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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Spanish Word of the Day: Guerra

As Russia begins its illegal invasion of Ukraine, we look at the Spanish word for war and all its different uses in Spanish. 

spanish word of the day guerra
One small southern Spanish village has changed its name to Ukraine in a show of solidarity. Photo: STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

Guerra, pronounced with the quintessentially strong rolling R and without uttering the U, is the Spanish word for war or warfare. 

It’s actually of Germanic origin – from the old word werra – meaning disorder or fight (bellum is the word in Latin for war).

Examples:

La guerra acaba de empezar.

The war has just started.

Or

Yo no quiero ir a la guerra.

I don’t want to go to war.

Guerra can be used to name an armed conflict but also other situations such guerra de sexos (battle of the sexes), guerra de precios (price war), guerra psicológica (psychological warfare), consejo de guerra (court-martial), banda de guerra (military band).

The expression ‘a war to the death’ is una guerra sin cuartel, a battle cry is un grito de guerra, and if someone describes something as de antes de la guerra (from before the war) it means it’s ancient or outdated.

Interestingly, the word for warlike or relating to war in Spanish is bélico.

Examples:

Ha sido un conflicto bélico muy sangriento.

It’s been a very bloody military conflict.

or

Me gusta mucho el cine bélico.

I really like war films.

There are also some useful expressions with guerra in Spanish, such as dar guerra (to be a handful or cause trouble) or querer guerra (to look for a fight or to be on the prowl).

Examples:

El niño está dando guerra, si no le doy su juguete se pone a llorar.

The boy is being a handful, if I don’t give him his toy he starts crying. 

and

Ese tío quiere guerra. No deja de insultar a la gente.

That guy is looking for trouble. He won’t stop insulting people.

There are more uses of guerra in Spanish but we leave you with a slogan you’ve probably heard before which Spaniards have of course translated: Haz el amor, no la guerra (make love, not war). 

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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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