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Spice up your Spanish with Some Mexican Sayings


Pura palabra... pura palabra...

Merely words... merely words...

nos divertimos a puras cosas de puro hablar.

we have fun with the simple act of talking.

Caption 27, La Banda Chilanguense - El habla de México - Part 2

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Have you checked out the construction workers from Mexico City that we are calling La Banda Chilanguese? These guys really do have a lot of fun just chewing the fat!

One of the ways they and other Mexicans spice up their conversation is through the use of refranes. A refrán is a popular saying or expression.

We see an example when aluminum worker Antonio says:

Voy a ir a darle porque es Mole de olla.

I'm going to get down to it because it is "Mole de olla".

Caption 32, La Banda Chilanguense - El habla de México - Part 1

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This is from the refrán “A darle que es mole de olla  which means “Get down to it [the task] because it’s hard and arduous.” Why this analogy to mole de olla? Because preparing mole de olla (literally “mole in a pot,” a type of beef stew) is hard work and time-consuming. (For those of you far from the gastronomic border, we are talking about “mo-lay,” a genre of Mexican sauces—not the funny-looking mammal known in Spanish as topo).

The Mexican Institute of Sound also makes use of a popular saying:

Si te queda el saco, póntelo pa' bailar

If the jacket fits, wear it to dance

Caption 5, Mexican Institute of Sound - Alocatel

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This is a play on another popular refrán, Si te queda el saco, póntelo which literally means “if the jacket suits you, wear it.” In English we have a similar expression which expresses the same thing, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” It means, “if you are worried that we are talking about you, it is because you think it applies to you, so accept it and don’t complain.” 

Here are two more refranes that you might hear when visiting Mexico:

Entre menos burros, más olotes

The fewer the donkeys, the more cobs of corn 

When would you say this? When some members of a party have to leave... the consolation is that there is more food and drink left for those who stay. 

But what if more guests arrive than expected, and rations run low?

A falta de pan, tortillas

When there’s no bread, tortillas will do



This expression is used to express that we must make do with what we have.

Aside: It’s interesting to note that the well-known English expression “the more, the merrier,” as it was first recorded in 1520, contained a corollary that echoes the same sentiment as “entre menos burros...” The complete expression was this: "The more, the merrier; the fewer, the better fare" (meaning "with fewer there would be more to eat").


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