Spanish Sayings

based on

Character Flaws and virtues

"Pandora's box ajar!"

What´s the Spaniard like? Exuberant, emotional, artistic, individualistic... and very much given to criticizing. Let´s see, then, how are character flaws and virtues, and the persons who embody them, addressed in Spanish sayings.


Otoño en Sagasta
Enrique López Suárez

We begin by Spanish sayings that deal with the arrogant, the greedy and the envious...

Lo mío, mío, y lo tuyo, de entrambos
Mine for me and yours for us both
This is about the person who believes in sharing…other people´s things.

Quien al cielo escupe, en la cara le cae
Whoever spits into the sky, will have spittle fall onto his face.
This saying reprehends the arrogant and predicts that life will pay him in kind. Disdain is reciprocated...measure for measure.

Juan Palomo, yo me lo guiso y yo me lo como
Juan Palomo, I cook it and it's mine to eat
This saying rebukes the egoist for not letting others partake of the fruits of his labor.

Amigo de Santo Tomás, siempre tomas y nunca das
Friend of Saint Thomas, always taking and never giving
This is a play of words on Tomás and tomas characterizing the egoist, forever looking for opportunities of receiving from others and never himself sharing.

Gusta lo ajeno más por ajeno que por bueno
We like other people´s belongings more for being other people´s than for being good in themselves
Envy can mar our judgment making us regard other people’s things or their circumstances as more desirable than they really are. The equivalent saying in English might be: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”.

Some people will, wittingly or unwittingly, take advantage of our good will if they only have a chance. We are warned in the following Spanish sayings …

Haceos de miel, y os comerán las moscas
Be as sweet as honey and the flies will eat you up


Al villano, dadle el dedo, y se tomará la mano
Offer a villain a finger and he´ll take your whole hand
There are people who act abusively towards those with a helping disposition. This shouldn’t deter us from striving to develop into genuinely giving people, though. On the other hand, one should heed this warning and know how to avoid falling into the hands of the advantageous.

Spaniards may at times be slow to act, but not for lack of good advice...

No dejes para mañana lo que puedas hacer hoy
Don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today


Por la calle de 'Mañana' se llega a la plaza de 'Nunca'
The street of “Tomorrow” leads to the square of “Never”
In both cases, we are exhorted not to procrastinate.

Mientras el necio piensa, hace el sabio la hacienda
While the fool is thinking, the wise man makes his fortune
This saying advises us not to dwell too long on considerations and plans prior to acting. The advice to “get one’s feet wet” is good; one will learn along the way.

About the faint-hearted…

Peligro pasado, el cobarde es esforzado
Danger past, the coward officiously gives his orders
Everyone can act “bravely” once a situation ceases to be hazardous.

Such is the lot of the idle…

A raposo durmiente, no le amanece la gallina en el vientre
A sleeping fox won’t wake up with a chicken in its stomach
This saying reproves the lazy, whose slackness results in lack of accomplishment.

Camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente
The sleeping shrimp is swept away
By failing to exert due effort one risks losing one’s place, one´s standing, one’s privileges…

An anecdote about moral frailty…

El hombre es fuego; la mujer, estopa; llega el diablo y sopla
Man is fire; woman tow is; comes the devil and blows...
This warns us to avoid excessive familiarity with individuals of the opposite gender.

About the virtue of keeping quiet…or its want…

Cual más cual menos, todos por qué callar tenemos
Some more, some less, we all have reasons for remaining silent
When tempted to judge other people harshly, it´s good to remember that we also have our faults and failings… of which we are much more forgiving. Let’s judge people favorably and gain the merit of being judged likewise (in Heaven, at all events).

La mujer y el niño, sólo callan lo que no han sabido
Both woman and child only keep to themselves what they don´t know
...Looks like some chatterbox or other ruined women´s reputation concerning our ability to be discreet and keep secrets…

La palabra es plata y el silencio es oro
Word is silver and silence gold
Knowing how to keep silence is a great attribute…

…so much so, that…

Loco que sabe callar, por cuerdo es tenido
The madman who knows how to keep silent is held to be sane
It´s not always even necessary to know how to talk wisely. The mere ability to refrain from talking can improve greatly on the impression made on others.

Would we only learn how to feel for others…

El mal ajeno, del pelo cuelga
Other people´s misfortunes are like ribbons hanging from our hair (we can easily forget all about them).
We have this and many other Spanish Sayings from Miguel de Cervantes in the mouth of Sancho Panza.
All too often, we fail to be authentically empathetic when others suffer.

And to end on a good note, the last gift of Pandora´s box...


Al hombre bueno no le busques abolengo
Don´t examine the lineage of the virtuous man
Real virtue is worth more than inherited reputation. If a person is genuinely good that is enough; why go looking into his genealogy? In the tragicomedy “La Celestina”, ascribed to Fernando de Roja, we have an equivalent phrase…

Las obras hacen linaje
Deeds make their own lineage

And, when time comes to muster up all our strength and resources, we say…

A pan duro, diente agudo
To hard bread apply a sharp tooth
Trying situations in life call for decisiveness, exertion and our intelligence.

Okay, looks like we've reached the end of the page. But we've surely learned, through these Spanish sayings, something new about the Spanish language and have come a step closer to feeling the collective conscience of the Spanish people.

By the way, can you use some practical advice for life? Check out these Spanish Sayings, then!


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