Nine Fun Catalan Idioms

Nine fun Catalan idioms

If you were wandering around Barcelona and heard someone say ‘a la quinta forca’, would you know its meaning? How about ‘de més verdes en maduren’ or ‘tocar el dos’? If you don’t know these phrases, don’t worry! We’re going to explore all of them, along with six others, as we take a look at some Catalan idioms in this blog post.

Learning idioms and idiomatic phrases is one of the most interesting parts of learning a new language. Some might be surprisingly similar to your native language, but often they’ll be very different because they’ll reflect the culture and people of the language you’re learning.

We’ve chosen nine Catalan idioms to explore today, some of which you might hear the next time you’re around Catalan speakers!

a la quinta forca

Literally translated, a la quinta forca means ‘in the fifth gallows’ or ‘to the fifth fork’ as the word ‘forca’ can mean gallows, fork or pitchfork.

Its origins are uncertain, though there are a few different theories floating around.

The first comes from Joan Amades, a Catalan ethnologist and folklorist. He said that the fifth gallows was of medieval origin and came from Barcelona in the middle of the 15th century. Some wealthy and well-to-do people got permission to bury the bodies of those who ended up hanging from any of the five gallows in the city.

They went out in procession, from gallows to gallows, to collect them. The fifth gallows was that of the Duke of Montcada, far away from the city – hence the Catalan phrase’s connection to its English equivalent.

An alternate suggestion from Francesc Curet i Payrot (a historian, writer, and theatre critic) is that the phrase refers to one of the jurisdictional forks that marked the limits of Barcelona, with the most distant being Castelldefels. There were always seven of these, not five.

The third suggestion is from Flocel Sabaté, a medieval historian. He says that the number in the phrase is not as important; the point is to indicate that crossing several jurisdictions is going very far.

The English equivalent of this phrase is ‘in the sticks’ or ‘in the middle of nowhere’, meaning in a very remote location.

aixecar la camisa

Literally translated, aixecar la camisa means ‘to lift one’s shirt’.

The English equivalent is ‘to pull one’s leg’, meaning to playfully tease someone or deceive them for a joke.

bon vent i barca nova

Literally translated, bon vent i barca nova means ‘good wind and new boat’.

The English equivalent is ‘good riddance’ which means that you are pleased that someone or something has gone.

bufar i fer ampolles

Literally translated, bufar i fer ampolles means ‘to blow and make bottles’.

It comes from bottle-making, with the idea that the task of blowing glass and making bottles was a routine task for a glassblower.

The English equivalent is ‘a piece of cake’ or ‘a walk in the park’, meaning something that’s very easy to do.

de més verdes en maduren

Literally translated, de més verdes en maduren means ‘some greener ones ripen’.

The English equivalent is ‘you never know’, meaning that you can not confidently predict what will happen.

escampar la boira

Literally translated, escampar la boira means ‘to scatter the fog’ and you may also hear ‘aneu a escampar la boira’, ‘go scatter the fog’.

The ‘fog’ in this phrase doesn’t refer to the weather phenomenon. Instead, it’s used as a tongue in cheek way of letting someone know you’ve had enough of their company.

The English equivalent is ‘to go away’ or ‘to take a hike’.

haver begut oli

Literally translated, haver begut oli means ‘to have drunk oil’.

It refers to a type of torture used by the Spanish Inquisition, where boiling oil was poured down victims’ throats.

The English equivalent is ‘to be done for’ or ‘to have had it’, meaning to be about to die or about to suffer.

remenar les cireres

Literally translated, remenar les cireres means ‘to stir the cherries’.

The English equivalent is ‘to call the shots’, meaning to be in charge.

tocar el dos

Literally translated, tocar el dos means ‘to touch the back’.

Sometimes you might hear this interpreted as ‘touch the two’ because of dos. But dos doesn’t mean ‘two’ here. It is an obsolete spelling of dors, which means ‘back’. The phrase refers to tapping the back of a horse or another transport animal to encourage it to move forwards.

The English equivalent is ‘to leave’, ‘to up and leave’, or ‘to scram’.

Do you know any other Catalan idioms?

Of course, there are far more Catalan idioms out there than the ones we’ve listed here. Which others do you know?

Hopefully, these idioms will help add some flavour when you’re speaking Catalan. Remember, you can always learn more Catalan on the uTalk app, which includes our culture-specific topic. There might not be idioms inside, but this topic includes things like culture-specific food, people you should know, and buildings that are considered cultural and historic landmarks.

Good luck learning Catalan and happy language learning!

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