In every culture, words of wisdom are passed down from one generation to the next in the form of sayings, adages, idioms, or proverbs. In Spanish, these sayings are called dichos (from the verb decir – to say) and they’re a rich part of the oral tradition in Latin countries.
Dichos are short phrases that are packed with valuable life lessons. They’re frequently used by parents and grandparents to teach character traits to the younger generation. Dichos may be intended to relay serious and important messages, but they are often witty and colorful, peppering daily speech with charming expressions of wisdom.
Just Like English!
Some dichos are very similar to ones commonly used in English. Since the translations are fairly direct, it’s an easy and fun way to learn some Spanish vocabulary!
- La risa es el mejor remedio. (Laughter is the best remedy/medicine.)
- Más vale tarde que nunca. (Better late than never.)
- A caballo regalado, no se le mira el comillo. (Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.)
- Aprendiz de todo, maestro de nada. (Jack of all trades, master of none.)
A Charming Twist
Other dichos have less literal translations but have meanings that are like those in common English sayings. They’re simply expressed in different ways or with different imagery. To say that children take after their parents (“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”) there are two popular Spanish dichos:
o El árbol se conoce por su fruta. (The tree is known by its fruit.)
o Hijo de tigre, sale pintado (A tiger’s son will have stripes)
“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” is expressed as, Barriga llena, corazón contento. (This literally means, “Full belly, happy heart.”)
Where English speakers might say, “Too many cooks spoil the broth,” Spanish wisdom says, Mucho ayuda el que no estorba. (Literally, “He who doesn’t interfere helps a lot.”)
Another favorite saying is En boca cerrada no entran moscas. (Flies don’t enter a closed mouth.) This relates to “Silence is golden” and advises that if you keep quiet you’re less likely to put your foot in your mouth!
Another way of saying, “Birds of a feather flock together,” would be Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres. (Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.)
“The shoemaker’s children always go barefoot,” has a slight twist in the Spanish dicho. The breadwinner has a career change! En casa de herrero, cuchillo de palo. (“In the blacksmith’s house the knives are wooden sticks,” or “The knives are always dull in a blacksmith’s house.”)
Doesn’t this one sound more charming in Spanish than the blunt English version, “You snooze, you lose!”? Camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente. (“The shrimp that falls asleep is swept away by the current.”)
Poetry in Everyday Language
Lots of Spanish dichos have a lyrical, rhyming tone and they add a little poetry to daily speech:
- Amor de padre o madre, que lo demás es aire. (Love of father and mother, the rest is pure air.)
- Del dicho al hecho hay mucho trecho. (From saying it to doing it is a long way, or “Easier said than done.”)
- Cuentas claras amistades largas. (Clear arrangements ensure long friendships.)
- La casa del jabonero es todo un resbaladero. (The house of the soap-maker is a slippery place.) This is kind of like Murphy’s Law – if something can go wrong, it will.
- Haz bien sin mirar a quien. (Do the right thing, regardless of who benefits.)
Wisdom in a Nutshell
Whether the lesson is about work ethic, maintaining friendships, preserving your health, or imparting old-fashioned common sense, Spanish dichos are a rich part of the culture in Spanish-speaking countries around the world.
If you’re interested in seeing more sayings, check out this website with 300 saying in Spanish and English!