12 Spanish Words That Have Absolutely No English Equivalent.

Published on 22/09/2014 in Expat Life






When I started learning languages I honestly thought that it would be a case of learning the foreign word for all the English words. It never occurred to me that they'd put their words in a different order. Or that they'd use different tenses. Or that some words just wouldn't exist. I was so downhearted when I found out it wasn't as easy as x = y that I wanted to just give up there and then. 13 years later this is the thing I most enjoy about languages. Discovering words and phrases that just don't exist in other languages. Words that you can't translate literally. 



Here are some Spanish words which don't have a direct translation in English:

1) La Edad de Pavo

Literal translation: the age of the turkey

This is the awkward age (about 12-14) when kids turn into nightmares. When they start disrespecting their parents, thinking they know it all and start showing off to their friends. I assume the analogy comes from turkeys strutting their stuff with their tail feathers all displayed. 

2) Agujetas

The achy pain you get the day after you do a lot of exercise. 

3) Friolero

Someone who is always cold.

4) Un Vinagre

Literal translation: a vinegar. 
Meaning: A man of around 50-60 who has let himself go. He gets disgustingly drunk and pervs on young women. In general they smell bad, are grumpy and hang around a bar all day drinking and smoking. The idea is like when wine turns into vinegar; the man has turned sour. 

5) Tener ganas

It's 'want to' / 'look forward to' / 'can't wait to' all at the same time. 

6) Concuñado/a

The partner of your brother-in-law or of your sister-in-law. Or the partner of your husband's/wife's brother or sister-in-law. 

In English it's brother-in-law just the same. In Spanish there's a clear difference between the brother-in-law and the guy who's married to the sister-in-law.

7) Consuegro/a

The relationship between the two sets of parents when people get married.

8) Desvelado/a

To not be sleeping when you should be sleeping because something is keeping you up (like the neighbours having a party).

9) Tocayo/a

A person who has the same name as you. It can mean namesake (a person you were named after), and in that case there is an English equivalent. But it also means when you randomly meet someone and you have have the same name. There's no word for that in English.

10) Botellón

An event when a large group of people, mainly teenagers or students, get extremely drunk in a public place. 

11) Entrecejo

The space between your eyebrows.

12) Pringado

The unlucky person who has to do the work no one else wants to do. Usually because he's new or easy to manipulate.

Written by: Jessica B

About the author:

Bio: I'm an English teacher (and aspiring writer) currently living in Zaragoza. I like grammar, martial arts and lemon cake. You can read more of my stuff at :



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ehw said:
05 December 2015 @ 17:43

Spain like everywhere has its good points and bad points. One of Spain's bad points is the large number of people like "caitoxose", someone who cannot accept, under any circumstances, an opinion that is not his. It's a shame, by and large the Spanish are "muy buena gente", but there's always rotten egg in the basket.

Lolilla said:
11 September 2015 @ 13:17

Como parece que aquí sabéis mucho de español, oss aportaré mis comentarios en esta lenga.
Se conoce con el nombre de dedos del pie (también llamados artejos u ortejos) a cada uno de los cinco apéndices en que termina el pie humano.
El término agujetas en inglés sería DOMS, muchos deportistas británicos lo usan, otras personas dicen sore muscles, etc.
Podría continuar con cada una de las menciones que habeis hecho. Tengo 48 años, la mitad de mi vida laboral he sido profesora de español en UK, la otra mitad de inglés en España. Y al día de hoy os daré un consejo, practicamente todos los diccionarios son imcompletos, aquí os dejo la realidad para que comprendáis que en un idioma no se puede decir "No existe".

El idioma español tiene casi trescientas mil palabras/conceptos diferentes (sin contar variaciones ni tecnicismos o regionalismos), pero en nuestra comunicación cotidiana utilizamos sólo y con suerte unas trescientas, es decir, cerca de un 0,10%.

Por supuesto, ese porcentaje es flexible de acuerdo a cada persona:

Una persona culta e informada usa unas 500 palabras.
Un escritor o periodista puede usar unas 3.000.
Cervantes usó 8.000 palabras diferentes en su obra.
Factores adicionales:

El diccionario de la Real Academia Española define unas 88.500 palabras.
Un diccionario común y corriente no llega a la mitad.
La RAE (Real Academia Española) catalogó un total de 270 millones de registros léxicos.
Los perros entrenados pueden entender más de 1.000 palabras.

txakoli said:
04 May 2015 @ 09:19


You have gone to great lengths to quote from the dictionary, including the following:

the rains had swollen the river → las lluvias habían hecho crecer el río
the river is swollen → el río está crecido

I do not see the Spanish word 'caudal' or 'caudaloso' anywhere.

Like I said before, we do not use the word 'swell' for a river that has a "caudal".

But I can see that you won't accept that.
You seem to think you have something to prove, judging by your rather arrogance. Perhaps some "machismo" coming out?
Notice that English uses the Spanish word, because we don't have that characteristic in the same way.
All that this "argument" is about stems from the original article set out by Jessica B showing how languages are different and thereby made more interesting because of their difference.

I shall not bother to reply to you, should you continue with your rant.

caitoxose said:
04 May 2015 @ 00:26

@txakoli: swell [swel] (swelled (vb: pt) (swollen (pp)))
A. N
1. (Naut) (= movement) → oleaje m; (= large wave) → marejada f
2. (= bulge) the gentle swell of her hips → la suave turgencia de sus caderas
3. (= surge) [of anger] → arrebato m, arranque m; [of sympathy, emotion] → oleada f
4. (Mus) → crescendo m; (on organ) → regulador m de volumen
5. (o.f.) (= stylish man) → majo m; (= important man) → encopetado m
the swells → la gente bien, la gente de buen tono
B. ADJ (US) (= fine, good) → fenomenal, bárbaro
we had a swell time → lo pasamos en grande
it's a swell place → es un sitio estupendo
1. (physically) [ankle, eye etc] (also swell up) → hincharse; [sails] (also swell out) → inflarse, hincharse; [river] → crecer
her arm swelled up → se le hinchó el brazo
to swell with pride → hincharse de orgullo
2. (in size, number) → aumentar, crecer
numbers have swollen greatly → el número ha aumentado muchísimo
the little group soon swelled into a crowd → el pequeño grupo se transformó pronto en multitud
the cheers swelled to a roar → los vítores fueron creciendo hasta convertirse en un estruendo
1. (physically) → hinchar
to have a swollen hand → tener la mano hinchada
my ankle is very swollen → tengo el tobillo muy hinchado
her eyes were swollen with tears → tenía los ojos hinchados de lágrimas
the rains had swollen the river → las lluvias habían hecho crecer el río
the river is swollen → el río está crecido
you'll give him a swollen head → le vas a hacer que se lo crea
2. [+ numbers, sales] → aumentar
all they are doing is swelling the ranks of the unemployed → lo único que hacen es engrosar las cifras de desempleados
Collins Spanish Dictionary - Complete and Unabridged 8th Edition 2005 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1971, 1988 © HarperCollins Publishers 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2005.

caitoxose said:
04 May 2015 @ 00:20

@txakoli. swell from dictionary.com: verb (used without object), swelled, swollen or swelled, swelling.
1.- to grow in bulk, as by the absorption of moisture or the processes of growth.
2.- pathology. to increase abnormally in size, as by inflation, distention, accumulation of fluids, or the like:
Her ankles swelled from standing.
3.- to rise in waves, as the sea.
4.- to well up, as a spring or as tears.
5.- to bulge out, as a sail or the middle of a cask.
6.- to grow in amount, degree, force, etc.
7.- to increase gradually in volume or intensity, as sound: The music swelled.
It would appear that not only my spanish is superior to yours, so is my english too. As I said, ignorant and arrogant. And, incidentally, let me remind you that this heated conversation is taking place in English?

txakoli said:
03 May 2015 @ 18:10

You're living in the past if you think txakoli is sour. And resorting to insults shows you for what you are.
Sorry, but in English we do not say 'swell' relating to a river; the sea, yes.
Maquinilla de esquilar is a good translation for our word 'handpiece', but what I was saying, if you've understood correctly, which I doubt, is that the English has ONE word compared to the Spanish 3; much like toes, etc. Romance languages have that 'problem' that English doesn't.
By the way, the English "to wind someone up" is NOT the same as tomar el pello. We also have 'to pull one's leg', but like I said, not the same.
It all goes to make languages interesting. That's my point.
Relax, chill out a little. Take a chill pill.

caitoxose said:
03 May 2015 @ 17:48

@txacoli: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=esquiladora&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&gws_rd=cr,ssl&ei=B0NGVa-DJMHTaLyjgIgG
Remember, google is your friend!

caitoxose said:
03 May 2015 @ 17:44

@ txakoli: sour like the wine you take the name from?? De LOS pies, no de la pie. Did you read mine?
"Yes, caudoloso can mean 'swollen' so how would you translate "caudal"? Swelling??? I think not." - How about SWELL? The swell of a river? Of ocean waves? No?
"Shears do not translate the Spanish word 'maquinilla'. I do enough shearing here to know that." - Again I insist: Maquinilla (o tijeras) de esquilar o Esquiladora if you prefer. Which to me suggests you don't know enough or know differently. Hubris?
Your perception of the word whistleblower may be more positive than "chivato" however THAT is the translation. Besides, I'm sure that the person on whom the "whistle is being blown" may differ to you on that perception. So it too can have negative connotations, can it not?
Not only ignorant, arrogant too? Dangerous combination.

txakoli said:
03 May 2015 @ 17:24

Caitoxose: Read what I said again. Then you might grasp what I was saying. Of course one can translate words into another language, such as "dedos de la pie' for toes. What I said was that there was not an exact word (singular) for toes like the English.
Yes, caudoloso can mean 'swollen' so how would you translate "caudal"? Swelling??? I think not.
Shears in English also mean gardening ones. Shears do not translate the Spanish word 'maquinilla'. I do enough shearing here to know that.
Doesn't the word "chivato" have a negative meaning in Spanish; correct me if I'm wrong. Whistleblower in English has a more positive connotation.

So, in the end, all of it goes to make language interesting, different and challenging. I might be ignorant of Spanish, but I'm not ignorant of my own, English.
Let's beg to differ.

caitoxose said:
03 May 2015 @ 17:06

@ txakoli: please do not accuse a language of being clumsy or boring when the culprit is your own ignorance.
toes = dedos de los pies.
piropo = compliment.
caudaloso (river) = swollen.
contrapunto = counterpoint.
moth = polilla, mariposa de noche o de la luz.
to wind someone up = tomarle el pelo a alguien, cachondearse (de alguien).
whistleblower = chivato.
to bed in (engineering) = acoplar.
as for shears the equivalent is maquinilla o tijeras de esquilar.
finally, alubiada (one 'l') sounds like a rather localised use (basque country?) as opposed as a widespread use of the word. similar to "tinto de verano" red wine with lemonade.

caitoxose said:
03 May 2015 @ 16:45

Correction, it's "La edad DEL pavo". As for "Tener ganas" also translates as to feel like or have cravings (about something). Conversely the english expression to have the munchies has no translation into spanish that I know of. And speaking of "Agujetas" you forgot to mention "Flato" as in "me da flato cuando corro" which is a pain in your side that occurs when running or doing severe exercise. Probably caused by excess of lactic acid in your liver as opposed to your muscles. Finally I would like to mention another one that comes to mind "Corte de digestion" that doesn't exist in the english world. Look it up or ask me if interested. LOL.

txakoli said:
01 March 2015 @ 11:12

Interesting list. you might add :
un piropo
caudaloso (river)
un contrapunto
@ / arroba
una allubiada/chocolatada

Similarly, as yet I cannot find the Spanish for a few English words below, or find the Spanish is a bit 'clumsy' or 'boring':

to wind someone up
to bed in (used in mechanics)
a grabber (recogedora de residuos)
a sheep shearing handpiece (they say 'maquina'; tijera also denotes the old fashioned blades)

Like you said, it's always interesting to make a list of peculiarities with words.

Irene&Alan said:
18 February 2015 @ 06:20

How interesting!

webdivr said:
18 October 2014 @ 20:51

Nice list. I always wondered what "tengo ganas" meant. Btw, I'm an English Teacher too, and I baked a lemon cake just the day before yesterday. However, I would get agujetas if I tried martial arts.

Marmalagueña said:
05 October 2014 @ 12:04

What about "narcobarco" for boats used to smuggle drugs into the country. Perhaps that hasn't reached the dictionary yet.

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