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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Spanish Word of the Day: Castizo 

Here’s a word that’s hard to translate but usually describes something or someone that’s authentically Spanish. 

bullfighting madrid castizo
castizo spanish word

Castizo is an adjective you’ll often hear in conversation with Spaniards when they’re referring to a person, a place or an object that conjures up images of traditional Spain. 

It doesn’t necessarily have to refer only to what’s authentically Spanish – you could refer to a place or person from the UK, the US or Russia as being castizo too – but more often than not it’s used to speak about Spain and its regions.

Even though the image abroad of what constitutes something ‘authentically’ Spanish is usually that of Andalusia, among Spaniards the most pure-blooded region in the country is Castilla-La Mancha, quite possibly because modern Spain has its origins in the Kingdom of Castile. 

Think Don Quijote, Toledo, manchego cheese and jamón serrano rather than bullfighting, sherry and flamenco.

Despite being a cosmopolitan and international city, Madrid is still generally considered Spain’s most castizo city. 

READ ALSO: What are the regional stereotypes across Spain?

windmills castilla la mancha

Windmills dotted across the landscape of Castilla-La Mancha conjure up feelings of ‘castizo’ Spain for Spaniards. Photo: Wikiimages/Pixabay
 

In fact, casticismo was a literary and cultural movement that emerged in Spain in the 18th century to promote the national character and Spanish race in opposition to the influence France and the Age of Enlightenment were having on Spanish society at the time.

It’s worth noting that castizo derives from the word casta (cast, lineage, quality of something). 

So if you’re referring to a person as castizo/a, it’s like saying they’re pure-blooded, of unmixed ancestry or descent, but it can be used to refer to someone who’s from a wealthy and powerful family. 

There was once more of a racial association to its usage, as colonial Spain used the term castizo to define the purity of blood (and skin) of mixed-race people in Latin America, but nowadays castizo is more about origin and tradition than it is about race, although it can sometimes be linked to high class.  

Examples:

Jose María no podría ser un andaluz más castizo; le gustan los toros, el flamenco y la fiesta.

José María couldn’t be a more authentic Andalusian; he likes bullfighting, flamenco and partying.

Mercedes es de una familia castiza con muchos terrenos.

Mercedes’s family is of good lineage and owns lots of land. 

Castizo can also be used to describe a place, custom, language, object that is authentic and true to its roots, unchanged and unadultered.

Examples:

Las Letras es el barrio más castizo de Madrid.

Las Letras is the most authentic Madrid neighbourhood.

Habla un catalán castizo, sin usar una sola palabra en castellano.

She speaks undiluted Catalan, without using a single Spanish word. 

 

¿Hay algo más castizo que comer rabo de toro en Madrid el Día de San Isidro?

Is there anything more authentic than eating oxtail in Madrid on San Isidro Day?

READ ALSO:

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SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Spanish Expression of the Day: ‘No dar un palo al agua’

What do a stick and water have to do with working in Spain?

Spanish Expression of the Day: 'No dar un palo al agua'

One of the main clichés foreigners perpetuate about Spaniards is that they’re work-shy hedonists with a “mañana mañana” attitude towards any sort of responsibility.

Even among Spaniards themselves, there are regional stereotypes about southerners that claim they’re all vagos (lazy), especially those from Andalusia and the Canary Islands. 

Studies have actually shown that people in Spain work longer hours than Germans and other northern Europeans, so it’s understandably frustrating for many Spaniards to hear the same stereotypes regurgitated again and again.

Without a doubt, there are idle people in Spain, just like anywhere else in the world. So what’s one way to describe this laziness in Spanish?

No dar un palo al agua, which in its literal sense means to ‘not hit the water with a stick’. 

In fact, it’s the equivalent of saying in English ‘to not lift a finger’, ‘to never do an ounce of work’ or ‘to do sweet FA’ (FA standing for ‘fuck all’, or Fanny Adams, but that’s another story). 

Even though we initially thought that this Spanish metaphor drew a parallel between not being able to do something as simple as throwing a stick in a lake or a river, the origins of this saying are actually from the world of sailing.

Sailors who weren’t willing to put in the work and let everyone else do the rowing were called out for loafing around and told ¡No das un palo al agua!, in the sense that their oars (the palo or stick refers to the oar) weren’t even touching the water. 

So the next time you want to describe the fact that someone is not pulling their weight, remember this interesting Spanish expression. You can also use the shortened version – ‘no dar ni palo’.

It’s an expression which is widely used in all manner of settings (including formal ones), so you don’t have to worry about offending anyone, apart from perhaps the person who you are describing as working very little or not at all. 

Examples:

Pedro no da un palo al agua. Se pasa el día en las redes sociales aunque haya un montón de trabajo que hacer.

Pedro doesn’t lift a finger, he spends his days on social media even if there’s loads of work to do.

¡No das un palo al agua! ¡Eres un holgazán! ¡A ver si te pones las pilas!

You do sweet FA! You’re a right lazybones! Get your arse in gear!

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