From Barcelona: Top 20 Spanish expressions

From Barcelona: Top 20 Spanish expressions

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Impress the locals by using any of these top 20 Spanish expressions in your conversations, says blogger Jeremy Holland.

Like any language, Spanish is rich with expressions and sayings. If you are able to use them correctly during conversations, it will immediately boost your standing in the eyes of the natives.

Here is my selection of top 20 phrases.

1. Cutre [koo-trey]

This word covers everything from seedy to uncool and I've yet to find an exact match in English. Examples of being cutre include small, authentic Spanish bars with an ever present smell of tobacco and frying oil, carrying your towels and sunscreeen in a plastic bag to the beach, a sweater with holes, or a Spanish electrical switch box.

2. Un fantasma 

The direct translation means 'a ghost' but this word is used to describe someone who is not what they appear to be – usually a person who talks a big game and tends to exaggerate.

3. Como dios manda

Literally translated as 'as God sends'. You use this phrase to demonstrate that you will do something well. For example, if someone asks, "Are you cooking dinner tonight?" You answer, “Como dios manda,” to mean yes and well.

4. Mala leche

'Bad milk' is what a grumpy or surly person has.

5. Más vale malo conocido que bueno por conocer

A Spanish expression that sums up their attitude to risk. Roughly translated it means: 'a known bad is worth more than something good to be known'. My guess is that it means 'stick with something even if it's bad rather than know something better'. But it's open to interpretation.

6. Tio/tia, macho 

Similar to dude or mate. For example, "¿Qué pasa, tia?" (What's up, girl?) or ,"Mancho – vamos a hacerlo." (Dude – let's do it.)

7. Un cortado

A shot of strong Spanish coffee, closer to espresso, topped with warm milk, which is normally drunk after lunch.

Top Spanish expressions: cortado

8. Cul i merda

A Catalan expression that translates to 'ass and s**t'. It's what you say when things or people perfectly complement each other.

9. Montar un pollo

'To mount the chicken' is what someone does when they cause a scene in public.

10. Pajas mentales 

'Mental wanks' is what you say to someone who you think is delusional or tends to create something out of nothing. It can also be used to describe someone who thinks they are greater than they are.

11. Bicho malo nunca muere

'A bad bug never dies' simply means the bad guys outlive the good. A lazy slob who drinks and smokes heavily will probably live longer than the health-crazed dietitian who stresses about the job.

12. Tener el mono 

'Have the monkey' is used to describe someone who has a craving for something, such as smoking after a transatlantic flight, having a drink with friends or taking a vacation.

13. Estar empanado

'To be breaded' is the expression to use when describing someone who's a little on the slow side.

14. El vermut

This is not to be confused with the liquor added to gin or vodka in the United States to make a martini. In Spain, it means it's probably midday on a Sunday, and you're going to drink something and eat berberechos – usually snack food served from a tin like olives, or nuts or chips, to tide you over until lunch two hours later.

ir a tomar el vermut
ir a tomar el vermutit's when it's midday on a Sunday and you drink something and eat berberechos – usually snack food served from a tin like olives, nuts or chips to tide you over until lunch two hours later. Spain's sweet red rermut is also an apertif drink.

15. Culo veo, culo quiero

'Ass I see, ass I want' is an expression to use when someone wants something you have. For example, your mate turns down your offer for a snack. Five minutes later when you are eating, he or she wants to eat too. Culo veo, culo quiero.

16. Plantar un pino

'To plant a pine' is another way of saying to do a number two.

17. Por si las moscas 

Translated literally as 'for if the flies' – it means just in case.

18. Chulo [choo-low]

It means cool, but can also be a person who's too cool for school if you know what I mean.

19. Un puente

Literally translated as 'a bridge' but also refers to the day before or after a public holiday that is used to make a long weekend if the public holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday.

20. Bable 

The language spoken by people from Asturias in northern Spain.

Jeremy Holland / Expatica

Jeremy HollandWritten by an American expat, From Barcelona, is a blog dedicated to the city, the life and the people of the capital of Catalunya (Catalonia).



Photo credit: po.psi.que (cortado). / Published 2010; updated by Expatica 2015.

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3 Comments To This Article

  • sheila hayworth posted:

    on 18th May 2011, 15:10:31 - Reply

    I've always found the use of " mala leche " steeped in contempt for women. Once someone refered to a disabled child as having been from mala leche. Would never use this expression, in any language!
  • Joanna posted:

    on 14th January 2010, 11:16:06 - Reply

    Jeremy - I think you could have done a better translations of number 5 expressions - which I believe would be "better the devil you know" - a very well known British English expression which translates exactly. Nonetheless, a very entertaining article.
  • Ed posted:

    on 11th January 2010, 10:36:32 - Reply

    Cutre could be "cheesy"