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10 Spanish Idioms about Animals & Their Interesting Origin

  • Post category:Vocabulary

The animal kingdom has a very special role in the Spanish language. So much so that we have dozens, hundreds of Spanish idioms about animals. Let’s discover some of the most popular ones!

#1. Ser rata (to be a rat = to be tight)

In Spanish we use this idiomatic expression when someone is tight, that is, they don’t like spending money. But why a rat? Well, in Western culture, rats usually have a negative connotation as they eat food waste and live in dirty and dark places, such as sewers or basements. Traditionally, they have been considered animals that would steal and leave in an instant.

#2. Estar como una cabra (to be like a goat = to be crazy)

When we say “¡Estás como una cabra!” (You are like a goat!), we are calling that person mad.

We can find the origin of this idiom in the world of farming: While lambs and calves stay near their mums, baby goats usually like running and jumping everywhere, as if they were crazy!

#3. Estar en la edad del pavo (to be in the turkey’s age = to be a teenager)

La edad del pavo is an informal way to refer to adolescence in Spain. Teenagers that go through this stage often find everything funny and, at the same time, they feel embarrassed for everything. When this happens, they turn red, just as red as a turkey’s wattle!

#4. Pagar el pato (to pay for the duck = to pay the consequences)

Pagar el pato actually means “to take the blame, to pay the consequences for someone else”.

The origin of this idiom is quite interesting! It takes us back to the 16th century in Spain, when the Jewish people were often harassed and blamed for almost everything by the Spanish Inquisition.

Even so, Jewish people defended that they had kept their faith over centuries because they made a pact with God. Christians would laugh at this, saying,“¡Pagaréis el pacto!” (“You would pay for such pact!”).

During and after medieval times, it was pretty common to charge people for belonging to a different religion. In this way, Jews were expected to pay 15 silver coins merely because they practised their faith.

Over the years, the saying “Pagar el pacto” (To pay for the pact) evolved into “Pagar el pato” (to pay for the duck), which sounds very similar!

#5. Estar hecho un toro (to be a bull = to be strong)

This idiom is quite obvious, isn’t it?

We say that someone “está hecho un toro” when they are very strong or healthy. Bulls and oxen are considered one of the strongest species because of their muscular appearance and thick bones.

#6. Ser mono (to be a monkey = to be cute)

Don’t worry if someone calls you mono in Spain! It’s not offensive, quite the opposite.

“Ser mono” means to be cute or lovely. However, if you want to call a girl cute, then use the feminine version, mona.

#7. Ser la oveja negra (to be the black sheep)

Like its English version, “la oveja negra” (the black sheep) refers to a person that doesn’t fit in a group of people or a family for being different.

Generally speaking, black sheep are quite rare. They have also been traditionally unwelcomed since their wool was poorly valued on the market. Poor sheep!

#8. Cortar el bacalao (to cut the cod = to be the boss)

In Spain we use this expression to say that someone is in charge. Its origin dates back to the 16th century, when cod became quite popular in the country. Spanish colonisers also took it to the New World, where the foremen were the ones in charge of slicing the fish and sharing it among the slaves.

#9. Hacer el ganso (to behave like a goose = to be silly)

People, let me tell you that geese have a bad reputation in Spanish.

“Hacer el ganso” is an idiomatic expression used to indicate that someone is being silly or talking nonsense (perhaps to get others’ attention). So, if you want someone to stop being silly, just say “¡Deja de hacer el ganso!” (Stop being a goose!)

The Spanish word ganso, apart from meaning “goose”, is defined in the Spanish dictionary as “a clumsy person who boasts of being funny and witty, without being so”.

#10. Tener vista de lince (to have the vision of a lynx = to have good vision)

In Spanish, we use the expression “tener vista de lince” to say that someone has a fine vision. It’s pretty logical to associate such characteristic to lynxes: Since ancient times, it was believed that these felines had a sharp vision that allowed them to see from long distances.

It makes total sense to link the idiom to these majestic animals. However, the true origin of the expression comes from a character in Greek mythology called Lynceus (Linceo in Spanish). Lynceus had an excellent sight that enabled him to see through walls, trees, skin and even the ground. Some have compared this ability to Superman’s x-ray vision.

That’s all, amigos! I hope you liked these Spanish idioms about animals. Now you’re ready to use them! And if you know any other idioms with animals, leave a comment! 🙂

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