Last Mexicanisms post of the series, in which you can learn some of the most popular Mexican proverbs that make Mexico a linguistic driving force in Latin America.
Let’s get down to business and take a look at popular Mexican proverbs. But before that, remember that we have aimed to be as thorough as possible in conveying the most accurate meaning of these expressions, but if you know of any other variants or definitions that are worth taking into account, feel free to let us know!
Popular Mexican proverbs
Unlike other Latin American countries, Mexico has a particular tendency to stray from the use of expressions that are typical of Spain; local expressions (which logically include Mexican slang) tend to carry more weight.
These proverbs complement the ones used in Spain which we’re already familiar with, and are a practical and efficient way of learning about the country’s popular culture. Let’s take a look at the most common ones which may surprise you.
- Con la vara que midas serás medido (Judge others as you would be judged). A great lesson of humility and a warning that must always be borne in mind.
- Al nopal solo se le arriman cuando tiene tunas (One only visits the nopal [cactus] when it bears fruit). This is used for people who only get in touch with people when they need their help with something.
- A ver a un velorio y a divertirse a un fandango (There’s a time and a place for everything). This refers to the idea that there is a time and place for everything and there are times when it’s important to be serious and others when people should enjoy themselves.
- Botellita de Jerez, todo lo que me digas será al revés (I’m rubber and you’re glue, everything you say goes back to you). Used by children to respond to an insult. This saying also highlights the importance of Jerez sherry in the Mexican industry, as confirmed by documents from the 1960s.
- Cuesta más caro el caldo que las albóndigas (It’s like spending more on the wrapping than on the present itself). Another synonym for this Mexicanism is “Vale más el collar que el perro” (Literally: We spent more on the collar than on the dog).
- Chocolate que no tiñe, claro está (To call things by their name / To call a spade a spade). This is similar to the Spanish proverb “Las cuentas claras y el chocolate espeso”
- Dar el alón y comerse la pechuga. To give away something of little value in order to gain a profit.
- Echarle mucha crema a los tacos. This is used for people who exaggerate their achievements or skills. Another similar Spanish expression is “El que es perico, donde quiera es verde”, indicating that it is not recommended to brag or boast.
- El burro hablando de orejas (The pot calling the kettle black). The person spreading rumours or speaking badly of someone probably has the same faults as the person they’re criticizing.
- El que con lobos anda, a aullar se enseña (You are the company you keep). This has exactly the same meaning as the phrase “Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres” (Literally: Show me who you’re with and I’ll show you who you are).
- El que nace pa’ tamal, del cielo le caen las hojas. In Cuba the expression “El que nace pa’ martillo, del cielo le caen los clavos” is used with the same meaning. In other words, fate controls the lives of the less fortunate.
- El sordo no oye, pero bien que compone (Literally: the deaf man cannot hear, but well he composes). A superb expression. Used to describe those who never stop spreading lies about you.
- Gorgojo, más chico que un piojo y así de chiquitito produce enojo. Used for people who seem to be gentle and wouldn’t say boo to a goose, but who, when angry, would end up throwing things and causing damage.
- Jarrito nuevo, ¿dónde te pondré? (Literally: New vase, where shall I put you?) A brilliant proverb used to describe the excitement or interest one shows when they begin a new relationship with somebody. The bad thing is that it is followed by: “Jarrito viejo, ¿dónde te tiraré?” (Literally: Old vase, where shall I dispose of you?) which indicates that somebody loses interest when the novelty wears off.
- Lo que no va en lágrimas, va en suspiros. When you’ve put a lot of effort into something but still haven’t achieved the goal that you aimed for.
- Nada sabe su violín y todos los sones toca. Applied to modest people who never talk about their skills or assets, but who show them through their actions.
- Ni tanto que queme al santo, ni tanto que no lo alumbre (Everything in moderation). A more sophisticated version than the more common phrase “Ni calvo, ni con dos pelucas”.
- No la hagas de redentor o saldrás crucificado. Don’t try to solve other people’s problems as you may end up in a worse position than before.
- No le tengo miedo al chile aunque lo vea colorado. Used to emphasize the bravery of the person saying it when facing any kind of challenge.
- Para uno que madruga hay otro que no se duerme (The early bird catches the worm). The perfect addition to the phrase “Al que madruga, Dios le ayuda”. This means that one must always be alert and on the ball as otherwise somebody else will beat us in a particular activity.
- Se hace pesado el difunto cuando siente que lo cargan. A very useful expression used for those who, once treated in a friendly and respectful way, will suddenly start to demand even better treatment and ask you to do more things for them.
- Según el sapo la pedrada (Don’t use a lot where a little will do). Can be used to advise somebody to take a lighter approach to something they want to undertake.
- Si quieres conocer a Inés, vive con ella un mes. Unfortunate, but true. There’s nothing better than living with somebody if you want to get to know them fully.
- Si te lleva el diablo, que te lleve en buen caballo. To encourage one to take risks in order to achieve something that seems almost impossible to achieve.
- Viejo el mar y todavía hace olas. This emphasizes that elderly people should be treated with respect.
As we said originally, Mexico is like a treasure chest in the sense that it still uses words that other countries have lost over the passage of time. Not to mention, even the linguistic exposure to English has not managed to break those Mexicans that continue to feel proud of being Spanish speakers.
Whether you’re going to travel to this country soon or if you’re simply interested in languages, you must always bear in mind that for Mexicans it is completely normal to mix up different languages which have formed their own way of speaking Spanish. Fortunately, and for this reason, there are still towns in which only the two previously mentioned indigenous languages are spoken.
With all of that being said, we believe that having thoroughly delved into the world of Mexicanisms in this article has been very worthwhile both for increasing our vocabulary and discovering other words that were popular in Spain a couple of centuries ago.
By studying them, understanding their meaning and analysing their etymology, you’ll realise that Mexican Spanish and Iberian Spanish are simply brother languages separated by an ocean, and that they still maintain stronger bonds than you would think.