Have you ever seen a bald donkey?
What about a hairy pumpkin?
Do you think an elephant could eat a spider? If yes, then how?
And have you ever heard it’s risky to go to Seville? I mean, you can lose your chair there—just horrible!
Hello, my name is Franko, and I am an Anonymous Joker. Well, not so much anonymous as keeping it low-profile, and not so much a joker as a frustrated stand-up comedian turned funny wannabe teacher with a talent for the odd joke.
But here I am, and as a good Spaniard, I love to laugh. We Spanish-speaking people think we have a talent for the easy joke, and we always, always believe we are funny as ever.
That couldn’t be farther from the truth—but still we have our pride!
I love languages as much as I love humor, so what could be better than a post about funny Spanish sayings?
Sit back, enjoy, and let’s let the sayings speak for themselves and defend their (sometimes) dubious humor!
12 Funny Spanish Sayings and Proverbs to Spice Up Your Learning
1. Aunque la mona se vista de seda, mona se queda.
Literal translation: Even if the female monkey dresses in silk, she will remain a female monkey.
English equivalent: You can’t put lipstick on a pig.
I personally can’t imagine a female monkey dressed in silk. Actually, I can’t imagine any monkey dressing in anything. Monkeys are monkeys, and you are… you. You have to accept yourself as you are, no lipstick added!
You should also accept that the word aunque triggers the subjunctive when what you say is not yet a fact (ah, the subjunctive is everywhere!), so you better watch out for this one if you don’t want anyone to feel insulted.
Also, just so you know, the word mona can mean quite a few things, “drunkenness” among others. So depending on how you build the sentence, you may be actually saying the monkey is sleeping (la mona está durmiendo), or someone is “sleeping it off” (está durmiendo la mona). Oh, the joys of Spanish!
2. A pan de quince días, hambre de tres semanas.
Literal translation: To a 15-day bread, a 3-week hunger.
English equivalent: Beggars can’t be choosers.
In Spain we love exaggerating. It’s no wonder people have millions of things to do, hence, I suppose, the stereotypical “Mañana, mañana” (Tomorrow, tomorrow) everybody insists on labelling us with.
Anyhow, humor and exaggeration come together very often in our daily lives, and this saying is a great example of it. When you are hungry, you are hungry, and no 15-day bread is going to be hard enough for you to chew.
This saying is also a useful reminder of the fact that in Spanish we love to have feelings rather than “being” them, unlike in English. So you say “Tengo hambre” (literally: I have hunger) to express “I’m hungry,” or “Tengo sed” (I’m thirsty; literally: I have thirst), Tengo miedo (I’m frightened), Tengo sueño (I’m sleepy), etc.
Needless to say, you can also estar hambriento (be hungry), sediento (thirsty), asustado (frightened)—but why complicate things?
3. Papar moscas.
Literal meaning: To eat/gulp down flies.
English equivalent: To daydream.
Every single time I hear or say this phrase, I cannot help but imagine Homer Simpson dreaming about a delicious donut. The image of him looking at the ceiling with his mouth open, dripping saliva is hilarious! A daydreaming person can sometimes look quite similar to Homer, with their mouth open, and their thoughts far, far from where they actually are.
And that is the moment when flies, as we firmly believe in Spanish, will take advantage of the situation and fly directly down your throat. You wake up from your daydream. Poof! You are back to reality. Flies are saviors, really!
Jokes aside, you can learn a few things from this saying. First, you do not need to use any article—definite or indefinite—when eating. For example: comer carne (eat meat), mascar chicle (chew gum), papar moscas. Second, you can not only comer in Spanish, you can also:
- papar (gulp down/swallow) if the food is soft and doesn’t need chewing, like a papilla—purée for babies
- mascar (chew)
- devorar (devour)
- tragar (swallow)
Time for improving that eating vocab and stop using comer for every single mouth-involving action!
4. Lavar cerdos con jabón es perder tiempo y jabón.
Literal meaning: Washing pigs with soap is losing time and soap.
English equivalent: Some things are a waste of time.
And once again an animal has made it to our list! Accept it, pigs are not clean. They smell really bad. Why would you want to wash your pig? Why? Some things are just a complete waste of time. Like when you confuse soap and soup, and you end up using broth to wash your hands.
Actually, “soap” and “soup” are more of a problem for the Spanish students of English than they probably are for you, but in case you were wondering, no, “soap” is not sopa. Sopa means “soup,” and supe means “I knew” (here you have a great post on Spanish past tenses). Gosh, I’m starting to get a headache.
So, when can you use this instructive saying? Imagine you have to study 100 pages for your final exam and you only start studying the night before. Time to wash your pig, then! There is no amount of soap, or even broth, to help you get away with this. You can try to dress in silk, but you will remain a female monkey…
5. Como el que oye llover.
Literal meaning: Like he who hears raining.
English equivalent: It’s like water off a duck’s back.
There are many theories which try to explain the origin of this saying, but personally I think the most beautiful is the one related to Hernán Cortés and Moctezuma. For those mega advanced students who want to know more about this, just go here.
There is now a tendency in our world to ignore what people say, to pretend that it doesn’t affect us. For some people, hearing how raindrops fall is tedious, boring and they try to turn their faces off.
There is a related expression used by Spanish youngsters nowadays that has the same meaning: Me resbala (It runs through me), meaning they couldn’t care less about what other people say. I don’t want you to have a “Me resbala” attitude, especially when it comes to learning Spanish, but if you feel like impressing your Spanish friends, don’t hesitate to use this expression.
Just remember to use it when the right time comes, or you could be the water running off their backs!
6. No hay burro calvo, ni calabaza con pelo.
Literal meaning: There isn’t any bald monkey nor any pumpkin with hair.
English equivalent: Say what you really know and do what you can really do.
Now this one is funny, isn’t it? It is actually one of my favorites, not only because of the expression itself, but because of its meaning.
I do not know much about donkeys, but I know that if a donkey is losing its hair, he must have some kind of illness. Pumpkins are not my cup of tea, either, but it would creep me out if I found a real-life pumpkin growing hair! However, Spanish speakers don’t find any kind of oddity in this expression, and they use it like there were no tomorrow.
The point is, talk about what you know, do what you can do, period. Just be yourself and don’t pretend to know everything.
It is interesting to mention the use of No…ni (neither…nor) in this expression. Used to say that both the first and the second item don’t exist or are not true, no…ni has an implied tampoco (neither/nor) which is almost never used in this kind of combination (i.e. No hay burro calvo, ni tampoco calabaza con pelo).
Spanish negation can be a big ocean full of hungry sharks, so do yourself a solid and learn them now!
7. Con paciencia y con maña, un elefante se comió una araña.
Literal meaning: With patience and skill, an elephant ate a spider.
English equivalent: Little strokes fell great oaks.
Now this needs to be your mantra when learning Spanish. Little by little, step by step, you can become fluent. You do not need to be an elephant to do this, nor do you need to eat a spider, but you surely need to stock on some patience and persistence if you want to get there.
There is another expression, shorter and maybe more powerful, that is being used more and more nowadays: Persevera y triunfarás (Persevere and you will succeed). The meaning is the same, but it is not as funny and graphic as our featured phrase.
Now that you know this, maybe you think you can keep on soaping your pig until it is clean. The answer again is that it is a waste of time. Even with this saying, pigs will be pigs!
8. Cría fama y échate a dormir.
Literal translation: Breed fame and crash out.
English equivalent: Give a dog a bad name and hang it.
I think this saying is a great example of how differently Spaniards and Americans (or English-speaking people, for that matter) handle things.
While we crash out after having lost our reputation, you hang a dog! Not nice, people! Hah, just kidding.
We know it is very difficult to lose a bad reputation, even if it happens to be unjustified. This proverb means just that: Once you have a bad reputation, there is nothing (or almost nothing) you can do to clean your name. So we say: If they are going to talk about us, why bother? Let’s just go to sleep!
If you take a look at the second part of the Spanish saying, we have the imperative échate a dormir. There are two very interesting grammar topics we can review by using just these three words.
Firstly, when we have an imperative, the objects are directly added to the end of it, hence échate (lay down), or lávate (wash yourself), durmámonos (let’s fall asleep), bebámonoslas (let’s drink them), etc…
Secondly, we have the periphrasis echarse a + [infinitive], which means to start doing something. Take a look at how useful this periphrasis can be:
Cuando lo vi, me eché a correr.
(When I saw him, I started running.)
Se echó a llorar cuando oyó la noticia.
(She bursted into tears when she heard the news.)
Final note: No animals were harmed in the explanation of this Spanish saying.
9. Quien fue a Sevilla, perdió su silla.
Literal translation: He who went to Seville lost his chair.
English equivalent: If you leave your place, you lose it.
If you feel brave enough to have a look (in Spanish!) at the origin of this saying, you can visit this webpage. I used to love this proverb and I remember myself uttering it literally thousands of times when I was a kid.
This is one of those sayings that have that multipurpose flavor I love the most in Spanish language. It can be applied not only to the fact that if you leave your seat unattended you can lose it, but also to any other situation when you leave something unattended (a bag, a plate of soup, a privilege of some kind) and return to find someone has gotten hold of it.
Notice that this phrases’s structure is very common in Spanish proverbs. Indeed, we have hundreds of proverbs that share this kind of construction: Quien + [clause], [clause], but it can also be used in everyday conversations:
Quien termine su examen puede irse.
(Those who finish their exam can go.)
Quien llegó primero ganó un premio.
(He who arrived first won a medal.)
If you look closer to the previous examples you will realize this kind of construction can trigger both the infinitive and the subjunctive. Remember the rule: If it is a fact, indicative, but if it is yet to happen, subjunctive for everyone.
10. Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente.
Literal meaning: Eyes that don’t see, heart that doesn’t feel.
English equivalent: Long absent, soon forgotten. / Out of sight, out of mind.
There is a lot of discussion among Spanish speakers about the real meaning of this saying, and I guess each of us uses it in a different way depending on where we grew up.
I prefer the translation “Out of sight, out of mind” because it seems to be closer with the literal Spanish meaning. If you don’t see what is happening then you don’t think about it, so you don’t worry.
However, interpreting it as “Long absent, soon forgotten” could also be possible if you are a romantic. You don’t see your ex anymore, so you forget them quickly and easily. Done!
11. Las palabras se las lleva el viento.
Literal meaning: The wind blows words away.
English equivalent: Actions speak louder than words.
I am a firm believer in this saying. I don’t want any talky-talky, I want you to show that you mean what you say, so start moving!
When I say or hear this proverb I always think about the film “Gone with the Wind,” which is Spanish is called “Lo que el viento se llevó” (What the wind blew away). I remember I really liked the title of this film when I heard it in English for the first time. I thought it was very romantic and melancholic at the same time, and I was able to learn that things are gone with the wind. When it comes to the Spanish version, you can also learn one thing: the wind se lleva things in Spanish, literally and metaphorically.
So do not be puzzled if you are in Spain and you hear a neighbor say:
¡El viento se ha llevado la ropa!
(The wind has blown away my clothes!)
Don’t let the wind blow away your knowledge of Spanish and go back to learning. Las palabras se las lleva el viento because they are weightless, but your knowledge, now that is something just for weightlifters to lift!
Speaking of which, weightlifting is called levantamiento de pesas in Spanish, but you can show off a little and say halterofilia. Your Spanish friends with be shocked!
12. No hay mal que cien años dure, ni cuerpo que lo resista.
Literal translation: There is no evil that could last one hundred years, nor body that could endure that.
English equivalent: Nothing goes on forever.
Now this saying may not be funny at first sight. We have, of course, the hope that our situation will change and bad times will not last forever, but how can hope be funny?
The humorous bit comes from the fact that you can change this saying to make it suitable for the situation someone is going through. Since there are countless situations, there can also be countless versions for this proverb, which is when fun and crazy start.
We are talking humor today, so I am going to show you two possible versions of this saying. I am sure if you start using this in your conversations with your Spanish friends, they will split their sides laughing.
No hay mal aliento que cien años dure.
(Bad breath doesn’t go on forever)
No hay camisa manchada de vino que cien años dure.
(No wine-stained shirt will be like that forever.)
Obviously, you need to find the right moment to use this saying, and you need to mean it sarcastically or ironically, otherwise it will not be funny at all, and you friend could even get mad at you. However, when you use it correctly, it should give you a lot of bonus points!
I hope you have enjoyed this post and that you have had your daily share of laughs. Remember, speaking Spanish does not only consist of a bunch of grammar rules and learning a million words learned by heart. There is much more to it.
Sayings and proverbs are a very important part of every language, and if you add this to the fact that Spaniards love to laugh, you will for sure not get bored in your way to fluency.
See you next time, kids, and don’t forget to laugh!
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If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.