Boardroom Buzzwords: Spain’s Most Commonly-Used Idioms (And How to Interpret Them at Work)

As one of the world’s most widely spoken languages, Spanish can hold some unseen challenges for non-native speakers.  For one thing, as it’s the native tongue to dozens of countries, each of which has its own different slang, it can be very difficult to keep up on the current idioms of any give Spanish-speaking culture.  If you’re taking a trip to Spain in the near future, the country and its people have undergone many changes over the past decade, resulting in plenty of quirky modes of expression.  Here are a few of the most important terms you’re sure to run into during your stay.

1. Tomar el pelo.  Literally “to grab hold of someone’s hair”, this is the equivalent of the English “to pull one’s leg”.  Basically, it means that you’re just joking around.

2. Ser pan comido.  This translates to “to be eaten bread”, and is used when referring to something so easy it’s practically already done.  Think of the English phrase, “It’s a piece of cake”.

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Photo by Hans Hillewaert

3.  Ir a freír espárragos.  This one is a little more informal and probably won’t show up in the boardroom (unless office rivalries are particularly high), but it’s a particularly fun way of telling someone to go away and stop bothering you.  It translates as “go fry some asparagus,” and is comparable to the English, “go take a long walk off a short pier”.

4.  Corto de luces.  It literally means “short of lights”, and is similar to the English “not the sharpest tool in the shed”, and so on.  Essentially it’s a sarcastic way of calling someone unintelligent.

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Photo by Jess Kubina

5.  Tirar la casa por la ventana.  Another bizarre metaphor, this one translates as, “To throw the house out through the window”.  It refers to a situation where somebody has spared no expense, such as a wedding or an expensive new car.

6.  No tener pelos en la lengua.  Literally, “to not have hairs on one’s tongue”, this idiom means when a person gets straight to the point and says what they mean without coaxing or flattering.

7.  Ponerle el cascabel al gato.  This essentially means to dare someone to do something, and it refers to the tricky (and sometimes dangerous) business of putting a bell around a cat’s neck.

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8.  Tiene más lana que un borrego.  Literally, “He/she has more wool than a lamb”.  In Spain, “lana” is a slang term for cash, meaning that this person is incredibly rich.

9.  Estar hecho un ají.  Another funny one if taken literally, it translates to “to be made into a chili pepper”.  Chili peppers, of course, are extremely spicy, so what this actually means is that someone becomes extremely angry—equivalent to the English “hopping mad” or “seeing red”.

Spanish is a very imaginative language with countless fun and evocative idioms to play around with.  To explore its unique vocabulary more, get started by taking our free online Spanish language level test, or by sending us an inquiry for information on classes in your area.

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