If I had to choose, I’d say that the most colorful turns of phrase in the languages I know and love can be found in their comparisons. To the poet, these are an opportunity for beauty — when it comes to that famous summer’s day, “thou art more lovely and more temperate.” However, to the everyday speaker, those who forge language in the trenches, they are an opportunity to be silly, fun and lewd. Hotter than hell, colder than a witch’s teat, happy as a pig in … well, you know how it goes.
Spanish is no different and, as usual, I believe that Costa Rica does these particularly well, though the selection that follows includes phrases from both Costa Rica and beyond. Here are a few gems.
Más agarrado que una viejita en moto: Cheaper/more miserly than an old lady on a motorcycle. This doesn’t work at all in English because of the dual meaning of “agarrado” — it means hanging on tight to an object, like handlebars, but also hanging on tight to money.
Más fresco(a) que una lechuga: fresher than a head of lettuce (famously switched around by Mexican comedian Chesperito in the introduction to El Chapulín Colorado, who is “nobler than a head of lettuce”).
Más incómodo que dormir con la suegra: more uncomfortable than sleeping with your mother-in-law. Err, enough said.
Más delicado que una cría de chompipes: more delicate/touchy/difficult to handle than turkey hatchlings.
Más limpio que el cuello de una monja: “Limpio” means clean but also broke (as in, your pockets are clean), so this is another that doesn’t translate well. More or less, my pockets are cleaner than a nun’s neck.
Más ahüevado que un mono con un banano de plástico: We’ve looked before at how tricky ahüevado and similarly eggy expressions are to translate, but it’s somewhere between frustrated, bummed out, annoyed. So, more bummed out than a monkey with a plastic banana.
Más metido que un yuyo (or jode más que un yuyo): More persistent, hard to get rid of, annoying than a foot fungus.
Más perdido que Adán en el Día de la Madre: More lost than Adam on Mother’s Day.
Más largo que orinada de balcón: My husband raised his eyebrows at me when I found this in one of my favorite resources, “Dichos y Refranes de los Ticos” by María Mayela Padilla, and said he couldn’t remember ever hearing it, but I love it just because it’s so ridiculous. Longer than peeing off a balcony.
What did I miss? What are your favorites? Let me know. Otherwise I’ll be más aburrida que un chancho en una alforja (more bored than a pig in a bag).
Read previous Maeology columns here.
Katherine Stanley Obando is The Tico Times’ arts and entertainment editor. She also is a freelance writer, translator, former teacher and academic director of JumpStart Costa Rica. She lives in San José. Read more from Katherine at “The Dictionary of You,” where she writes about Costa Rican language and culture, and raising a child abroad. “Maeology” is published every other Monday.