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Spanish Animal Idioms

Let’s delve into the fascinating realm of idiomatic expressions once again with a collection of Spanish animal idioms. ¡Vamos allá!

Expat Gone Foreign, Language comics, idioms, phraseology, expresiones idiomáticas, fraseología, linguistics

If someone behaves in a peculiar or crazy manner, it’s safe to say that he or she “está como una cabra”. This idiom literally means “to be like a goat” and originated among farmers. If you have ever observed goats derping around, it’s easy to see how aloof they are.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language comics, idioms, phraseology, expresiones idiomáticas, fraseología, linguistics

The expression “estar como pez en el agua” literally means “to be like fish in the water” and is used to indicate that people are in their element. Think about it: fish feel best in their natural watery habitats.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language comics, idioms, phraseology, expresiones idiomáticas, fraseología, linguistics

“Estar como un pulpo en un garaje”, literally “to be like an octopus in a garage”, means being lost or feeling out of place. It’s the counterpart of “estar como pez en el agua”. Think about it, an octopus in a garage: must be pretty confusing to be surrounded by all kinds of weirdly shaped tools and discarded junk.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language comics, idioms, phraseology, expresiones idiomáticas, fraseología, linguistics

The idiom “tener pájaros en la cabeza”, literally “to have birds in your head”, doesn’t mean that these flying creatures built a nest inside your skull. It refers to someone who is a bit naive and has rather unrealistic ideas, expectations or goals. Although this expression has mildly negative connotations, daydreamers are happy to embrace their birds in the head, and coined the saying “Prefiero tener pájaros en la cabeza que vivir en las jaulas de vuestra mente” 1.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language comics, idioms, phraseology, expresiones idiomáticas, fraseología, linguistics

“Ser un pez gordo”, literally “to be one fat fish”, means being the boss or the person in charge who makes the decisions and holds the power. Other interlinguistic equivalents of “the fat fish” are “das hohe Tier” (the big animal) in German or “Важная птица” (the important bird) in Russian. You don’t want to mess around with the idiomatic fauna!

Expat Gone Foreign, Language comics, idioms, phraseology, expresiones idiomáticas, fraseología, linguistics

The idiom “trabajar como un burro”, literally “to work like a donkey”, means to work extremely hard. The hardworking relative in English would be the horse or the dog.

Eso es todo, amigos. If you enjoyed this post, check out these funny Spanish food idioms.

Understanding Locals

If you have had trouble understanding locals lately, fear not. Your language skills have not vanished overnight. Rather, the communication challenge switched to a whole different level of difficulty.Expat Gone Foreign, Language comics, linguistics, non-verbal communication, proxemics, kineticsDeciphering messages in any (foreign) language is a complex task on its own. Not only do you need to hear the message loud and clear, but also share the linguistic code of the speaker. Furthermore, the visual cues convey as much meaning as the audible information. In fact, words only account for 35% of the meaning in a conversation 2.

If you prefer face-to-face communication over phone calls, there’s a perfectly good reason: non-verbal cues are absent over the phone. You might hear the words, but the absence of gestures, facial expressions and eye contact might leave you at a loss.

In the current situation, most of these non-verbal cues are gone. In addition, speakers are often too far away to be heard, and face masks act like a barrier that muffles sound. Remember those times at the dentist when you can’t understand a word they are saying? As if speaking a foreign language weren’t difficult enough under normal circumstances.

Long story short: if you are a bit rattled, don’t doubt your skills. They are still there, you are just playing this round of the game in pandemic mode.

Spanish Food Idioms

In case you didn’t know already, I’m a huge contrastive phraseology nerd 2. So today I’m bringing you a collection of 10 Spanish food idioms. ¡Que aproveche! 2

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A problem or task “es pan comido” when it can be easily solved. Whereas in English something can be “a piece of cake”, Spanish speakers describe it as “eaten bread”. Why? Because bread is one of the most basic food items worldwide. It’s easy to make and even easier to consume, since you don’t even need cutlery or special abilities – as opposed to other goods that might require some skills and patience, such as seafood.

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When you “give someone pumpkins”, you are not offering them a squash snack but turning them down. Legend has it that pumpkins were considered an anti-aphrodisiac in Ancient Greece, and they were administered to folks in order to reduce their libido. Likewise, pumpkin seeds were recommended in the Middle Ages to ward off lascivious thoughts during prayer. The idiom “dar calabazas a alguien” made its way into Spanish in the context of courtship, and nowadays it’s used to reject someone’s amorous advances.

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The idiom “ser un chorizo” literally translates as “to be a spicy pork sausage”, and it describes people who steal from others. Contrary to popular belief, the etymological origin of this expression is not food related. In caló 3, the verb “chorar” (to steal) gave way to the noun “chori” (thief), and so did the idiom that Spanish speakers currently use – mostly to refer to their politicians.

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Yummy as it may be, this caramel custard dessert is shaky and wobbly as hell. If someone is trembling, shivering or extremely nervous, you can fairly say they “are like a flan”.

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The idiom “to be the (lemony) pear” emphasizes someone’s or something’s extreme coolness. But are pears inherently awesome? Not really! In order to unravel the origin of this expression, we shall travel back to 17th century Constantinople, specifically to Péra 4. Back in the day, this bustling district enchanted European merchants and visitors with its marketplace: spices, silks, perfumes, exotic products and handmade goods. Péra was definitely the pinnacle of awesomeness!

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Are you an attractive, good-looking person? Then it’s safe to say that “you are like a cheese”. Yummy and nice to relish in. Need I say more? Fun fact: what do cheese (English), Käse (German), kaas (Dutch) and fromage (French), formaggio (Italian), formatge (Catalan) have in common? The answer is caseus formaticum, which is Latin for “shaped cheese”. Mind-blown!

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“Having bad milk” doesn’t exactly mean that your dairy went bad, but rather, that you are a sour, grumpy person. It originated in the Middle Ages when wealthy ladies resorted to wet nurses who would feed their newborns. Wet nurses were picked meticulously, for it was thought that any psychological imbalance or poor cognitive skills could be passed on to the newborn through their “bad” milk. Ah, what a time to be alive!

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Whereas some people are dumb as rocks, Spanish speakers get “to be a melon”. The origin of this idiom is unclear. One theory suggests that it was brewed in a context of political disputes in Puerto Rico, when the Popular Democratic Party started referring to their rivals as “melons”, due to the emblematic color of the Puerto Rican Independence Party. If someone calls you “melón”, I suggest you look for new friends!

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What was first, the coconut or the head? The idioms “comerse el coco” (lit. to eat your coconut) and “comerse la cabeza” (lit. to eat your head 5) mean to overthink. Besides the fruit name, coco is colloquial for head, and both items are understood as containers where thoughts roam wild.

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Blushing is part of our fight or flight response. When we are embarrassed, adrenaline speeds up our heart rate and dilates our blood vessels. So we turn visibly red, or if you speak Spanish, you “become (like) a tomato”. Because come on, is there anything redder than this fruit?

Eso es todo, amigos. If you enjoyed this post, check out these hilarious German idioms.

Do you like my comics? Consider tossing some virtual coins into my art supply jar. ¡Hasta pronto!

Nahuatl Loan Words

I have been looking into indigenous languages lately, so today I’m bringing you some Nahuatl loan words that you probably use every day. But first things first:

  • In Nahuatl, <tl> is pronounced /t͡ɬ/ 6.
  • It belongs to the Uto-Aztecan language family 2.
  • Nahuatl literally translates as “clear or pleasant sound”.
  • Nahuatl used pictographs and ideographs, and later on acquired the Latin script, which was used to record a large amount of poetry, prose, administrative and legal documents.
  • Nowadays Nahuan languages are spoken by about 1.5 million people, most of whom live in central Mexico, and the different varieties are not always mutually intelligible.

The Spanish language has tons of words of Nahuan origin, and some of them made it into English through a process of secondary borrowing. Let’s take a look:Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, nahuatl, loan words, indigenous languages

Tomato was borrowed from the Spanish tomate in 17th century. It’s a compound of tomohuac (swelling, fatness)  and atl (water), used to refer to spherical fruits or berries with many seeds and watery pulps.Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, nahuatl, loan words, indigenous languages

Avocado was borrowed from the Spanish aguacate in the 17th century. Popular opinion suggests that ahuacatl means testicle due to the the shape of avocados. Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, nahuatl, loan words, indigenous languages

Jalapeno was borrowed from the Spanish jalapeño in the 20th century. This type of pepper is native to the Mexican municipality of Jalapa, named after the Aztec Xalapan. The latter is a compound of xalli (sand), atl (water) and pan (place).Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, nahuatl, loan words, indigenous languages

Chili 3, the loan word for spicy peppers, was introduced in the 17th century. By the way, there are a few theories that explain the etymology of the toponym Chile, none of which is related to the spicy condiment. Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, nahuatl, loan words, indigenous languages

Xocoatl was introduced into Spanish and French in the 17th century. It’s a compound made of xococ (bitter) and atl (water), and it originally referred to the drink made of water and cacao seeds.

That’s all for now! If you are into linguistic curiosities, check out more illustrated articles here.

Virelangues · French Tongue Twisters

This week, French gets its turn with an illustrated collection of tongue twisters or virelangues.

Tongue twisters are somewhat humorous phrases that rely on alliteration 4, rapid alternation between similar but distinct phonemes 2, and other phonetic devices that make them fairly difficult to articulate, even for native speakers.

Due to their phonetic complexity, tongue twisters are a fun way to train your ear and pronunciation in foreign languages. They can help you differentiate minimal pairs, train muscle placement and develop clearer speech patterns.

Thanks to my friend François, you can listen to the pronunciation of each virelangue. Just click on the audio track below each illustration. Allons-y!

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Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, French tongue twisters, virelangues, Zungenbrecher, trabalenguas

 

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, French tongue twisters, virelangues, Zungenbrecher, trabalenguas

 

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, French tongue twisters, virelangues, Zungenbrecher, trabalenguas

 

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, French tongue twisters, virelangues, Zungenbrecher, trabalenguas

 

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, French tongue twisters, virelangues, Zungenbrecher, trabalenguas

 

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, French tongue twisters, virelangues, Zungenbrecher, trabalenguas

 

C’est fini! Do you have a favorite virelangue, or maybe one that is impossible to pronounce? Do you know more tongue twisters? Leave me a comment!