Have you never heard “más vale tarde que nunca” or “a quien madruga, Dios lo ayuda”?  Cero that you have! Spanish idioms (refranes) are pearls of wisdom passed down by word of mouth, one generation after another.These treasures of folk wisdom have much to teach us, much more than we imagine.

Have you ever wondered how these folk sayings have evolved over time? Each has its own history, origin, and meaning related to tradition and folk wisdom. Some have centuries-old origins, while others are more recent, adapted to the changes in modern society. 

With the passage of time, sayings also change. Some change slightly adapting to contemporary language, while others fall into disuse and are replaced by new folk sayings. However, despite the changes and transformations, sayings continue to be a fundamental part of our culture and offer useful lessons about human life.

Origin of idioms

The origin must be sought in the heart of Hispanic history. Many derive from oral tradition, transmitted from father to son and generation to generation. From the Middle Ages to the present day, idioms are a reflection of popular culture and beliefs. 

Some originate in Roman times, while others are more recent. They may also originate from other cultures, influenced by Greek mythology or Eastern tales. Without insisting on their origin, what is certain is that sayings are an important legacy of folk wisdom, timeless and universal .

Meaning of idioms

They are much more than simple phrases or popular sayings. Each one has a deep meaning and a teaching to give. Many offer us practical and wise advice on how to deal with different situations in life, while that others invite us to reflect on topics such as love, friendship or happiness. 

What’s more, they can also be used in everyday conversations, adding a touch of humor, originality and wisdom. It is a way of connecting us to our culture and roots, plus they help us better understand our past and present.

Examples of sayings and meanings

  1. “A caballo regalado no se le miran los dientes”: teaches us to appreciate the gifts or favors we receive, without judging by looking for flaws. 
  2. “No hay mal que por bien no venga”: reminds us to have a positive attitude even in difficult situations, as difficulties can often lead to positive results. 
  3. “Más vale tarde que nunca”: it is never late to do something and it is better to do it late than not to do it at all. 
  4. “Quien mucho abarca poco aprieta”: warns us over the risks of taking on too many responsibilities all at once, advising to concentrate on a few tasks and do them well 
  5. “No se puede tener todo en la vida”: helps us accept that we cannot have it all, but must appreciate what we already have. 

These sayings are just one example of the richness and diversity of Hispanic folk wisdom. They are a way of passing on knowledge and experience while continuing to be relevant and useful in everyday life.

Linguistic evolution 

If I told you “Al buen callar, llaman Sancho,” I would be reminding you that in certain situations it is better to remain silent. It is amazing how idioms have evolved over time! Originally they were longer but over time they have become shorter. Now they are precise and direct, able to express themselves in a few words.  

An example of this evolution is the idiom “A caballo regalado no le mires el diente” for which initially it was “A caballo dado no hay que mirarle el diente.” The same is true for “Quien a buen árbol se arrima, buena sombra le cobija,” which was said “Quien a buen árbol se arrima, buena sombra le cobija y buen fruto le da.”

These changes, although they seem minimal, reflect the dynamism of language and the trend toward linguistic economy. Although the form may change, the message remains the same, demonstrating the resilience of folk wisdom.

Specific examples

  • Ancient: “En boca cerrada, no entran moscas”
  • Modern: “El que mucho postea, poco vive”

Changing themes 

In the past, sayings were mainly based on nature, agriculture and morals. For example, the saying “Abril, aguas mil” reflects the importance of water in agriculture and the importance of rain in April. However, do not believe that the sayings remain tied to the past. The more modern ones refer to a wide range of topics: from love affairs to everyday city life. With its precise language, idioms continue to be a way of passing on lessons to current generations.

Cultural and social influences

Being a reflection of society, idioms have also changed over the years. If before we used to say “cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos,” to express distrust and warn of the dangers of trusting people who are not honest, in a more optimistic society like today’s, we have sayings like “comparte tus sueños y volarás más alto.”

This new saying is an invitation to share our goals and aspirations with others. It reflects the importance of collaboration and teamwork in the modern world.

Regionalisms and variations

This is where it gets interesting! If in Spain you can hear “al mal tiempo, buena cara,” which invites you to be positive even in the face of difficulties, in Latin America you will hear “no hay mal que por bien no venga,” so something positive can come out of any negative situation. 

Each region adds its own contribution and expressions rich in wisdom. It is fascinating how each culture enriches the way we see and approach life. 

Adapting to technology and modern life 

The digital world has left its mark! Today we encounter pearls like “no todo lo que brilla es un like,” reminding us that appearance does not always reflect reality. 

We also hear expressions like “mejor wifi conectado que un corazón desconectado,” which invite us to value the importance of digital connection in our lives. These phrases are an invitation to reflect on the impact of technology in our lives and how it has changed the way we communicate and relate in today’s world.

Relevance in today’s culture 

Raise your hand if you have never used an idiom in a conversation among friends. These popular expressions continue to be a special ingredient in our conversations, adding a unique touch. 

Sayings adapt and change over time, passing on values and teachings from generation to generation. They are pills of knowledge that accompany us every day, reminding us of the importance of tradition.

So the next time you find yourself in a pleasant discussion, don’t be afraid to use a figure of speech. You never know what pearl of wisdom might be born!

Impact in literature and media

From the oldest novels in classic literature to today’s catchy pop songs, idioms have left an indelible imprint on society. It is these small details that add humanity and connect us to our deepest cultural roots. 

As generations have passed, idioms have survived as a way of conveying teachings, values and traditions, transcending the cultural barriers of time and space. 

Their influence is such that they have become an integral part of our conversations, adding color and meaning. 

They are true linguistic gems that remind us of the richness of our culture and invite us to reflect on life.

  • Folk wisdom: “A quien madruga, Dios lo ayuda”
  • Classical literature: “El amor todo lo vence” – Miguel de Cervantes
  • Folk songs: “Color esperanza” – Diego Torres (“Sé que las ventanas se pueden abrir, cambiar el aire depende de ti”)

In literature, idioms have been used to enrich and make characters more interesting. Authors such as William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen used them perfectly in their works to express the character and beliefs of their protagonists.

Frequently asked questions 

What is an idiom? 

It is a fixed expression of popular origin that conveys wisdom, a moral, or a simple observation about life. 

Why is it important to know them?

They help to understand the culture, history and values of a society. 

Have they lost importance with digitization?

No, they have simply adapted and reinvented themselves for the digital age.

Idioms in the teaching of Spanish

They are a valuable teaching tool for learning Spanish as a foreign language. Using idioms allows students to better understand the uses and connotations of words. In addition, studying and discussing idioms can improve verbal fluency. When students immerse themselves in the world of popular sayings, they are also exploring the culture and linguistic expressions specific to Hispanic countries. Each saying has its own history, and discovering them means connecting deeper with the culture. 

They also offer students the opportunity to develop critical thinking. By analyzing the meaning and application of idioms, students learn to interpret information reflectively. This ability to think and analyze is critical in today’s world, where communication and cultural understanding are increasingly important. 

At iNMSOL, idioms are an important teaching resource for improving cultural understanding. Through interactive and dynamic activities, students apply them in real-life situations. This will enable them not only to improve their command of the language, but also to appreciate more deeply the cultural diversity of Hispanic countries.


From “donde hubo fuego, cenizas quedan” through “amor de chat, rápido se va.” Spanish idioms have evolved over the centuries, reflecting the essence of Hispanic culture. 

These little linguistic gems are the soul of communication, giving voice to the accumulated experience of generations. With their timeless enchantment they will endure over time, adapting to progress and leaving an imprint in everyone’s memory. 

Here’s to all the idioms to come and to those that have left their indelible mark on our culture. Olé!

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