Spanish Proverbs – not for the puritanical and easily offended

December 13, 2020

I love the expressiveness of the Spanish language…

And especially Spanish proverbs.

So today I thought I’d write about some of my favorite Spanish proverbs, not because I necessarily agree with the sentiments they contain (well, actually I do) but because they’re so different than the type of proverbs we have back in the US.

Hint: there’s a lot more sex in Spanish folklore.


Well, as I suggested in another article, we Americans are all secretly Puritans – whether or not we identify as such.

Back in the States, your elderly grandmother probably just doesn’t use a lot of the good old anglo-saxon monosyllables.

But Spain is different! And your Spanish grandmother just might be a bit more profane than you’re used to grandmothers being, in general.

So here we go…

Eight shocking Spanish Proverbs you can use today

Enjoy, you poor, repressed puritans!

Although, if you’re offended by the colloquial words for certain body parts that basically everybody has, you should probably go somewhere else…

Here: try some cat memes.

Still with me?

And ready to learn some awesome Spanish proverbs?

Let’s get to it…

Proverb #1 – Donde tienes la olla, no metas la polla.

Figuratively, “don’t shit where you eat”. Literally, “Don’t stick your dick where you have the cooking-pot.” It’s an injunction to avoid workplace romance, basically.

By the way, if you want to teach your ESL students the importance of precise pronunciation, feel free to pretend to be confused as to the difference between “comer pollo” y “comer polla.”

Or just read my article about How to Teach Beach and Bitch.

It’s a lot of fun – and the Mr Chorizo biopic starring Ryan Gosling should come out any day now…

italian cows and spanish proverbs
This cow is technically Italian, but I assume it isn’t nearly as puritanical as the cows back on the ranch in Arizona. Photo by the author.

Moving on, here’s…

#2 – Encima de puta, pongo la cama.

Figuratively used more or less like “adding insult to injury.”

Literally, “Apart from being a whore, I have to provide the bed.”

They also have a couple of other versions, which (at least in my mind) mean more or less the same thing: meter el dedo en la llaga, or echar sal a la herida.

Literally: “stick your finger in the sore”, or “pour salt on the wound”. That last one we actually use in English.

Which brings us to another fun Spanish proverb about prostitutes.

#3 – Para ser una puta y no cobrar nada, más vale ser una mujer honrada.

This one isn’t very common, but it has a nice rhyme to it, and it’s more pertinent than ever in the midst of our never-ending economic crisis. 

Figuratively, it means don’t work for free. Literally, “It’s better to be an honest woman than a whore who works for free.”

For more about the previous (2008 to 2014) economic crisis and it’s impact on a family near you, see my article on Spain’s Great Recession. It was heavy.

And in other news, if you’d like to do an unpaid internship for me, get in touch. Only 60 hours a week of thankless, back-breaking blogging and social media strategy.

It’ll look great on your CV some day!

Spanish Proverb #4 – Tira más un pelo de coño que un carro de bueyes.

Also known as “Tiran mas dos tetas que dos carretas” and various other popular versions.

Figuratively, it means that men will go to great lengths in order to satisfy or seduce women.  

Literally, “One pussy hair pulls more weight than an oxcart,” or “Two tits pull more weight than two carriages.” 

It’s about the influence that women have on men’s psychology. Sort of a Helen of Troy face-that-launched-a-thousand-ships thing, I guess.

Proverb #5 – Cuando el grajo vuela bajo, hace un frío del carajo

Sometimes presented in a longer version, which is the same as the above, but with an extra bit at the end: “y cuando se posan sobre los balcones, hace un frío de cojones”.

This is a proverb about Spain’s occasionally shitty weather.

A grajo is a crow or a raven. The translation doesn’t sound very good in English, and things like un frío de cojones are a bit ambiguous.

Let’s say: “When the crow flies low, it’s very cold, and and when it sits on the balcony, you freeze your balls off.”

I don’t know if this is something that crows really do, or if it’s just something they say because it rhymes.

Anyway, it’s fun.

And as long as we’re talking about black birds…

4 more fun spanish proverbs

That crow is in the public domain, so fuck off…

Proverb #6 – Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos.

I believe we could translate this proverb as “You reap what you sow.”

However, it seems to be more about raising children in Spanish.

Literally, it’s more like “If you raise your children to be like crows, don’t be surprised if they peck your eyes out.” So it’s an admonition to take care while raising your kids.

According to a thread on wordreference, in English, we apparently say “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” in reference to King Lear.

I’ve never heard anyone say that, but then again, I’m not a Shakespearean scholar.

Who is, these days?

Proverb #7 – Cuando el diablo se aburre, mata moscas con el rabo.

“When the devil gets bored, he kills flies with his tail.”

I guess this is a Spanish version of the English expression “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

Spanish people aren’t exactly big on finding miserable thankless work just to keep themselves busy. But maybe at some point in history they were.

In the Puritan States of America, of course, if you’re not always busy, you’re probably some sort of ne’er do well.

A large part of my education was focused on making it psychologically impossible for me to be inactive more than half an hour (and it worked!) but it would seem that in the Mediterranean they don’t worry about teaching their kids that sort of thing.

And finally…

Spanish proverb # 8 – Entre santa y santo, pared de cal y canto.

“Between a Saint and a Saintess, put a stone wall.”

Is Saintess a real word? You know what I mean, like a female saint.

This one means that it doesn’t matter how good and holy a person is, they can slip up and do something wrong.

Imagine a Saint and a Saintess sharing a hotel room for a couple of weeks – eventually something’s going to happen, no matter how much they love Jesus.

Well, I hope you enjoyed that.

Want to learn more Spanish?

I’ve got a few articles about the Spanish language on here.

For example, here’s one about relationship vocabulary. That’ll teach you how to speak about a variety of romantic (and not-so-romantic) situations you may find yourself in.

And while we’re here, don’t forget about my compendium of 10 obscene Spanish expressions. Or how about my Spanish words and gender video?

Proverbially yours,

Mr Chorizo.

P.S. Do you have a favorite Spanish proverb to share? Let me know in the comments!

P.P.S. A couple of these proverbs are about prostitution, which is a big issue here in Spain. Check out more in my new article about Spain’s Prostitution Debate. Enjoy!

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. olla means head, thinking in that expression.
    Se te va la olla, se te va la cabeza (you are kinda crazy)

    The “prover” (its more colloquial that anything) means dont try to “fuck the girl/ in the place” where you earn your living/are making money of

    1. I always interpreted “olla” to be literally a cooking pot in this one. I know “se te va la olla” is “you’re crazy,” but I think the other one is about food. Thanks for commenting!

      1. In this case, olla refers to the place where you have the food at. In other words: the place where you get your nourishment from: work. The way I see it it refers to the fact that you shouldn’t be having affairs at the workplace, or, in other words: do not mix work and pleasure.

  2. “La olla” is a cooking pot. But when we say “se te va la olla” is like comparing your head with a “cooking pot” which is boiling too much.
    By the way, I laughed a lot when reading this post, when I hear these expresions in Spanish don’t sound as strong as when you see the translation.
    Whe have another one: “Lo que se comen los gusanos, que lo disfruten los humanos” = Enjoy your body while your alive, worms will do it when you die.

  3. Hi Daniel,

    “Encima de puta, pongo la cama.” has nothing to be with “meter el dedo en la llaga”, or “echar sal a la herida”.

    It means to be silly in a way that let other people to take advantage of you.

      1. It could be somehow translated as “I know already”, or “thank you, captain obvious”. It is used when someone is stating well-known obvious facts and being annoying about it.

  4. Tira más un pelo de coño que un carro de bueyes.
    Jajaj me haces recordar a mi guelu.
    You’re right. It means men will go to great lengths to gain w a woman’s affection. When they wouldn’t otherwise for a different cause

  5. I love the saying “Nunca digas de este agua no beberé” and there is an ending that I love “…ni este cura no es mi padre” meaning never say never.

    Also about the alternative ending for “Cuando el grajo vuela bajo” I know this one: “…y cuando vuela rasante, hace un frío acojonante”.

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