A Spaniard's guide to American lingo

TransferWise content team
3 minute read

Americans and the Spanish share a lot in common, such as a love of spectator sports, a hard work ethic, and lots of strange words and expressions -- at least to foreign ears.

We’ve compiled a partial list of American English words and expressions that Spanish expats in the U.S. said they were often at a loss to understand.



Americans love this word, often using it like a greeting similarly to the colloquial Spanish tío and tía.

“Duuuude, did you see the game last night?” There was once a female equivalent (dudette) too but nowadays you’re likely to hear dude used for guys and girls. It also just refers to another person: “What’s with that dude in the bright pink bunny suit over there?”

The Lack of Adverbs

In addition to “literally”, many Americans tend to chop the “ly” off of their adverbs.

“He’s real nice,” is a phrase you’re likely to hear, especially if situated in the South or Midwest. But even official slogans (Apple’s “Think different”, for example) will neglect it. After a while you’ll also accept people not speaking proper.

Piece of cake


Similar to the Spanish “Ser pan comido” (“to be eaten bread”), sweet loving Americans use this expression to signify when something is very easy or takes as little effort as, well, devouring a super sweet slice of chocolate cake. In some parts of the States, you will also hear “easy as pie.”

Go Cold Turkey


For whatever reason, a turkey is a symbol of difficulty in both Spanish and English. In Spanish, you are at a difficult age when you are “the age of the turkey” (“Estar en la edad del pavo”). And in English, going “cold turkey” signifies giving up something addictive all at once, rather than gradually.

Hitting things


When it is time for Americans to go to study hard, they will “hit the books”.

When it is time to get going, they will then “hit the road”. And when it’s finally time to go to sleep, they will “hit the hay” or “hit the sack.” Or, in another uniquely American saying, they will “call it a night” when going to bed.

Shooting The Breeze


An American might proclaim that they’re spending a lazy weekend with friends, “just shooting the breeze.”

They most likely haven’t brought out riffles at a rather windy shooting range, but are rather engaging in idle chatter. The saying did, however, originate from the Wild West when cowboys with extra time on their hands would fire into the sky.

Monday Morning Quarterbacking


What would the American language be without an expression related to football? This one refers to criticizing something in hindsight -- the same way Americans will heatedly discuss a quarterback’s performance on Monday morning following the big game.

Speaking of the Devil

Similar to the Spanish “hablando del rey de Roma (speaking of the King of Rome),” this usually signifies that the person in your conversation (whether they have malicious intent or not) has appeared unexpectedly.

Similar expressions

Several more Spanish expressions have a close English equivalent.

If an American is teasing or making fun of you in a playful manner, they might be “pulling your leg”, similar to how someone will take the hair (“tomar el pelo”) in Spain. To express how every person is unique, someone might say “To each their own” or “Different strokes for different folks”, similar to the Spanish “Cada loco con su tema,” (or literally “Every crazy person has their own theme").

And, especially in today’s political climate in the U.S., you might hear the phrase “All talk and no action,” which is like the highly sensical Spanish phrase, “Mucho ruido y pocas nueces” (“A lot of noises and few walnuts”).

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