Are you proud of speaking your language? You should be. Speaking a language gives you a unique perspective in the world. The great philosopher Wittgenstein said once: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” In layman terms, this means that our thoughts are limited by the words we use. Most of us think only by using the words of our language and, in a way, that language conditions our thoughts and lives overall.
It is easy to recognize that language and culture are deeply related. A common sign of this is that every language has expressions that do not translate into another language. Let’s not be dramatic to say that we are all somehow prisoners of our language. Let’s say: We all speak in different languages, therefore, we all live in different worlds.
Here are the 10 Spanish expressions that do not translate into English:
1. Te Quiero
The most common expression in any language is the word love. You say I love you to family members, close friends and romantic partners. But love is gradual. Isn’t it? Beginning a romantic relationship, most couples are reluctant to say I love you. It is clear they do share mutual feelings, which don’t reach the level of “love” yet. There is tension around guessing who will say “I love you” first.
Latinos do not suffer that tension. Te quiero means you have a certain fondness that might eventually increase to love. We easily say the expression “Te quiero” and are easily excused.
2. Estar Salado
Spilling salt is usually an evil omen in our superstitious world. In a way, it is also related as having bad luck. Latinos who have extremely bad luck are called “salados”, a term that is literally translated as “to be filled with salt”. People who are salados are usually avoided by superstitious Latinos. They believe that bad luck can be easily spread.
In Peru, pisar is a slang used referring to sex. But pisado is also used to typify a specific type of person. What kind of person? We’ll find out in a second.
Now, if you open an English dictionary and look for a word that describes a “person who is easily abused and manipulated by another, because of his/her extreme love for that person”, you will not find that word. Defenders of the English language would say “pushover!”, but pushover is used more generally, and does not really relate to love. “Pisado” is someone who is easily manipulated for their extreme infatuation of one person. Furthermore, estar pisado, has a extreme negative connotation.
After writing these lines, I am inclined to believe that Latinos love simplifying their expressions. When I moved to New York, I often complained of the cold weather. Everybody used to tell me: you are very sensitive of the cold weather, you are very sensitive of the cold weather. One day, I ventured to search if there was an exact word that could describe my case. No luck. Nowadays, I relish when someone says “you are very sensitive of the cold weather“, when all latinos have to say is: “Eres friolento”
The Sobremesa is the time spent at the table after eating. In the English Language, there is not a literal translation for sobremesa. In most Latin Nations, the Sobremesa is almost an institution.
A custom that has prevailed for generations, it is also the most relevant part of a family reunion. Usually all the most intimate, interesting and important topics are talked about in the Sobremesa. It is also popular knowledge that diplomatic missions save their better arguments for the Sobremesa. It makes sense since, right after eating, they are all relaxed and well disposed to engage in a serious discussion.
Article Continues Below
6. Echar La Casa Por La Ventana
Can you throw away your own house using the window of that house? The phrase does not even make sense. Literally, word by word, this is what Echar la casa por la ventana means. Bending the words a bit, it could mean “throwing all your house belongings outside the window’. But the popular phrase does not refer to either of them. We use this phrase whenever someone squanders a fortune in a future enterprise, or an special event like a wedding or birthday celebration.
7. Tomar El Pelo
For latinos,”tomar el pelo” means to tease someone. It could also mean to deceive someone. The exact translation of tomar el pelo is to “grab someone’s hair”. The relation between tomar el pelo and tease or deceive someone must be in the lack of respect both phrases imply.
8. Ponerse Las Pilas
Whenever Latinos see someone who is feeling lazy, tired, bored or disengaged, we say: ¡Ponte las pilas! An American who translates such expression will find it means: Place your batteries in. They will jokingly think that Latinos consider themselves machines or robots. For English speakers, the expression “Recharge your batteries” means to rest and regain your energy.
But for Latinos ponerse las pilas simply means: put more effort in what you do, or, get out of your comfort zone. It is hard to define how this phrase originated, but it implies of emulating the efficiency of a machine. The phrase is used in all Latin American Nations. We Latinos nos “ponemos las pilas”, because getting out of your comfort zone is the beginning of wisdom.
9. Por Si Las Moscas
For Latin American Nations affected by tropical climate, flies are a common nuisance. Therefore, the phrase “por si las moscas” whose vague translation is “Just in case the flies appear” alludes to being prepared in case of an unhappy event. Whenever Spanish language speakers talk about their measures of precaution, they often add “por si las moscas” at the end.
Tutear is another example of how Latinos love to simplify our language. What should we take the trouble of asking someone: Can I have the liberty of speaking to you in an informal manner? When all we have to say is “¿Te puedo tutear?
Tutear is a magical word because it transforms a conversation, both in the form and the content. After someone gives you the consent for “tutear”, you no longer address the other person as usted(the formal form of you) but you only use tu(the informal and familiar form of you).
Once again, we all live in different worlds, which are divided by the barriers of language. There are currently over 6,500 spoken languages, and every language has a distinctive way to see the world. So, do you want to transcend your own personal world? Begin traveling and learn new languages. The best education lies outside the walls of a secluded university. The best education can only be found in traveling.