutely chucking it down, and when the poor thing arrived home she was soaked to the bone.’
So ‘estar como una sopa’ means ‘to be drenched’.
Bonus point: ‘llover a mares’ literally means ‘to rain oceans’, or as we say in English, ‘to rain cats and dogs’.
6. Cortar /partir el bacalao (Literally: To cut / to share out the cod)
Who shares out the cod in your household or workplace? As you’ve probably guessed, this modismo isn’t actually talking about fish. Cortar el bacalao can be translated in many ways, but the closest equivalent in English is probably ‘call the shots’. Can you think of any other translations?
Here it is in an example sentence: ‘Tengo que hablar con la jefa antes de tomar una decisión mañana porque es quien corta el bacalao en esta oficina.’ = ‘I have to speak to the boss before making a decision tomorrow because she’s the one who calls the shots in this office.’
7. Ser del año de la pera (Literally: To be from the year of the pear)
Of the 7 on our list, this idiom is perhaps one of the most difficult on the list to deduce from its literal meaning. In Spanish, if something is ‘from the year of the pear’, it means that it is old-fashioned or dated.
Let’s have a look at it in context: ‘Me encanta esta canción, pero es del año de la pera.’ = ‘I love this song, but it’s quite behind the times’.
This expression isn’t exclusively used for thing such as clothing or music; it can also be used to say that somebody’s views on a particular topic are outdated.
For example: ‘Armando es muy amable, pero sus ideas son del año de la pera.’ = ‘Armando is really nice, but his ideas are pretty outdated’.
8. ¡Vete a freír espárragos! (Literally: Go to fry asparagus!)
Our final modismo is slighter ruder, but no less useful. It can be used when you’re fed up with somebody.
For example: ‘Estoy harto de ti, ¡vete a freír espárragos!’ = ‘I’ve had enough of you, clear off!’.