The richness of Spanish vocabulary and its great historical tradition have caused many popular expressions to fall into disuse. However, their popularity means that they are taught in practically every school and language center the world over.
The problem is that Spanish students are incapable of differentiating between popular expressions which are in style and those phrases which only a Spanish grandmother would say. Students will only be able to correctly make this distinction with experience and by constantly using the language.
To help them to successfully complete this task we have set out some of the most common examples below.
One of the biggest and funniest mistakes which Spanish students make is to use terms which are now obsolete, because they were part of a fairly recent, temporary trend. For example llevar una Buena melopea (to be sloshed) is used to refer to a person who has drunk too much alcohol, but melopea is an obsolete word, which is more likely to be used by our parents or even grandparents.
Phrases or short expressions to show surprise or amazement are also characteristic of an outdated trend and, therefore, there is uncertainty about their use as well as about their origins. Agárrate Catalina (hold on Catalina) is a typical expression which originates from the world of circus trapeze artists and which became popular as a synonym of the term precaution (prevención).
Expressions with religious origins have also become obsolete. Más Viejo que Matusalén (as old as the hills) or a Dios rogando y con el mazodando (God helps those who help themselves) are classic examples of popular phrases which are frequently taught in Spanish schools, however, in reality they are only used by older or overly traditional people.
The most logical thing to do would be to modernize these aforementioned phrases. For example, a ojo de buen cubero(at a random guess) means that only an expert could analyze the facts but not an unexperienced person. Or a buenas horas mangas verdes (a little too late), a phrase which has been in use for such a long time that it has completely lost its meaning. In reality the squad known as the green sleeves (mangas verdes) were a military peacekeeping force responsible for gathering evidence from dead bodies, just like today´s medical examiners. Normally they arrived so late that the villagers had to do their job, which meant that when they finally arrived at the scene of the death, many people used to mock them with this expression.
Mention must also be made of the contexts which gave rise to these popular phrases. As soon as you get rid of these aforementioned contexts, these phrases lose their contemporary meaning. En peores garitas hemos hecho guardia (I’ve seen worse), is a popular phrase used by people who have done obligatory military service, to refer to the endless guard duties which it involved.
Without this contextual information, only our grandparents would understand and would have the necessary background knowledge to use this expression correctly.
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