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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Five ways that ‘leche’ means more than just ‘milk’ in Spain

There are over 40 idioms in Spanish that use the word milk. But they aren't always talking about that white stuff made by cows.

Five ways that 'leche' means more than just 'milk' in Spain
Photo: WallBoat/Flickr

The Spanish language just loves to use food and drink in its phrases but the dexterity with which it changes the meaning of the word leche (milk) is quite impressive.

According to the RAE – the institution that safeguards the use of the Spanish language – there are over 40 idioms using the word milk and it can mean a whole host of things.

Let’s dive in and see some examples of the ways leche is used in Spanish:

Ser la leche (be the milk)

This means to be incredible or exceptional and is usually extremely positive. However, Spanish people are renowned for their sarcasm so if you do hear it, it might mean exactly the opposite. You should be able to tell by the context.

  •         Me encantan las películas de Al Pacino. Ese tío es la leche.

      I love Al Pacino’s movies. That guy’s incredible.

  •         Gracias por ayudarme con la mudanza. ¡Eres la leche!

     Thanks for helping me with the move. You’re the best!

Dar(se) una leche (to give a milk)

To hit someone – this can include a slap, punch, or smack. If you use the reflexive verb then it means to hurt oneself by falling, bumping, or crashing into something. Let’s check out some examples:

  •         Si vuelves a hacerlo, te daré una leche.

     If you do it again, I’ll give you a smack.

  •         María se dio una buena leche ayer.

    Maria fell over and really hurt herself yesterday.

Estar de mala leche (to be of bad milk)

This means to be in a bad mood. The use of estar and not ser here means that it would be considered something temporary. For someone who is more permanently grumpy or ill tempered, you could say tener mala leche.

  •         Estoy de mala leche porque no dormí nada anoche.

      I’m in a bad mood because I didn’t sleep at all last night.

  •         Gerardo tiene muy mala leche.

     Gerardo is really grumpy.


Photo: Davidoff A/Flickr

A toda leche (at full milk)

This expression means to go at full speed, flat out. This could be in terms of speed over distance or working quickly doing something, like a project or homework.

  •         Fui a toda leche para su casa.

      I raced over to their house.

Cagarse en la leche (to shit in the milk)

In Spanish, this phrase is used frequently to express anger,frustration or disappointment, the same way that English speakers would say ‘shit’ or damn it.

  •         ¡Me cago en la leche! El fontanero no ha arreglado bien el fregadero.

     Damn it! The plumber hasn’t fixed the sink properly.

So there you have it. Five great ways to use the word leche in Spanish. 

Watch Antonio Banderas explain what two of these terms plus a few other Spanish slang terms mean in English:

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SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Spanish Expression of the Day: ‘¡Al grano!’

Here’s a short but sweet expression that will help you save time when talking to Spaniards. 

Spanish Expression of the Day: '¡Al grano!'

The word grano has many meanings in Spanish. 

It can refer to a grain, bean or seed, such as un grano de arroz (a grain of rice), un grano de café (a coffee bean) or un grano de mostaza (a mustard seed). 

It can also be used to speak about a zit or blemish that you get on your skin in the sense of acne, such as tengo un grano en la frente (I’ve got a spot on my forehead). 

There’s even the expression aportar tu granito de arena, which in the literal sense means to give your small grain of sand, but actually means to do your bit or to give your two cents. 

But in today’s Spanish Expression of the Day, we’ll focus on another very handy expression which includes the word grano al grano to be exact.

Ir al grano means to get straight to the point, to cut to the chase or to spit it out.

So if you want someone in Spain to stop beating about the bush with what they’re doing or saying and get to the nitty-gritty, this is the expression to use. 

Obviously it’s an informal expression which, just like in English, you should use with someone you know well and can afford to tell them to ‘get on with it!’. 

Examples:

¡Deja de andarte por las ramas, hombre! Vete al grano y dime que te pasa.

Stop beating about the bush, man! Spit it out and tell me what’s up with you. 

¡Ya basta de andarse con rodeos! ¡Al grano!

Enough with the messing around! Get on with it!

Juan ha ido directo al grano y le ha dicho a María que está enamorado de ella.

Juan got straight to the point and told María that he is in love with her. 

For extra brownie points from your Spanish friends and family, you should learn the most famous lines of the catchy (and raunchy) 1991 hit Estoy Por Ti by Spanish pop duo Amistades Peligrosas, who sing: “Pero basta ya de tanta tontería, hoy voy ir al grano, te voy a meter mano” (Enough with all the silliness, today I’m cutting to the chase, I’m going to feel you up). 

Different times the nineties, we’re not so sure that today’s political correctness would have allowed the duo to cut to the chase and sing about their true intentions.

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