Friday Five – cubas, novias, culatas, patas y vacas

View halloo! It’s been a while, but it’s been a semana de locos, sí o no? My first full work week, we had Leap Day (día bisiesto), I moved into a new house, we marched into March, my first payday came and went, and on Friday my area was under a tornado warning and I had to huddle in the closet. Thank God it’s the weekend. Now that I’m finally amañada here, let me review how my Spanish learning is going. And where. It’s accountability time.

Where is my Spanish coming from these days? Let’s see. I’m reading Spanish texts all day every day at work. I try to talk to my partner Mónica exclusively in Spanish, whether it’s things about the work we’re doing or just chitchat. I go salsa dancing every weekend and have a great deal of Latin friends here with whom I only speak Spanish. That gives me several hours of speaking practice, although I still wish I had more, especially in groups. It’s just a matter of meeting and befriending more people. Talking to people one-on-one is way too easy for me, and the progress I can make in this area is rather minimal. I struggle in large groups, however, to catch the fast-flying Spanish, follow the ever-changing topic, and understand all the nuances of the slang and jokes. I tend to chat with several friends in Colombia and here where I live in Spanish just about every night for a good while on Facebook. And, like always, I’m always reading novels in Spanish and listening to music. To learn more and learn better, I’d really like to watch TV in Spanish, read more news articles and other non-fiction in Spanish, and, as I said before, spend more time in groups speaking Spanish. As of next week, I’m going to start listening to music and podcasts in Spanish while I work. How am I doing? Seems pretty comprehensive to me, but all the input in the world won’t make any difference if it doesn’t STICK. For me, things stick when I hear them used in authentic contexts, see and hear them repeatedly, and then USE them. I must keep hablando hasta por los codos . . . y las rodillas . . . y los ojos . . . y las muñecas and everything else. Gotta get gabby.

I know it’s not Friday, but this is synecdoche, folks, where a part (Friday) in fact represents a greater whole (the weekend). Here are some colorful phrases I’ve learned lately. Please share with me what you’ve been learning as well.

1. Estar borracho/a como una cuba – to be drunk as a skunk, to be plastered

cuba is a barrel, so just imagine how inebriated that wood would get if it had several gallons of alcohol sloshing around in it. Totally wasted, drunk off its ass. I learned this when one of my coworkers wondered out loud if “Cuba” actually meant anything, and then Mónica taught us this phrase.

2. Quedarse como novia de rancho- vestida y alborotada – to be all dressed up with no place to go, to be left high and dry, to be stood up

My Mexican friend Leonardo taught me this, and I was already familiar with some equivalents that have to do with curling your hair– quedarse con los crespos hechos in Colombia, quedarse con los churos hechos in Ecuador. With the novia de rancho, the idea is of a country girl from the old days who gets all excited and dolled up for her wedding day, and then her fiancé jilts her at the altar. It’s used more generally when you get excited about something and then get stood up or let down by someone at the last minute. The standard way to say to stand somebody up is dejar plantado/a a alguien.

3. Salirle el tiro por la culata a alguien – to backfire on someone

And this came from a Canadian friend’s post on Lang-8. Inspiration is endless! You’re literally saying that the bullet came out the butt of the gun and hit you, which makes the image much more vivid than it is with “backfire.”

4. Buscarle la quinta pata al gato – to overcomplicate things, to overthink things

I already knew this phrase, but I seem to have a constant need to use it now in my workplace. Sometimes I consciously think to myself, El gato tiene cuatro patas. El gato tiene cuatro patas. ¡No hace falta que le busques otra! The idea is that you shouldn’t waste your time or energy looking for problems that don’t exist (or just barely exist). Don’t split hairs. Don’t try to find the cat’s fifth paw. Don’t make your life or work more complicated than it needs to be. Simple!

5. El que se quema con leche ve una vaca y llora. – Once bitten, twice shy.

He who burns his mouth while drinking milk will burst into tears whenever he sees a cow. In true proverbial spirit, a little exaggerated, but you get the point. Once again, Mónica taught me this, but she had just learned it herself–she said she read it in a book and had liked the imagery of it. Surely it’s used somewhere.

I absolutely adore learning phrases and idioms in Spanish to make my Spanish more flavorful, don’t you? In my opinion, the only thing worse than speaking Spanish with mistakes is speaking bland, boring Spanish. I like to have fun with language and be as precise and playful as I can at all times. Who wants to sound like a robot? And, seriously, what could be more fun than blindsiding your listener with a Mexican fiancée, a barrel or a cat when they’re least expecting it?

_________________________________________________ Non-natives, what’s your experience with these phrases? Had you heard them before? How have you heard them used? Where? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with? 

9 responses to “Friday Five – cubas, novias, culatas, patas y vacas

  1. “Se quedó como novia de pueblo, vestida y alborotada” o, simplemente “se quedó como novia de pueblo”. I does happen.. anyway…

    “Buscarle tres pies al gato” (I never really got why this one, is kind of complicated but if you look into it, first cats have no feet but paws (patas), second.. well, I guess it is again, the logic of a four cannot be three.. still I think 5 pies is way more understandable.

    “No le busques ruido al chicharrón” it means.. like “don’t go pushing your luck” is more of a warning stuff as I’ve heard it.

    Do you know why is that they say bats smoke? I don’t, but “Fumar como un murcielago” seems to be meaningful somewhere though I am not sure of its meaning. Instead I’ve heard “fumar como chacuaco”.

    El gato de la foto está bien chido :)
    Me acordé de otra palabra rara: chipocludo; alguien hábil, alguien admirable.

    Bona nit.


    • Hola amigo,

      Gracias por el comentario.

      Sí, sé que a veces simplemente se dice en cambio la segunda mitad– que se quedó vestida y alborotada. Que yo sepa, es una frase de México, pero parece que se entiende y se conoce por muchas partes.

      Sí, sé que en ciertas partes se dice buscarle tres pies y en otras cinco. Para mí, tres pies no tiene lógica. Sí, hay que decir patas! No tienen pies. Se nota que la gente que dice eso está muy enredada y me atrevo a suponer que jamás ha visto un minino :)

      Jaja, tampoco debería buscarle ruido al chicharrón, eh? Qué interesante.

      Se dice que los murciélagos fuman?????? Yo no. Chacuaco? Qué palabra! Sí, en inglés decimos “to smoke like a chimney”. En Google, también veo fumar como un carretero, escuerzo (Arg.), chimenea y cosaco (ya conocía la frase beber como un cosaco). Hm, no sé cuál me gusta más. Probablemente murciélago y carretero.

      Y gracias por lo de chipocludo.


  2. Jeje, gente boba que no sabe distinguir las patitas de los gatos de sus propios pies, ese puede ser el caso también ^_^

    Los cosacos tienen fama de viciosos jejej sí, tienes razón.

    No hay de qué, amiga K, éste blog es bien chipocludo ;D


  3. *Estar borracho/a como una cuba: ?? Jaja, nunca lo escuché. Es muy muy gracioso.

    *Quedarse como novia de rancho- vestida y alborotada”, “quedarse con los crespos hechos”, “quedarse con los churos hechos”: El único que conocía era “dejar plantado a alguien”.

    *El que se quema con leche ve una vaca y llora: Sí, lo conocía, pero es gracioso. No es algo que vaya a decir un adolescente. Es más de alguien de cuarenta para arriba (por lo menos acá).

    Ah, y doy fe que “fumar como un escuerzo (o “como un sapo”) se usa en Argentina, aunque no te recomiendo que lo aprendas. Queda feo :P


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