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Dirty Spanish by Juan Caballero

OK, so I bought this book on a whim after getting a £10 Amazon card and not knowing what to do with it (I don’t normally shop at Amazon). This book is sort of disappointing. In essence, it’s a phrasebook, except instead of the phrases being things like “Where can I find the bus station?” or “two beers please”, it includes gems such as “Dude, your dad is so hairy!” and “this little place is bumpin'” (what?).  Buying it, I thought it might be a good way to learn some Latin American slang and get an insight into the culture, but it includes no context and it’s written in a really off-putting American frat boy tone. I’m not even 100% sure what a frat boy is, but I’m pretty sure they say the things that appear in this book. Example: “How did that hoochie manage to marry a doctor?” Urgh! Sorry Juan Caballero, but your book is una cagada.



101 Spanish Idioms by J.M Cassagne, illustrated by L.N. Raidon

An oldie but a goodie. I bought this book secondhand and it’s over 20 years old, but it stands up well. Each page is devoted to a particular idiom, written in bold in Spanish at the top. There’s then a little cartoony sketch to illustrate, and a literal English translation and well as a translation of what it “really” means. Then underneath there’s an anecdote written in reasonably simple Spanish which uses the idiom in the correct context – and if your Spanish isn’t quite there yet, there’s a translation into English at the back.

I particularly like the section on santos y pecadores (saints and sinners). There, I learned that a howling gale is un viento de mil demonios; to remain an old maid is to quedarse para vestir santos (stay dressing saints); and to say your time will come (“every dog has his day” is an idiom with the same sentiment in English) it’s todos los santos tienen novena. I’m assured by my resident native speaker that these sayings are all pretty common – handy.



Con dos huevos by Héloïse Guerrier and David Sánchez

This is the kind of book that Dirty Spanish wishes it were. It’s not a phrasebook so much as a window into the peninsular Spanish soul (and it includes explanations in Spanish, English, and French). It’s also classy, witty, and genuinely filthy. As with 101 Spanish Idioms, each page has an idiom and an accompanying illustration, but the big difference here is that the idioms in this book probably couldn’t be taught in a classroom setting. Example: if something’s really really good, a Spanish speaker might say era teta de novicia (it was the novice’s tit). A British English speaker in the same context might say “it was the dog’s bollocks”, as the book helpfully notes. The picture which goes with it shows a young nun with her breast exposed- the illustrator, David Sánchez, is really talented and the images are all as imaginative and colourful as the language itself.

Other plain-speaking idioms include dar el coñazo and cagarse en Dios, and admittedly the latter shocked me a tiny bit the first time I heard it. My boyfriend tells me that his abuelo used to say me cago en la hostia (I shit on the communion wafer) when he was particularly happy. This is Spanish as really spoken by Spaniards, in one eye-opening little volume.

Interested in more books for learning Spanish? One of my favourite blogs has some recommendations here. There’s also a review of Con dos huevos in academic journal Hispania right here.