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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

The many ways Spaniards refer to your face if you’re being cheeky

If you’ve crossed the line with a Spaniard, there’s a high chance they’ll use one of a number of expressions in Spanish that refer to the face or head. Here’s the interesting reason why.

The many ways Spaniards refer to your face if you're being cheeky
Portrait of King Carlos II of Spain, whose unusual face was a product of genetic mutations from incest rather than of brazen behaviour.

Spanish speakers have a lot of ways of referring to someone who is overtly cheeky or shameless and doesn’t take others into account.

There are the terms sinvergüenza (scoundrel) or insolente (insolent/lippy) but Spanish speakers are more likely to use one of the following face and head-related expressions to call out someone’s audacity.

Caradura

Literally meaning ‘hard face’ but in fact a colloquial way of referring to someone who is overtly cheeky or shameless and doesn’t take others into account.

Example: Eres un caradura, te has comido todas mis galletas. You’re so cheeky, you ate all my biscuits.

Tener mucha cara/ser un carota

To have a lot of face or to be a big face but in fact also meaning to be cheeky.

Example: Tiene mucha cara, ha aparcado en una plaza para discapacitados. He’s shameless, he’s parked in a disabled spot.

Tener más cara que espalda

Word for word translating as having more face than back but actually meaning to have a lot of audacity or impertinence.

Example: Juan tiene mas cara que espalda, sólo sabe aprovecharse de los demás. Juan is so shameless, he takes advantage of others.

Tener morro/mucho morro/un morro que se lo pisa

Several expressions with the Spanish word for snout (to have a snout, to have a lot of snout, and to have so much snout that you step on it). They are however not used to refer to an animal’s face but a person who’s gone too far with their shameless behaviour.

Example: Tiene un morro que se lo pisa, ha cogido mi bici sin pedírmelo. The nerve she has, she’s taken my bike without asking

Por la cara/por el morro

By the face or by the snout, but really meaning scot-free, without asking.

Example: María se plantó en la fiesta por la cara aunque no estaba invitada. María turned up at the party without asking or being invited.

Ser un jeta

To be a pig or boar’s snout. You know the drill, it means to be a shameless devil.

Example: Mi hermano es un jeta, no va a clase pero se lo pagan mis padres. My brother is shameless, que doesn’t go to class even though my parents pay for it. 

And even though Spaniards don’t have the wealth of hand gestures that Italians do, they do give themselves a light slap on the cheek to refer to someone who’s being cheeky.

So what’s the origin of all these expressions and the apparent connection between the face and shameful behaviour?

Most linguistic experts seem to agree that all the facial references come from the fact that in feudal times in Spain not showing emotion on one’s face (keeping a hard face, caradura) or not hanging one’s head in shame in a situation where remorse was due was a clear example of shameless behaviour.

There’s also the expression ‘your face should fall from shame’ (se te debería caer la cara de la vergüenza) which pretty much sums it all up.

As for the reference to animal’s snouts alluding to unabashed behaviour, it could stem from the centuries of Moorish conquest over Spain and how pigs are viewed as impure and unhealthy in Islam.

The word jeta in Spanish comes from the Arabic jaṭm and the negative connotations that came with it seeped into the Spanish language.

So the next time someone behaves selfishly and shamelessly to you in Spain, don’t forget to use one of these expressions.

They’re not exactly insults and definitely not swearwords, but maybe think twice before saying it directly to their face.
 

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SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Spanish Word of the Day: ‘Chiringuito’

Here’s one of the most summer-themed Spanish words out there, so you need to add it to your vocab. 

Spanish Word of the Day: 'Chiringuito'

When Spaniards think of summer, they often picture vacaciones (holidays), sol y playa (sun and beach) and tinto de verano (red wine mixed with soda/lemonade and ice – don’t diss it until you’ve tried it). 

And the place where they’re most likely to enjoy all these placeres del verano (summer pleasures) is at a chiringuito

Un chiringuito is essentially a beach bar. 

They’re usually small establishments that serve drinks and food to beachgoers during the sweltering summer months, meaning that many don’t open for the rest of the year. 

You’ll get the more rough and ready ones, wooden huts with dried out palm leaves providing shade as the radio blasts los éxitos del verano (the summer hits), to the more refined chiringuitos that are essentially like upmarket beachside gastrobars serving up plates of sardines as if they were haute cuisine. 

The word chiringuito (pronounced chee-reeng-gee-toh, the u in silent) was brought to Spain by los Indianos, the name given to Spaniards who emigrated to South and Central America in the 19th and 20th centuries and then returned to Spain, often with a lot more money under their belt. 

They would order a chiringuito when they wanted un café, a word used by Cubans who worked on sugar plantations to refer to how the coffee they made would filter through a stocking squirted out like a stream (chorro or chiringo).

The first beach kiosk to be dubbed a chiringuito was in 1949 in the coastal Catalan town of Sitges, where many wealthy Indianos settled. 

Then came the hippie movement in the sixties, the explosion of tourism in Spain and the hoards of beachgoers needing refreshing drinks to get some respite from the sun.

In 1983, chiringuito made it into the Spanish dictionary and in 1988 French pop singer Georgie Dann hit the charts with El Chiringuito.

These simple wooden beach huts were now officially part of Spanish culture.

But chiringuito has another meaning in Spain which pays heed to the informal nature of these establishments. 

Nowadays, chiringuito is often used to refer to a shady business, a government department born from cronyism, a bunch of cowboys basically.

Headline in Spanish right-wing news website OK Diario reads “Sánchez increased shady public enterprises (chiringuitos) by 10 percent as GDP plummeted due to the coronavirus”.

We certainly know what kind of chiringuito we prefer.

There’s also the expression “cerrar el chiringuito”, which means to finish a duty and leave.

Examples:

Vamos a tomar unas cañas y un pescaito al chiringuito.

Let’s go and have some beers and some fish at the beach bar. 

Si quieres mantener tus inversiones a salvo has de alejarte todo lo lejos que puedas de lo que se conoce como chiringuito financiero.

If you want to keep your investments safe you have to get away as far as you can from shady companies.

Ya es tarde, habrá que pensar en cerrar el chiringuito e irse a casa.

It’s late, time to finish work and go home.

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