10 Colorful Mexican Expressions to Liven Up the Conversation

One of the most wonderful things about Mexico is the way that the Spanish language is enlivened and enhanced to create a whole new lexicon that’s amazingly expressive, colorful, and distinctly Mexican. Beyond all the slang, there’s a wealth of Mexican expressions, sayings, and proverbs that provide everything from the wisdom of the ages to nonsensical wordplay, and they offer insights into the national culture – and make engaging in conversation with Mexicans all the more enjoyable.

Teotihuacan speech scroll
Image by Madman2001, CC BY 3.0

Mexican Sayings that Transform Negatives into Positives

Mexicans have a wonderful way of facing difficulty with a positive attitude, as reflected in these proverbs and common sayings:

1. “Al mal tiempo, buena cara”

Translation: “To bad times, a good face”
Meaning: Be positive!

2. “Tarde pero sin sueño”

Translation: “Late but without sleeping”
Meaning: I may be late, but I’m bright eyed and bushy tailed (Note: it’s particularly useful if you’re late because you did, in fact, sleep in.)

Tired worker
Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Mexican Sayings Involving Animals

 These sayings make creative use of animals to get their point across: 

3. “El que es perico, donde quiera es verde”

Translation: “He who is a parakeet, wherever he is, is green”
Meaning: A tiger never changes his stripes

4. “Camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente”

Translation: “The shrimp that falls asleep is swept away by the current”
Meaning: You snooze, you lose. 

5. “Ahora sí vamos a ver de qué lado masca la iguana”

Translation: “Now we are going to see which side the iguana chews on”
Meaning: This expression meaning “we are close to knowing the truth” is a double entendre that works because in Mexico, the word “mascar,” which means “to masticate,” also means “to sense, anticipate” – never mind that iguanas don’t actually chew their food!

Photo by Jairo Alzate on Unsplash

Putting the “Mexican” into Mexican Sayings

Referencing Mexican drink, food, crops, and pop culture, these are some of the most Mexican of Mexican sayings:

6. “Para todo mal, mezcal y, para todo bien, también”

Translation: “For everything bad, mezcal and, for everything good, the same”
Meaning: Drink mezcal to drown your sorrows, celebrate your victories, and, well, just because

7. “El que nace para tamal, del cielo le caen las hojas”

Translation: “If you’re born to be a tamale, the leaves will fall from the sky”
Meaning: If it’s meant to be, the universe will conspire to make it happen

Tamales oaxaqueños
Photo by N. Saum, CC BY-SA 3.0

8. “Ya nos cayó el chahuiztl”

Translation: “Now the chahuiztle falls upon us”
Meaning: Chahuiztli is a corn fungus. But unlike huitlacoche, another corn fungus that’s enjoyed as a delicious delicacy, this one is a ruinous plague. And that’s why this Mexican expression is often uttered when something unpleasant or unexpected happens. 

9. “No hay de queso, nomás de papa”

Translation: “There is no cheese, just potatoes”
Meaning: This silly expression is a play on the words of the phrase, “no hay de qué,” which means, “no problem.” It’s a nonsensical phrase that originated from the nutty character Chaparrón Bonaparte in the Mexican sketch comedy show Chespirito.

10. “A darle que es mole de olla”

Translation: “Get working because this is mole de olla
Meaning: Mole de olla is a wholesome, spicy meat-and-vegetable soup that lends itself to a common saying that means something like, “Get to work because this is important, people are counting on us, and it will be worth the effort!”

These 10 colorful expressions help make Mexican Spanish so entertaining and fun. ¡A huevo!

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