Lost In Translation: 5 Funny Spanish Phrases That Don't Make Sense In English.

Arnaly Arriaga

If you've ever tried to learn a new language, you know that some phrases just don't translate well. Spanish, for example, is full of funny expressions that can leave English speakers scratching their heads. From literal translations that make no sense to culturally specific phrases that seem bizarre to outsiders, there are plenty of examples of Spanish idioms that just don't work in English.
Get ready to explore the weird and wonderful world of lost-in-translation Spanish expressions – and maybe pick up a few new vocabulary words along the way.
The spicy sauce in the picture? Read on and you'll find out! ;)

I am a musician. For some reason, musicians have always had a "different" sense of humor. I am not sure how to explain it. Some people find our jokes quite silly, others just can't understand them. All of this to say that I had a great group of musician friends when I used to live in Venezuela, and one of our favorite past-times when waiting for the time to play at a gig, or between gigs, was to translate sayings from Spanish to English in the most literal ways possible. Most of the times, they would be complete non-sense. We would laugh for hours until we were crying!
These 5 sayings below are some of them. Have fun!

Estoy en mi salsa - "I'm in my sauce"

You might think that this phrase is easy to understand, but in Spanish, it takes on a whole new meaning. The literal translation is "I'm in my sauce", which doesn't make much sense. However, the equivalent in English is “I’m in my element”. Add to that the fact that in Spanish, it has an additional meaning. It means you’re doing something that you're really good at and on top of that, you’re feeling good about it. There is a sense of accomplishment.

For example, if you're a great chef and you're in the kitchen cooking up a storm, you might say "Estoy en mi salsa" or “Estoy en mi elemento” to express the fact that you're doing what you love and you're really good at it. It's a fun way to show off your skills and let people know that you're in your element.

There is a catch, though. In Venezuela, if someone says to you: “Estás en salsa” (you are in the sauce), it means the complete opposite. It means that you are in trouble and essentially, they will be watching you. Usually your Mom when you were a kid and you had already two strikes. The difference between the two sayings is the gramatical person. In the first one, you're are speaking, you are in your own sauce. In the second one, you are in someone's sauce. They would be cooking you. Get it? 
It could be quite confusing, so, in Venezuela, we use the anglicized saying: "Estoy en mi elemento" (I'm in my element) when you're confident about something you are doing and "Estás en salsa" (You're in the sauce) when you're in trouble.

Keep your ears open for that one!

Salir el tiro por la culata - "Backfire"

In English, when something "backfires", it means that something goes wrong or doesn't work out as planned. In Spanish, we use the phrase "salir el tiro por la culata" instead. The literal translation is "the shot came out through the butt (of the rifle)", which shouldn't be such a strange way to describe a situation. After all, if the shot from a rifle backfires, it did not go as planned and you are in trouble, isn't it?

The phrase is used when something doesn't go as planned, but it's often used in a humorous way. For example, if you were planning a surprise party for your friend and they found out about it beforehand and never showed up, you might say "¡Me salió el tiro por la culata!" to express your disappointment in a funny way.

¡Ponte las pilas! - "Get your act together"

In English, "get your act together" means to start behaving in a more responsible or organized way. But in Spanish, more specifically, Venezuelan Spanish, the phrase "ponerse las pilas" is used instead. The literal translation is "to put on the batteries", which doesn't make much sense in English unless you try and imagine someone lazy that doesn’t have much energy. Batteries would help, wouldn’t they?

The phrase is used to urge someone to start taking action or to get motivated. For example, if your friend has been procrastinating on a project, you might say "ponte las pilas" to encourage them to start working on it. It's a fun and energetic way to motivate someone to take action. Word of caution: In Peru, Ecuador or Colombia, the phrase means to consume cocaine or any other stimulating drug.

Meter la pata - "Screwing up"

In English, "screwing up" means to make a mistake or to mess something up. But in Spanish, the phrase "meter la pata" is used instead. The literal translation is "to put your foot in it" alluding when you walk down a muddy road and put your foot in the mud, which is obviously a strange way to describe making a mistake. However, the saying comes from the hunting world and refers to when the animal puts its foot in the trap. Hence the reason why we say “pata”, referring to an animal leg instead of a human foot.

The phrase is used when someone does something embarrassing or makes a mistake. For example, if you accidentally spill your drink on someone, you might say "metí la pata" to apologize and acknowledge your mistake. It's a fun and lighthearted way to admit to making a mistake.

Es pan comido - "To be a piece of cake"

In English, "to be a piece of cake" means that something is easy or simple to do. But in Spanish, we use bread instead, "Es pan comido". The literal translation is "It's eaten bread", which doesn't make much sense in English. Think about bread that just came out of the oven, it doesn’t last long, does it? It is almost already eaten before it is out of the oven!! 

The phrase is used to describe something that is easy or simple to do. For example, if you're a great cook and someone asks you to make a complicated dish, you might say "eso es pan comido" to express the fact that it's easy for you to do. It's a fun and playful way to show off your skills and make something seem easier than it really is.

The cultural context behind these phrases

There is always a story behind everything we say in Spanish. Each of these phrases has a unique cultural context that makes it funny and interesting. In Spanish culture, there is a strong emphasis on humor and playfulness, which is reflected in the language. These phrases are just a few examples of the many creative and humorous expressions that Spanish speakers use every day. 

For example, the phrase "Estoy en mi salsa" reflects the importance of passion and enjoyment in Spanish culture. It's a way to express the fact that you're doing something that you love and that you're good at, which is highly valued in Spanish society.

Similarly, the phrase "ponte las pilas" reflects the importance of motivation and drive in Spanish culture. It's a way to encourage people to act and to be proactive, which is highly valued in a culture that values hard work and determination.

The importance of understanding cultural differences

These funny Spanish phrases are a great example of the importance of understanding cultural differences. Language reflects culture, and these expressions are a window into the unique humor and creativity of Spanish culture.

By learning these phrases and understanding their cultural context, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the richness and diversity of the Spanish language. So, the next time you hear a funny Spanish expression that doesn't make sense in English, remember that there's more to it than meets the eye, and most probably a great story behind it – and that's the beauty of learning a new language.

Enjoy your Spanish learning journey!

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