Popular Colombian Proverbs – ‘Refranes’
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Every country has a rich collection of sayings. Also called idomatic expressions, proverbs, maxims, adages and aphorisms, these phrases are general truths capturing practical wisdoms in simple, popular, earthy expressions. There are over 2,000 proverbs in the English language. Sayings like: ‘Can’t judge a book by its cover.’ ‘ A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.’ ‘Better late than never.’ ‘A penny saved is a penny earned.’ ‘Don’t cry over spilt milk.’ ‘ The early bird gets the worm.’ We use them all the time. But a little time spent studying these age old utterances of wisdom reveals rich, authentic, cultural truths.

In Colombia these maxims are called ‘refranes’. Here is an approximate interpretation of Colombia’s most popular proverbs.

My thanks to Nancy Ruby Cardona for compiling this list of proverbs and helping me translate them into English. Ms. Cordona lives in Palmira in south Colombia and is the author of the novel “El Silencio de los Secretos”.

Here are my 10 favorite refranes:

En boca cerrada, no entran moscos – Flies don’t enter open mouths.

Del ahogado, aunque el sombrero – From a drown man you’ll still have a hat.

Aqui no se goza pero tampoco se sufre – I’m not hapy here but I’m also not suffering.

Agua que no has de beber, dejala correr – If you don’t want something let it go.

Los cuernos y las canas, no salen por vejez – You don’t get white hair and horns just because because you’re old.

Casado per no capado – Married but not castrated.

Con amor y aguardiente, nada se siente – Love and aguardiente make you numb.

Indio sin india, cuerpo sin alma – A man without a woman is like a body without a soul.

Con curas y los gatos, pocos tratos – Don’t trust priests or cats.

La lengua no tiene hueso, pero corta lo mas grueso – The tongue doesn’t have a bone but it cuts deep.

Some refranes are mostly used in specific regions of Colombia:

From Antioquia

Montanero no pega en pueblo – Peasants don’t assimilate to living in town.

Mujer y mula, la que no patea recula – Women and mules that don’t kick won’t move.

El pajaro no se caga en el nido – Bird’s don’t defecate in their nests.

From Choco

A mi me sacan de su bororo’ – Leave me out of it.

Perro que no se conoce, no se toca el rabo – Don’t mess with someone if you don’t know how they will react. Or, let sleeping dogs lie.

De su cultura dependen los machetazos – If you don’t have culture and manners they might take the machete to you.

Quien la debe, la teme – If you wronged someone, you’ll fear them.

Cuando el rio suena, piedras lleva – If people are gossiping about someone, it’s probably true.

Lo ajeno tiene la pata delgadita – If you borrow something it will most likely break.

From the Pacific coast of Buenaventura:

Ni lava, ni presta la batea – She doesn’t use it and won’t let others use it either.

A melon bueno y maduro, todos le huelen el culo – If it’s ripe and ready everyone wants it.

Amistad de carne y vino, no vale un comino – Drinking and good-time buddies are worthless.

Alabanza propria, mentira clara – If they always say they are right, they are probably lying.

A la fea, el dinero la hermosea – It doesn’t matter if a man or woman is ugly, their money makes them beautiful.

Yo no, me la dejo montar de nadie – I won’t let anyone tell me what to do.

From Cauca:

El que no se atreve a ser inteligente, se hace politico – He who doesn’t dare to be intelligent would do better to become a politician.

Al mal tiempo, buena cuerpo – In bad weather put on a good face. Don’t let it get you down.

Apague esta bulla que estoy rezando – Quiet. Keep it down. I’m praying.

From Narino

A trabaquito y medio – When asked how far it is they say: It’s a short distance. It won’t take long.

Chorreando la gota gorda – Work and exercise make everyone, not just fat people, sweat.

From Putamayo

Sale mas caro el caldo que las albondigas – Something cheap ends up costing more in the end.

Entre el honor y el dinero lo segundo es lo primero – Between honor and money the later always comes first.

Al hijo malo, pan y palo – A naughy child needs only bread and a stick.

From Huila:

Unos serven para hacer santos y otros para hacer cabron – Some people were born to be saints – other jerks.

Al baile de las gallinas no van las cucarachas – Cockroaches don’t go to a chicken dance. Some kind of class statement.

More Colombian Refranes

Juemadre, no me saque la piedra – Don’t make me mad

A caballo regalao, no se le mira el colmillo – If something is given, accept it as is.

Para un buen entendedor, poco palabras basta – a man with good taste doesn’t need a lot of words.

El que mucho abarca, poco aprieta – Your eyes are bigger than your belly.

A ese bobo, se le aparecio’ la virgen – The Virgin Mary must have appeared and granted a miracle. This idiot doesn’t deserve this.

Al pobre y al feo, todo se le va en deseo – The poor and the ugly never get what they want. The need and the desire is all they’ll ever get.

Mas falso que una moneda de cuero – More false than a leather coin.

Nadie sabe lo que tiene, hasta que no lo pierde – You don’t know what you have until you lose it.

No es mas rico el que mas tiene, si no el que menos necesita – A rich man with everything is no richer than a poor man with nothing .

No me hables de flores que soy jardinero – Don’t tell me about flowers, I’m a gardener.

Ojos que no ven, corazon que no siente – Eyes that don’t see, a heart that doesn’t feel. Out of sight, out of mind.

Perfume fino, viene en frasco chiquito – Good perfume comes in small bottles. Good things come in small packages.

Pueble pequeno, infierno grande – Small town, big hell. In a small town everybody knows everybodys’ business.

Quien con ninos acuesta, cagao amanece – He who sleeps with children wakes up full of feces. Don’t violate minors.

Reunion de zorras, perdicion de gallinas – A meeting of foxes results in a loss of chickens.

El que quiere el perro, acepta la chanda – If you want a dog you have to accept everything that comes with it. Could mean: if you fancy a man or woman you have to accept her children and family.

Te doy un dedo y te quieres llevar el brazo – I give you and hand and you take my arm.

Tanto rueda el cantaro hasta que se rompe – Keep playing with it, it will break.

Una manzanaa podrida, dana la canasta completa – A bad apple spoils the bushel.

Va para atras come el cangrejo – You are retreating like a crab.

Zorra vieja no cae en trampa – An old fox doesn’t fall in a trap.

Al caido, caerle – Helping a fallen man will bring you down.

Lo bueno dura poco – Good things don’t last.

El calla ortoga – If someone is silent, they did it.

Ese huevo quiere sal – He keeps coming around because he wants something

Sonar no cuesta nada – Dreaming doesn’t cost anything.

Cada loca con su tema – Every crazy person keep repeating the same things.

El que no llora no mama – Ask and you shall receive.

Jon McInnes

Jon McInnes is a journalist who has been traveling to Colombia since 1972. He travels to Colombia and other parts of South America yearly and writes for newspapers, food, wine and travel publications. He currently lives between Colombia and Detroit. You can also follow him on facebook and contact him via email at: jonmcinnesjon@gmail.com

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