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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Spanish Expression of the Day: ‘Mucho ruido y pocas nueces’

What does this ‘nutty’ Spanish expression have to do with Shakespeare?

Spanish Expression of the Day: 'Mucho ruido y pocas nueces'
This expression has been found in Spanish literature from years if not centuries before the man from Stratford-upon-Avon put pen to paper. Painting: Attributed to Pieter Borsseler

Mucho ruido y pocas nueces is the way the Spanish have of describing a lot of fuss about something which ends up not being important or lacking substance. 

It was the original Spanish translation of William Shakespeare’s late 16th century comedy ‘Much ado about Nothing’ and is used pretty much in the same sense.

However, it can also have a similar meaning to when in English you say ‘full of sound and fury’, ‘full of hot air’, ‘all talk and no trousers’, ‘great cry and little wool’, and so on. 

If your level of Spanish is intermediate you’ll recognise that this version of Shakespeare’s title literally means ‘a lot of noise and not many walnuts’.

mucho ruido y pocas nueces

An example of ‘mucho ruido y pocas nueces’ used in the Spanish press, in this case to refer to all the talk but little action of regional politics.

There are reportedly records of this expression in Spanish literature from years if not centuries before the man from Stratford-upon-Avon put pen to paper, such as Juan Ruiz’s The Book of Good Love (1330) or tragicomedy La Celestina by Fernando de Rojas (1499).

According to historians, the nutty analogy of walnuts and loud noises stems from the fact that in ancient times these hard shelled nuts used to be thrown from high up on castle walls and bell towers down to the ground, causing thunderous bangs. 

Walnuts were a sort of mediaeval firecracker or banger, suggesting that Spaniards’ love of loudness is deep rooted.

In old times, walnuts were also thrown in the path of the newlyweds during weddings, again causing a bit of a racket and probably one or two injuries (walnuts and other nuts were eventually replaced by rice).

Other Spanish historians believe the expression could have originated as a result of the Siege of Amiens in 1597, around the time Shakespeare published ‘Much ado about Nothing’.

Legend has it Spanish soldiers disguised as peasants threw walnuts against the ground so that the noise would confuse French guards at the walls of the northern French town.

The clamour caused by the walnuts supposedly made the French soldiers bend down to pick them up, while Spanish soldiers seized the opportunity to walk past them and invade the town. 

So next time you want to describe a lot of fuss about something or someone which in reality is not important or special, when someone makes threats that are never met, or when big promises are made but never kept, remember the interesting history of this Spanish expression. 

Example:

Él siempre hace muchas promesas pero al final es mucho ruido y pocas nueces.

He always makes big promises but in the end he’s all mouth and no trousers.

¡Mucho ruido y pocas nueces! Decían que venían Los Rolling Stones al festival pero al final no actúa nadie famoso. 

Much ado about nothing. They said The Rolling Stones were coming to the festival but in the end nobody famous is playing.

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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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