San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

As the Saying Goes…

As a good friend of mine says, “Los dichos y la filosofía tienen mucha sabiduría”(Sayings and philosophy contain much wisdom).

A dicho or refrán is a saying, proverb or adage. However trite we may wish to find them, they do indeed represent folk wisdom of the ages.

Some proverbs in Spanish are equivalent to proverbs in English, others are almost the same but with subtle differences, and some do not exist in English.

I offer here just a sampling of them. I have tried to provide first a literal translation, then an equivalent proverb or an explanation, unless it is self-evident.



Por agua viene, por agua va.                         By water it comes, by water it goes. (Easy come, easy go.)

A quien madruga Dios ayuda.                        He who gets up early, God helps. (The early bird gets the worm.)

A ver si como roncas hablas.                          Let’s see if as you snore, you talk. (Let’s see if you can make sense as well as you can make useless noise.)

El que quiera huevos, que aguante                 He who wants eggs must put up with the

los cacareos.                                                   clucking.

Al mejor mono se le cae el zapote.                 On the best of monkeys falls the zapote. (A zapote is an oblong tropical fruit about the size of a small coconut.The adage means “Nobody’s perfect.”)

Antes doblar que quebrar.                              First bend rather than break.

Más vale atole con risas que                           Better cornmeal mush with laughs than

chocolate con lágrimas.                                  Chocolate with tears.

De tal palo, tal astilla.                                    From such a tree, such a splinter. (Like father, like son.)

Dime con quién andas y te diré                       Tell me with whom you hang out and I’ll tell you whoquién eres. you are. (Birds of a feather flock together.)

Donde hubo fuego, hay cenizas.                     Where there was fire, there are ashes. (Where there’ssmoke, there’s fire.)

Es echar la casa por la ventana.                    That’s throwing the house out the window. (That’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater.)

El hombre propone y Dios dispone.                Man proposes and God disposes.

El que no se arriesga no pasa el río.               He who does not risk does not cross the river. (Nothing ventured, nothing gained.)

Es otro cantar.                                                That’s another song. (That’s a horse of a different color.)

Mucho ruido, pocas nueces.                            Much noise, few nuts. (Much ado about nothing.)

Perro que ladra no muerde.                            The dog that barks doesn’t bite.

El que se fue para la villa perdió                    He who went to town lost his chair. (Finders keepers, su silla. losers weepers.)

Este arroz ya se coció.                                    This rice is already cooked. (It’s in the bag.)

Nada logras con llorar delante del                You accomplish nothing by crying in front bien perdido                                                             of a lost good. (Don’t cry over spilt milk.)

En el peligro se conoce al amigo.                   In danger the friend is known.

Más vale prevenir que lamentar.                    It is better to prevent than lament. (An ounce ofprevention is worth a pound of cure.)

Piedra que rueda no cría lana.                       A rolling stone gathers no moss.

Vaya despacio que llegue rápido.                   Go slowly to arrive rapidly. (Haste makes waste.)

A aquel loar debemos cuyo pan                      We owe praise to him whose bread we eat. comemos.                                                             (Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.)

A buen hambre no hay pan duro.                   To good hunger there is no hard bread. (Hunger is the best sauce.)

No hay mal que por bien venga.                     There is nothing bad that doesn’t bring good. (When God closes a door, he opens a window.)

Del dicho al hecho hay gran trecho.               From what is said to what is done, there is a long distance. (There’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.)

Más vale pájaro en mano que                        Better a bird in the hand than a hundred in flight. (Aciento volando. bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.)

Dando y dando, pajarito volando.                  Giving and giving, little bird flying. (This one is complicated.

“Dando y dando” refers to “give and take.” The “little bird” refers to one of the “hundred in flight” in the previous proverb. In other words, “Without give and take, someone will lose out.”)

De gran subida, gran caída.                           From a big climb up, a big fall down. (The bigger they come, the harder they fall.)

Mejor tierra en cuerpo que                             Better dirt on the body than body in the dirt.

cuerpo en tierra.

Para uno que madruga, otro que.                  For one who gets up early, another who

no duerme.                                                      doesn’t sleep. (Someone is always there ahead of you.)

Da lo mismo Chana que Juana.                      It’s all the same, Chana as Juana. (It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.)

El que no llora no mama.                               He who doesn’t cry doesn’t suckle. (The squeaky wheel gets the grease.)


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