Popular Sayings

“The walls have ears”
During the second half of the 16th century in France, Catherine de’ Medici had acoustic conduits built into the walls of her palace to be able to hear conversations in other rooms and see if people were conspiring against her.

“Crocodile tears”

In ancient times it was said that crocodiles lured their victims in by means of a strange whimper, similar to the sound of crying.
Today we know that crocodile tears are actually a watery secretion that keeps their eyes humid while out of the water. The croc’s salivary and lacrimal glands are located close to one another and are constantly stimulated, and the animal looks like it is crying while it eats.

“The coast is clear”
During medieval times the Spanish Mediterranean coast was constantly subjected to attacks from the inhabitants of Northeastern Africa.
Consequently, coastal villages and cities were in constant danger and various watchtowers were erected along the coast. Residents would climb to the top and keep a close eye on the sea, and whenever enemy ships were spotted the sentinel would shout: “There are Moors along the coast!”

“To be conspicuous by one’s absence”
In ancient Rome it was traditional to display at funerals the portraits of the deceased person’s ancestors/relatives.
Nonetheless, at the funeral of Junia, the widow of Cassius and sister of Brutus, one of the assassins of Julius Caesar, the portraits of these two criminals were missing, a fact which all present quickly took note of.

“Poner las manos en el fuego” (literally “to put one’s hands in the fire”)
This expression comes from the days when “God’s judgment” was used to hand down sentences at trials. The trials consisted of taking red hot irons or some sort of fire in one’s hands. If the person withstood the trial without significant (or any) injury, they were considered innocent.
With the passing of time the saying came to be used figuratively to express unwavering support for someone.

“Ir de punta en blanco” (literally “with white tips”; English equivalent is “in full armor”)
In chivalrous lingo of old, the expression was applied not to knights’ clothing but to their weapons, which, as they were made of polished steel, shone in the sunlight with a resplendent whiteness. Hence, in Spanish it was said that they rode “with white tips.”

“Ponerse las botas” (literally “to put on boots”; English equivalent is “to feather one’s nest”)
In other times, the kind of shoe a person wore was an indication of their social class. Boots, for example, were only used by rich and powerful knights, while common folk used low heel shoes.
When a person rose to the status of wearing boots, other people would tend to say: “He put on boots.”

“Third time lucky!”
This phrase appears to have its origin in one-on-one fighting, where the winner was the person that knocked their opponent over three times, or he who performed best throughout three rounds.
There is also an example to be found in the legal realm during the 16th and 17th centuries, where the penalty of death was established for those caught robbing the third time round.