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SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Spanish Expression of the Day: ‘Hacerse el sueco’

If a Spanish person says you’re ‘acting Swedish’, what do they mean?

abba spanish expression hacerse el sueco
Were legendary Swedish pop group ABBA every guilty of 'hacerse el sueco'? Photo: Roger Turesson/AFP

The Spanish expression hacerse el sueco means to play dumb or feign ignorance, but any Swedish readers should hold off from writing a stern letter of complaint to the Spanish embassy in Stockholm until they’ve read this article, at least.

That’s because sueco, which can mean “Swedish”, also refers to a type of shoe: the clog. 

In fact, nowadays it’s written with z rather than a s – zueco – originating from the Latin word ‘soccus’.

These clunky wooden shoes were once worn by theatre comedians that performed during Roman times, and they’ve also been widely used for centuries in rural communities of northern Spain.

Spanish lexicographers such as José María Iribarren believe that the expression hacerse el sueco refers to the clog and not the Swedish people, as the shoes are associated with clumsiness. The Spanish word zoquete, which means dimwitted, also originates from ‘soccus’. So the expression would be ‘acting like a clog’ rather that ‘acting like a Swede’.

But then there are some who believe that the expression does refer to Swedish people, as there’s another expression with the same meaning, which is hacer alguien oídos de mercader (‘to do merchant ears’).

Therefore, there’s a theory that Swedish merchants arriving at ports in Spain either didn’t understand or pretended not to know what their Spanish counterparts were saying in order to get a better deal.

Whatever the true origins of this expression (the clog theory is more widely supported), if someone is pretending not to understand, deliberately avoids answering a question by changing the subject, doesn’t come to work to later claim they thought it was a public holiday, or acts as if they haven’t seen you in the street and walks past, they’re haciéndose el sueco. A similar expression is hacerse el loco, to ‘pretend to be crazy’.

There’s also the saying hacer oídos sordos, but this applies more to turning a deaf ear to something that’s been heard, whereas hacerse el sueco can refer to all kinds of ways someone is playing dumb or falsely claiming ignorance.

Hacerse el sueco and these other related expressions are not too colloquial and can be used in all social settings, but obviously keep in mind that you’re accusing a person of playing dumb.

Examples:

¡No te hagas el sueco! Sabes perfectamente a qué me refiero.

Don’t play dumb! You know exactly what I’m talking about.

¿Has visto como ha pasado de nosotros y se ha hecho el sueco? Estábamos justo al lado de él.

Did you see how he ignored us and feigned ignorance? We were right next to him.

Te estás haciendo el sueco, te he envíado diez mensajes y no me has respondido porque no te daba la gana.

You’re playing dumb, I’ve sent you ten messages and you didn’t reply to me because you couldn’t be bothered.

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SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Spanish Expression of the Day: ‘Montar un pollo’

If someone accuses you of 'riding a chicken' in Spain, should you be offended?

Spanish Expression of the Day: 'Montar un pollo'

In today’s fascinating Spanish Expression of the Day, we have a saying which may seem a bit confusing or even shocking to foreigners.

Montar un pollo, which in its literal sense translates as ‘to ride a chicken’ in Spanish, actually means to make a scene. 

So if someone is flipping out, running amok, getting excessively angry or boisterous and generally overreacting in a loud and noticeable way, the colloquial way of saying it in Spanish is that they’re montando un pollo.

In fact, there are several other ways of saying that someone is making a scene in Spanish. 

There’s armar un escándalo, hacer un drama, montar una escena and our personal favourite montar un numerito (as in perform a small musical or theatrical act).  

But going back to the ‘riding a chicken’ expression. Even though everyone writes it as pollo, the original expression was with the word poyo with a y, which means stone bench or kitchen counter. 

It originates from the Latin word podium, which is what Medieval Spaniards would bring with them to town squares, assemble and stand on to get the attention of a crowd when they wanted to give a speech, events which no doubt got pretty noisy and lively.

Montar in Spanish can mean to mount/get on (as well as assemble, ride or whip), so montar un pollo can really be understood as ‘getting on or setting up a podium’, which makes sense in terms of the expression ‘making a scene’.

If a person is giving someone a telling-off or berating them, this expression can also be used in its reflexive form by saying montarle un pollo a alguien. Similarly, the expression can be used in its reflexive form when describing a lot of commotion or disruption that’s taking place, as in se montó un pollo.

Examples:

Esa mujer le ha montado un pollo al camarero porque se le olvidó traerle los cubiertos.

That woman flipped out at the waiter because he forgot to bring her cutlery.

Hay unos jóvenes borrachos en la plaza montando un pollo que no veas. 

There are some drunk young people in the square making a scene that you wouldn’t believe.

¿Te quieres tranquilizar? ¡Estás montando un pollo y haciendo el ridículo!

Do you want to calm down? You’re making a scene and showing yourself up!

Se montó un pollo porque el novio le pilló poniéndole los cuernos.

All hell broke loose because the boyfriend caught her cheating on him.

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