Spanish Sayings

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Practical Rules for Life

Spanish sayings present us with an interesting array of prescriptions to help us succeed in life and avoid its stumbling blocks…

spanish port

Reflejos en el Puerto Viejo
Enrique López Suárez

A nuevos tiempos, nuevas costumbres
In changing times, new habits
Adapt your ways to life's ever changing circumstances. Travel light along the road of life, holding on only to customs and practices which have good reason to be.

Al perro que duerme, no lo despiertes
Let sleeping dogs lie
Why ask for trouble? If a certain issue arouses animosity and controversy, avoid it!

Agáchate y entrarás
Bow down and you´ll get in
Being humble gains us favor in people's eyes. Having people´s good will, in turn, makes it more likely that we'll achieve our goals.

Antes de hacer nada, consúltalo con la almohada
Before doing anything, sleep on it
This Spanish saying is telling us not to be rash or overhasty. It‘s often wise to let ideas settle and ripen, at least overnight, instead of leaping into decision-time.

In the same vein…

A gran prisa, gran vagar
When you are in a hurry, take your time
Being in too great a rush to do something can actually result in us wasting time. You have a top-priority task before you? All the more reason to proceed carefully and methodically…
In other words, and to paraphrase Dr. Ken Evoy: “Turtle it!”

Al buen día, mételo en casa
When fortune (good day) appears, bear it into your house
When opportunity presents itself, be quick to grasp it!

Which reminds us of that other saying:

A la ocasión la pintan calva
Opportunity is painted bald
The origin of this well-known Spanish saying goes back to Greek mythology, in which the spirit of opportunity, Kairos, was indeed represented bald, except for a lock of hair on his forehead. This is symbolic, of course, of the difficulty of grasping “him” as he rushes past.

No cantes gloria hasta el fin de la victoria
Don´t sing glory till the victory is complete
Don’t divert your energy by entertaining people or yourself with your achievement or feat as long as it is not yet consumated. It may seem to be as good as done, but don´t let go of it and keep the evil eye away: it could still go wrong…
Remember the Mexican saying “Del plato a la boca se cae la sopa” and its English equivalent “There is many a slip between the cup and the lip”.

Ni firmes carta que no leas ni bebas agua que no veas
Don´t sign a letter you haven't read nor drink from waters you haven't seen
This Spanish saying exhorts us to be cautious and check things first hand.

Cobra buena fama y échate a dormir
Make yourself a good reputation and lie down to sleep
According to this, once you’ve established a good reputation, you can pretty much “rest on your laurels”. As if by inertia, people will keep thinking well of you and close their eyes to your slips and shortcomings.

Allégate a los buenos y serás uno de ellos
Associate with the good and virtuous and you´ll become one of them
Choose good people to surround yourself and associate with and your character traits will improve. Also, being in the midst of good people you'll share in their collective destiny.

A las diez en la cama estés
A ten o’clock to bed
This Spanish saying gives us straightforward advice: to go to bed early in order to make the most of the next day and stay in good health.

Al médico, confesor y letrado, hablarles claro
To doctor, confessor and lawyer, speak clearly
Allow yourself to be helped. Talk frankly and unambiguously with those whose advice or help you seek.

Next come some rules of thumb on how to treat with bad people and potential enemies:

A pillo, pillo y medio
To a rascal, rascal and a half
Deal with the crafty and wicked on their own terms.

A mucha cortesía, mayor cuidado
Great politeness merits even greater caution
When somebody behaves over-politely towards you, suspect he´s scheming something and beware!

A enemigo que huye, puente de plata
To the fleeing foe, a silver bridge
When a rival, competitor or enemy flees the scene, be gracious and help make the departure as swift and smooth as possible.

Piensa mal, y acertarás
Think the worst and you´ll be right
This Spanish saying propounds a not very optimistic view of us humans. It tells us to be realistic and not to expect good behavior where bad behavior is possible…

And finally, some words on correct behavior and how to make one’s self beloved:

A casa de tu tía, mas no cada día
Visit your aunt, but not every day
As much as they might love you, don´t abuse of your relatives or friends nor tire them by visits too frequent or too lengthy.

Agua que no has de beber, déjala correr
Let the water that you won´t drink flow its course
If it’s none of your business, don’t stick your nose into it! Refrain from interfering and let things flow along their natural course.

A moro viejo, no aprendas algarabía
Don't teach an old moor arabic
“Aprender” in this case is used as “teach”
“Algarabía” is a reference to the Arab language, dating back to the times when moors ruled Spain.
Don´t make a fool of yourself by attempting to teach somebody who not only knows the subject much better than you do, but who is actually an authority in it.

El que tiene el tejado de vidrio, no tire piedras al de su vecino
He whose roof is of glass, shouldn´t throw stones at his neighbor’s
This saying admonishes us not to give free rein to our criticism of others. We have faults of our own and people could pay us back in the same coin.

Nunca digas 'De esta agua no beberé'
Never say “from these waters I’ll never drink”
You may feel you are worlds away from your fellow's undesirable situation and the way he copes with it... However, don’t be so sure you will never, ever, fall into the same straits. Life, our tango partner, takes unpredictable turns… and we must dance along with it!

Cuando las barbas de tu vecino veas pelar, pon las tuyas a remojar
When you see your neighbor´s beard being cropped, soak your own
When misfortune hits your peer, learn the lesson, fix yourself and be prepared. Think about it… couldn't it just as well be happening to you?

Quien teme el peligro, no vaya a la mar
Whoever fears danger, should not go to sea
If you fear danger, stay clear of it!

Reap some sound advice and let these Spanish sayings enrich your use of the Spanish language.

And don't forget to visit our other pages of Spanish sayings, for example this one, featuring some of the best-known among them!


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