28 Spanish Phrases & Jokes That Don't Quite Translate

28 Funny Spanish Phrases & Sayings That Don’t Quite Translate

28 Spanish Phrases & Jokes That Don't Quite Translate

There are dozens of funny Spanish phrases and sayings that will make you sound more like a native when conversing with friends and family. These sayings and jokes provide a unique “cultural window” that reflects the morals and values of many Spanish-speaking countries.

However, many of these funny things to say in Spanish don’t quite translate to English.  Check out the list below to see just how much Spanish speakers love to play around with words! (Translations included).

28 Funny Spanish Phrases, Sayings, & Jokes

Querer es poder.

Literal translation:
Wanting to, is being able to.

What it actually means:
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

This wise saying points to the resilient heart of Spanish culture, that even if an obstacle appears insurmountable at first, you can overcome it!

No hay mal que por bien no venga.

Literal translation:
There’s nothing bad that doesn’t occur in the name of a greater good.

What it actually means:
Every cloud has a silver lining.

This is one of our favorite funny Spanish sayings. It points to a belief in Spanish culture that even if an event appears negative, you should trust that it happened for a reason. Life is giving you what you need now, even if it feels rough.

You can also attribute it to the belief in a greater good, or a greater power.

Échale ganas.

Literal translation:
Insert desire.

What it actually means:
Try your best.

Ponte las pilas.

Literal translation:
Put your batteries on.

What it actually means:
Work hard.

Es mejor pedir perdón que permiso.

Literal translation:
It’s better to apologize than to ask for permission.

What it actually means:
Do what you need to do now.

Here the attitude is “you better just do what you need to do now and worry about the consequences after,” highlighting another cultural proclivity toward staying in the present moment and doing whatever is needed in that moment.

SEE ALSO: 35 Spanish Slang Words

Despacio que tengo prisa.

Literal translation:
Slowly that I’m in a rush.

What it actually means:
Slower is faster.

Many funny Spanish sayings also have a bit of wise advice attached to them. This one suggests that doing what you need to do slowly and thoroughly is more productive in the long-run.

Más vale mal por conocido que bueno por conocer.

Literal translation:
Known evil is better than unknown good.

What it actually means:
Be content with what you have now.

This saying suggests that known imperfection is better than idealizing a future alternative that may not be too good at all. This is a double-edged sword, however, as staying in your comfort zone can actually prevent you from better options.

Él que transa no avanza.

Literal translation:
He who deceives never advances.

What it actually means:
Deception never pays off.

This rhymes smoothly but only in Spanish.

Tirar la casa por la ventana.

Literal translation:
Throw the house out the window.

What it actually means:
Roll out the red carpet.

This saying is about splurging on special occasions, namely spending a lot of money when the situation warrants it.

Mandar a alguien por un tubo.

Literal translation:
Send someone through a tube.

What it actually means:
Tell them to shove it.

This is about setting limits when people don’t treat you right.

Quedarse con los brazos cruzados.

Literal translation:
Staying with your arms crossed.

What it actually means:
He/she froze.

This is when someone gets paralyzed and doesn’t act when they need to.

Caras vemos corazones no sabemos.

Literal translation:
We see faces but we don’t know hearts.

What it actually means:
Don’t judge a book by its cover.

This isn’t one of the funny things to say in Spanish, but rather something more serious. It means that you should realize things aren’t always the way they appear.

Mejor solo que mal acompañado.

Literal translation:
It’s better to be alone than in bad company.

What it actually means:
It’s okay to be alone sometimes.

This saying reminds people to take care of themselves in relationships.

De golosos y tragones, están llenos los panteones.

Literal translation:
Cemeteries are full of greedy people.

What it actually means:
Care for others — or else.

This saying works in English but doesn’t rhyme at all.

Camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente.

Literal translation:
A shrimp that sleeps is carried away by the current.

What it actually means:
You snooze, you lose.

Here, again, the rhyme is lost in translation but it’s a good reminder to seize opportunties as they come your way.

Más vale un pájaro en mano que ciento uno volando.

Literal translation:
One bird in hand is better than 100 birds flying.

What it actually means:
A bird in hand is worth two in a bush.

The meaning behind this message is simple: you already have something that’s guaranteed yours, so don’t be greedy and try to grab two more that may or may not be yours.

Se puso hasta las chanclas.

Literal translation:
He/she put themselves up to the sandals.

What it actually means:
He/she got hammered.

There are many funny Spanish phrases that have to do with drinking. Use this one when you have a friend who got a little too carried away the night before!

Palabras necias, oídos sordos.

Literal translation:
Annoying words, deaf ears.

What it actually means:
If you don’t have anything positive to say, don’t say anything at all.

Nobody likes to listen to someone nagging, so it’s better to keep quiet!

Entre la espada y la pared.

Literal translation:
Between the sword and the wall.

What it actually means:
Between a rock and a hard place.

This describes a difficult situation where no matter what you do, it feels like the wrong choice.

Del dicho al hecho hay mucho trecho.

Literal translation:
There’s a giant gap between the saying and the action.

What it actually means:
It’s easier said than done.

Sometimes it’s easier to talk about an action getting done than to physically carry it out.

Se fue de Guatemala a Guata-peor.

Literal translation:
It went from Guate-bad to Guata-worse.

What it actually means:
Things went from bad to worse.

This play on words is clearly compromised in the translation, as the original saying in Spanish uses the country Guatemala, which has the word “bad” in its last two syllables.

Entre broma y broma la verdad se asoma.

Literal translation:
Between jokes and jokes, the truth lurks.

What it actually means:
Jokes can reveal truths.

The beautiful rhyming in Spanish is again lost in the English translation.

RELATED: 50 Beautiful Spanish Words

Now let’s look at some funny Spanish phrases and jokes to share with your friends!

¿Qué le dijo un pez a otro pez? Nada.

Translation:

What did one fish say to another? Nada.

The word “nada” in Spanish can refer to the command to swim, or the word “nothing.” So this joke is a play-on-words

Hay dos palabras que te abrirán muchas puertas: Empuje y jale.

Translation:

There are two words that will open many doors for you: push and pull.

This hilarious little joke is another play-on-words in Spanish.

¿Qué le dijo una ganza a la otra? Venganza

Translation:

What did one goose say to the other? Revenge.

If you separate the first syllable ven, meaning “come,” from the next two, ganza meaning “goose,” you’ll see that the joke’s answer simultaneously reads, “come goose” and the word “revenge.”

Clearly, this joke does not work in English, so if it were translated in a movie, the subtitles wouldn’t capture it well, no matter how skilled the translator is. Talk about a dad joke!

Se encuentran dos abogados y uno le dice al otro:

-¿Vamos a tomar algo?

-Bueno… ¿de quién?

Translation:

There are two lawyers and one says to the other:

-“Let’s get a drink.”

-“Yes. From who?”

In Spanish the verb tomar (“to take”) is also used to mean “to drink,” so the lawyers are “taking a drink” and “taking something from someone” simultaneously. This highlights the cultural tendency to view lawyers as corrupt, opportunistic, and greedy.

“¡Te dije que me gustan las películas viejas y buenas y tú me llevaste a una película de viejas buenas!”

Translation:

“I told you I liked good and old movies, but you took me to see a movie with pretty women!”

This play-on-words is especially complicated. While vieja means “old,” it also refers to a woman, and while buena usually means “good,” it can also mean “attractive” when referring to a person.

Now that you know these sayings, you won’t feel confused if you hear them in conversation! Good luck with your Spanish studies and learning the intricacies of this fascinating language and culture.

What other funny Spanish phrases, sayings, or jokes have you come across? Leave a comment and let us know!

JasonNPost Author: Jason N.
Jason N. tutors English and Spanish in Athens, GA. He majored in Spanish at UC Davis and studied Spanish Literature and Psychology at the University of Costa Rica. Learn more about Jason here!  

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for convenient, affordable private lessons today!

Tags: , , ,
3 replies
  1. maruxa
    maruxa says:

    goose is ganso ( male ) or gansa ( female ) , but in American Spanis, s, z and soft c are pronunced the same , so , venganza , and ven, gansa sound the same.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *