Most of these Spanish proverbs, or proverbial phrases, are so well-known and commonly used, that if you are at all serious about learning Spanish, you simply can’t do without them…
Cada quien en su casa es rey
Panorama de Cenicero
Enrique López Suárez
No es tan bravo el león como lo pintan
The lion is not as fierce as it is made out to be.
This Spanish proverb is used to point out that a certain person is not as bad or fearsome as one had been led to think.
Lo cortés no quita lo valiente
Courtesy does not exclude courage
Being courteous and respectful does not mean we have to put up with everything…There´s nothing intrinsically wrong or impolite about protecting one´s dignity!
El hábito hace al monje
The habit makes the monk
The suit makes the man, it is said.
Our choice of clothing does not merely affect our appearance and define the persona we wish society to know us by. It can actually be a tool for molding our inner being. For instance, for the person wishing to acquire the virtue of modesty, wearing modest clothing is a good start.
La curiosidad mató al gato
Curiosity killed the cat
We say this whenever we want to discourage a person from indulging in excessive interest in other people’s business... for instance our own.
Las paredes oyen
Walls have ears
We use this Spanish proverb as a hint to the person we are talking with that he should either avoid being explicit or, better still, change the subject altogether. Our concern is that there are people around who, under cover of being busy with their own business, are actually all ears for ours…. We are reminded of the Spanish saying: A buen entendedor, pocas palabras bastan.
Las malas noticias vuelan
Bad news flies
Human nature being what it is, the average mortal finds far more pleasure in spreading word about other people´s misfortunes than about their good luck…Accordingly, bad news travels faster.
Muchos cocineros estropean el caldo
Too many cooks spoil the broth
By getting in each other’s way and applying different methods and recipes to one same dish, multiple cooks are likely to end up with a soup salted twice over or not at all. In other words, it´s not always convenient to get too many people involved with a task…
Tejados y casas
Enrique López Suárez
Los trapos sucios se lavan en casa
Dirty clothes are washed at home
If you have issues to sort out with your spouse or other family members, do it in the privacy of your home. No need to let other people on!
El hambre agudiza el ingenio
Hunger sharpens the wit
Necessity is the mother of invention There´s nothing like necessity to bring out the best in us.
Cada uno sabe dónde le aprieta el zapato
Each person knows where his shoe hurts
Nobody knows as well as oneself where one´s sensitivities, foibles and vulnerabilities lie.
El águila no se entretiene en cazar moscas
The eagle doesn´t waste time hunting flies
Each according to his standing... Just like the eagle, in its majesty, chooses prey worthy of its dignity and size, so the stature of people is reflected in their choice of endeavors...and even in their choice of victims.
No se acuerda el cura de cuando fue sacristán
The priest doesn´t remember his days as a verger
On escalating to more influential positions, it´s a test not to forget our humbler days and continue being understanding of people of lower standing.
La cabra siempre tira al monte
The goat always seeks out the mountain heights
Sometimes we think we’ve come a long way in our life-time; but just like the goat, with its preference for high, rocky places, time and again we find ourselves acting the way we were conditioned to act in infancy and following our genetic predisposition.
La venganza es un plato que se sirve frío
Revenge is a dish which is served cold
Acts of revenge, more often than not, are not carried out in the heat of the moment. Rather, the person who keeps a grudge for an offense, real or imaginary, often thinks a good deal before acting, all the while stalking for an opportunity.
Una golondrina no hace verano
One swallow doesn’t make a summer
A single occurrence is insufficient to prove a theory or establish a rule.
Nunca falta un roto para un descosido
For someone unstitched there is always someone broken
This Spanish proverb can be used with two different meanings:
Firstly, as a consolation to the effect that we are not the only ones struck by a particular affliction. Somewhere, somebody suffers a lot similar to our own...
And secondly, as an ironically-tinged comment when somebody with an evident disability or disadvantage pairs up with someone else with some analogous condition.
El infierno está empedrado de buenas intenciones
Hell is paved with good intentions
This phrase is attributed to Samuel Johnson.
To have good intentions is just not good enough... One needs to convert them into deeds. This is said to reprove the person who makes promises but is not punctilious about keeping them, or who has plans but fails to make good on them.
Lo prometido es deuda
What has been promised, is debt.
How did our words become so devoid of meaning? We would do well by taking this Spanish proverb to heart and starting to regard our words as oaths.
El mundo es un pañuelo
The world is a handkerchief
Ours is, indeed, a small world. This Spanish proverb is used upon meeting somebody unexpectedly after a long time and in an unlikely place.
La verdad es hija del tiempo
Truth is time’s daughter
Things may be confused and what exactly “happened” may be unclear. But the truth will come out in time.
Or, according to my own interpretation:
Being only humans, we often lack the perspective to see the “big picture” and assess the real value of things. But time is sure to tell…
No hay rosa sin espinas
No rose without thorns
Happiness is never quite perfect. There’ll always be some trouble or displeasure. This Spanish proverb reminds us of the Mexican saying: Nunca falta un pelo en la sopa.
No hay que mentar la soga en casa del ahorcado
Don´t mention the hangman’s noose in the house of someone who died by it.
This proverb exhorts us to be sensitive of other people´s feelings and not to mention anything bound to evoke pain.
De ilusión también se vive
Also of hope and aspiration do we live
Life is not only about “getting there” but also about “dreaming of getting there”. And even when we do not quite get to the place we dream of, hope is what keeps us going and allows us get anywhere at all. This Spanish proverb is said by way of consolation when life doesn´t grant us our yearnings.
We express our heartfelt thanks to the Spanish artist Enrique López Suárez for letting us reproduce some of his beautiful paintings on this site. To visit Enrique López Suárez's gallery please follow the link.
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