Spanish is full of funny phrases about animals.
Have you ever heard that someone’s “like a bull in a china shop” or “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”?
Before we go any further, let’s do an animal vocabulary check:
- Perro (dog)
- Gato (cat)
- Elefante (elephant)
- Caballo (horse)
- Cabra (goat)
- Lince (lynx)
- Águila (eagle)
- Zorro (fox)
- Serpiente (snake)
- Pájaro (bird)
- Oruga (caterpillar)
- Pulga (flea)
- Ratón (mouse) Hint: careful not to mix this up with rata (rat)
- Asno (donkey)
- Mosca (fly)
- León (lion)
Now that we’ve got these animals down pat, let’s give this a whirl.
Here’s a list of top fun, funny and thought-provoking animal sayings in Spanish.
Let’s see who can weave the most of these babies into casual Spanish conversation this week. And…GO!
Go Hog Wild: Learn 20 Animal Phrases in Spanish
1. Not-so-delicate Elephant
Como un elefante en una cacharrería.
Translation: Like an elephant in a crockery shop.
Meaning: This is the Spanish equivalent of the English classic “like a bull in a china shop.” If someone is being loud or they are clumsy or indelicate, they are como un elefante en una cacharrería.
Use it when…Your friend comes home after a big night out. He decides to make spaghetti but only ends up making a racket.
2. Equine Gift
A caballo regalado, no le mires el diente.
Translation: Don’t look at the tooth of a gift horse.
Meaning: You’ve probably heard this one, minus the funny bit about the tooth. In English, the saying is “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” If you get a gift, appreciate it. Don’t ask for more or scrutinize.
Use it when…Your sister gets a car for her 16th but is disappointed because it’s a relic from the ’90s. Boo hoo! Sorry sis…a car is a car.
3. Feeling Antsy (or Catsy?)
Tengo un gato en mis pantalones.
Translation: I have a cat in my pants.
Meaning: Say what?! In English, we usually say “I have ants in my pants!” Whether you’ve got a cat or ants in your pants, you’re probably feeling a little antsy or restless, right?
Use it when…You have been sitting in class all day and can’t take it anymore. You’ve got to jump around to burn off some extra energy.
4. Your Morning Caterpillar
El que madruga coge la oruga.
Translation: He who gets up early takes the caterpillar.
Meaning: If you’re familiar with the English saying “the early bird gets the worm,” then you’ve got this one down. Wake up early and you’ll be rewarded.
Use it when…You get up early and polish off the orange juice (aka your “oruga”). Your late-rising family wakes up to discover that the juice has disappeared.
5. Eagle Eye
Tienes una vista de águila (lince).
Translation: You have the sight of an eagle (lynx).
Meaning: You can see really well…so well you’re like a lynx or an eagle. Because they see really well. In English we might call someone with good sight an “eagle eye.”
Use it when…You get separated from your significant other at an outdoor festival. It’s a real life “Where’s Waldo” book. Your friend spots your sweetie all the way on the other side of the stage. You know what to say now, right?
6. Ten Lives?
Tienes más vidas que un gato.
Translation: You have more lives than a cat.
Meaning: You lucky duck! How did you get away with that stunt without causing serious damage? (Note: my Spanish colleagues have informed me that in Spain cats only have seven lives instead of nine! Something to keep in mind, especially if you’re on number seven.)
Use it when…You’re at the hospital visiting a friend / wannabe stuntman who broke his leg in his fifth biking accident this year. Could have been way worse.
7. Like a Fox
Eres más astuto que un zorro.
Translation: You are more cunning than a fox.
Meaning: Foxes are astutos (cunning). If you are MORE astuto than a fox, then you’re pretty darn cunning, aren’t you? You are clever and sneaky in order to get what you want.
Use it when…Your mischievous friend is up to something…again!
8. Snake’s Tongue
Tiene lengua de serpiente.
Translation: He has the tongue of a snake.
Meaning: Snakes get a bad rap. If someone says you have a snake’s tongue, they’re inferring that you’re talking smack about others or in more simple terms, talking badly about others.
Use it when…Your mother-in-law is at it again.
9. Gotta Jet!
Pablo salió haciendo fu como el gato.
Translation: Pablo left running super fast like the cat.
Meaning: Pablo took off, jetted, split…and at lightning speed. You’ve seen a spooked cat run, right?
Use it when…You want to describe how fast your guy friend left when you started talking about “girl” stuff. Works every time.
10. Dance, Dog, Dance!
Con el dinero baila el perro.
Translation: With money, the dog dances.
Meaning: Anything is possible with the right amount of moolah.
Use it when…You’re talking about how you dared your friend to chug milk for $5 and he did it. Pure evil.
11. Fly Away
Dando y dando, pajarito volando.
Translation: Giving and giving, the bird flies.
Meaning: This is one of those scratch my back and I will scratch yours kinda phrases. If I scratch your back a few times, you’ve gotta scratch mine or I’m not going to scratch yours anymore. Capisce?!
Use it when…You’re making deals with your siblings about who’s making what for Thanksgiving.
12. Watch Out for Fleas
Quien con perros se echa, con pulgas se levanta.
Translation: He who lies with dogs gets up with fleas.
Meaning: If you hang out with an unsavory lot you’re bound to encounter some problems.
Use it when…You’re commenting on a friend’s choice to hang with the “cool” crowd that doesn’t have her back.
13. Handy Bird
Más vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando.
Translation: A bird in hand is more valuable than a hundred in the sky.
Meaning: If you’ve heard the English saying “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” then you’re on your way to getting this one. It’s better to have a sure bet than lots of long shot possibilities.
Use it when…You’re in Las Vegas. Your friends have blown hundreds trying to hit the jackpot. You on the other hand still have your spending money (“Oh me? I don’t gamble!”) and are quite smug about it too.
14. Mice Party!
Cuando el gato sale, los ratones bailan.
Translation: When the cat goes out, the mice dance.
Meaning: When the head honcho / boss / authority figure is out, certain liberties are taken by the underlings.
Use it when…You’re at work and your boss is on vacay. Two hour margarita lunch, anyone?
15. Prevent Rabies
Muerto el perro, se acabó la rabia.
Translation: Death of the dog, end of the rabies.
Meaning: To solve a problem, the best approach is to attack the cause or get to the root of it.
Use it when…You’re consoling a friend who has finally quit that no-good job that was causing her grief. Life is going to be sooo much better now.
16. No Honey for the Donkey, Okay?
No se hizo la miel para la boca del asno.
Translation: Honey wasn’t made for the mouth of a donkey.
Meaning: The English equivalent of this saying is “you’re casting pearls before swine.” Basically, don’t give the best stuff to the undeserving.
Use it when…You’re talking about online dating duds with your friends.
17. Close Your Mouth
En boca cerrada no entran moscas.
Translation: In a closed mouth flies don’t enter.
Meaning: If you open your mouth and judge others, you will be subject to judgement. So keep your judgmental thoughts to yourself.
Use it when… You’ve resolved to spend less time worrying about the life choices of your friends. Live and let live. Post this saying on your bathroom mirror as a reminder.
18. Mouse in Charge
Más vale ser cabeza de ratón que cola de león.
Translation: It’s more valuable to be a mouse’s head than a lion’s tail.
Meaning: It’s better to be the head of something (even if it’s small potatoes) than be the low man on the totem pole at the fancy pants operation.
Use it when…Mom is bugging you about your job that you happen to love.
19. Kitten with Mittens?
Gato con guantes no caza ratones.
Translation: A cat with mittens doesn’t catch mice.
Meaning: You’ve got to take your gloves off to get things done. Get your hands dirty, you know?
Use it when…There’s a job to do and you’re just about to roll up your sleeves.
20. Turn on the Light
De noche, todos los gatos son pardos.
Translation: By night, all cats are brownish-gray.
Meaning: In the darkness, people look pretty much the same, making it easy to hide defects.
Use it when…You’re reflecting on why you gave your number to the “hot” guy you met at the bonfire party last week. Hah!
You’ve got the animals down and now you’ve got a few handy sayings…
What are you going to do with all these new animal inspired idioms?
Liven up your Spanish, of course.
I challenge you to “go hog wild” and weave three of these animal phrases into Spanish conversation this week. Try them on a native and you might even get a laugh and a “hey..how did she know that one?!”
Let us know how it goes!
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