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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?

no dar un palo al agua
Are you 'rowing' hard enough at work to not be crossed off as a lazybones? Photo: S Alb/Unsplash

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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SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Spanish Word of the Day: ‘Incendio’

You’re probably familiar with this word but do you know how it’s different from ‘fuego’ (the Spanish word for fire)?

Spanish Word of the Day: 'Incendio'

The word fuego is probably one of the first words that Spanish language learners learn. 

It’s the most general word to refer to fire, as in the product of combustion.

It can be used when asking someone for a lighter (¿tienes fuego?), or the fire that burns on a bonfire or a campfire (el fuego de la hoguera), the flames of a fire (las llamas del fuego) and even in the sense of gunshots when someone shouts ‘hold your fire! (¡Alto el fuego!).

And it’s also the first word people will exclaim if a fire breaks out – ¡Fuego! (Fire!).

But when a fire is out of control, Spanish speakers rarely use the word fuego to describe this conflagration (yes, that’s a formal way of referring to an extensive fire in English). 

Instead they will call it un incendio (a fire) or el incendio (the fire). If it’s a wildfire or forest fire, they call it un incendio forestal.

That’s not to say you can’t use el fuego to refer to the fire in the general sense, but technically speaking if it’s a fire that’s broken out in a building or a forest fire that’s raging you should use the word incendio.  

There’s also the verb incendiar, to burn down or set fire to, in the active sense of someone choosing to burn something which sees the flames spread. You can also say prender fuego.

Or in the passive sense, as in a forest catching fire, incendiarse.

An example of the word ‘incendio’ in the Spanish press, with the headline reading “Spain’s fires leave two dead and more than 30,000 hectares destroyed”.

Examples:

Un incendio forestal en Barcelona ha arrasado miles de hectáreas de bosque.

A wildfire in Barcelona has destroyed thousands of hectares of forest. 

Los bomberos intentaron apagar el fuego en un edificio de la Gran Vía pero al final el incendio se cobró tres vidas.

The firefighters tried to extinguish a fire in a building on Gran Vía but in the end the blaze claimed three lives. 

Es un pirómano, ha incendiado un hermoso bosque porque le gusta ver cómo las cosas arden. 

He’s a pyromaniac, he set fire to a beautiful forest because he likes to see things burn.

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