The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #30 November / December 2017
Proverbs from the World
by Tarja Jolma
November / December 2017 | 
Proverbs from the World:

The world is full of languages, which in turn are full of proverbs and proverbial phrases. Some of them are very culture related, some instead very universal. The language of choice this time is Spanish, a globally common language that belongs to the Romance branch of the Indo-European language family. In Spanish the language is called "español" and "castellano".

Spanish is the official or national language of Spain, Colombia, Venezuela, Perú, Guatemala, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Bolivia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Panamá, Guinea Ecuatorial, Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. It's also a significant minority language in Andorra, Belize, Gibraltar and the United States with over 477 million native speakers. Since the language is so wide spread, it is spoken in very different regions. There are lots of regional differences but the roots are in Spain.

1. Te conozco bacalao aunque vengas disfrazado. Literal translation:
I know you, codfish, even though you're in disguise.

Meaning: The meaning is rather transparent: "I know what your little game is". This is not the only proverb with this fish, which is popular in many countries. There is even a song entitled like the proverb, Te conozco bacalao, by Héctor Lavoe. It's quite catchy! The song and the lyrics are in the links beneath.

2. Cuando las ranas críen pelo.
Literal translation:
When frogs grow hair.

Meaning: Many if not all languages have a saying that corresponds the English "when pigs fly" to say that something is impossible. This Spanish version is easy to understand.

3. Quedarse para vestir santos.
Literal translation:
To stay dressing saints.

Meaning: This saying means remaining an old maid. Spanish speakers are often Roman Catholic, so sayings with saints are not uncommon. In the past especially elderly women, often widows, used to take care of religious places, their figures of saints and such. They simply had more time than younger people with families.

4. Parecerse como dos gotas de agua.
Literal translation:
To look like two drops of water.

Meaning: This is a universal concept: comparing two very similar things to say they look like each other. In English, to be like two peas in a pod.

5. Saber latín.
Literal translation:
To know Latin.

Meaning: This translates as "to be nobody's fool". Lots of people in the Spanish speaking environment have studied Latin, so it has been one way to measure intelligence.

Like in so many languages, the amount of proverbs and proverbial phrases is immense. Spanish speakers can also be proud of a piece of literature that is filled with proverbial wisdom due to its main character's love for them: Don Quixote (The Ingenious Nobleman Don Quixote of La Mancha), published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615.

For further exploring and comparing proverbs this Spanish and multilingual collection of proverbs, Refranero, is very good.

Proverbs from the World - Spanish
Writer: Tarja Jolma
Petey: Girl; Frogs; Drop; Latin
• "101 Spanish Idioms. Understanding Spanish Language and Culture Through Popular Phrases." CASSAGNE, J. M., illustrated by L. N. Raidon: Published in 1995, Passport Books, USA
• "El Español, una lengua viva." Instituto Cervantes: Informe 2017. <>
• "Spanish_language" Wikipedia <>
• "Taringa!" <>

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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