Language Resources

Vocabulary: Fantastic places from Spanish idioms

Many Spanish idioms make use of imaginary place names as metaphors for distant places or even idealistic and nonexistent lands. Although many people don’t know it, some place names used in Spanish idioms really do exist. The following are a few:

  • Babia: from “estar en Babia” means to be preoccupied or absent-minded. The king’s of Leon had a palace in the region of Babia, where they would relax and take a break from their obligations.
  • Batuecas: “estar en las Batuecas” also means to be distracted or absent-minded. The expression may come from the fact that in the Valley of las Batuecas, in Leon, there’s a monastery where monks lived isolated from the world.
  • El quinto pino: This expression, often used in Madrid, refers to a place that's far away. The expression dates back to a period when the street el Paseo de la Castellana was on the outskirts of Madrid and people would arrange to meet with a secret lover or they would organize a duel here under the fifth pine tree on the street.
  • Fernando Poo
  • Fernando Poo: Grandparents often threatened their grandchildren by promising to send them to this place if they misbehaved. That’s because this Spanish province located in Equatorial Guinea was sadly famous toward the end of the 19th century as the land of exile for pro-independent Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Filipinos. A sad stain on Spain’s history.
  • Jauja:When somebody “thinks this is Jauja”, they think they’re in a perfect place that’s full of nothing but happiness. The expression comes from a time when the conquistadors first came across Jauja (Peru), a land of prosperity and abundant resources.
  • Los cerros de Úbeda:“irse por los cerros de Úbeda” means to try to avoid a particularly probing question.They say that this expression originated when a noble Castilian claimed that the reason he hadn’t participated in the conquest of the city of Ubeda (Jaen) was because he had gotten lost in the area’s mountains or “perdido en los cerros de Úbeda”. In truth, he didn’t participate because he was overcome with an attack of cowardice.

Although brief, we hope this tour of Spain through its idiomatic expressions has been informative; now you know a few popular sayings and a little more about the country’s history.

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