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En línea con entradas anteriores, continuamos con nuestros apuntes gramaticales encaminados a mostrar la, también, abundante idiomaticidad de la lengua inglesa, en muchas ocasiones intraducible o carente de equivalencia a otras lenguas. En muchos casos —tal y como se evidencia en los dos ejemplos que sirven de introducción a este artículo— no quedará más opción que buscar similitudes parciales con el objetivo de aproximar idiomas. En cualquier caso, los dos refranes de encabezamiento, nos ponen en la pista de la temática que tratamos (apariencia personal y rasgos de personalidad), a la vez que dejan claro una realidad incuestionable: la fraseología es hija del legado cultural de un pueblo y fiel reflejo de cómo sus gentes interpretan la realidad.


Idioms related to character (or appearance) can help when talking about oneself or describing a person to a third party. They help to create a well-rounded picture of the individual being discussed.

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Consider the following two idioms. They approach the same character trait from opposite viewpoints (positive versus negative). In this example, we are referring to someone’s attitude towards authority (or structure in general). If somebody is conformist and agrees with everything their boss says and does, we say that he or she is a ‘yes man’, i.e. they always say ‘yes’ when asked to do something (note that we use the word ‘man’ irrespective of whether we are talking about a man or a woman).

However if someone has a pronounced contumacious streak – or a record of unpredictable behaviour – we might say that he or she is ‘a loose cannon’ (the connotation being that the individual could metaphorically explode/move out of position at any moment, like an improperly secured cannon on an old ship).

Following on from this notion (of a person being unreliable and reacting bizarrely in certain situations), when someone has their ego hurt and reacts badly we say they have ‘a fit of pique’. It means to display annoyance and displeasure because one’s ego has been wounded, e.g. ‘Ronaldo walked into the changing room, ignoring Zidane in a fit of pique.’

This kind of behaviour is unlikely to be displayed by someone who possesses a mild, gentle personality – perhaps someone prone to shyness or timidity. Yes, there is an idiom to describe such a person: we say that they ‘wouldn’t say boo to a goose’ (‘goose’ is ‘ganso’ in Spanish). If they are given to tearful displays of emotion, we call them a ‘cry-baby’. Somebody who doesn’t show any emotion is said to be ‘as cold as ice’.

We can also use idioms to describe appearance, rather than character. If we think somebody is too thin, we say that they’re ‘all skin and bones’. Conversely, if somebody is considered too fat, we say that they’re ‘like a beached whale’ (if a whale is ‘beached’, it means it has become stranded on a beach and cannot get back into the water).

Some people make an effort with their appearance, albeit with little success. If somebody is rather lacking in the ‘looks department’, a nasty person might say that they have ‘a face that would stop a clock’. Similarly, if an older lady (and it seems to be an idiom used only for women) tries to dress in a way that makes them seem younger than they are, someone might remark that they’re ‘mutton dressed as lamb’. For an older man trying to disguise his advancing years, we could say he’s ‘the oldest swinger in town’. The idioms in this paragraph aren’t complimentary, so be careful if you decide to use them!

A nicer, more positive way of commenting on somebody’s appearance could be to say that they ‘don’t have a hair out of place’. This means their appearance is immaculate. If they are very stylishly dressed you could also say that they ‘look a million dollars’, ‘pretty as a picture’ or that they are ‘dressed to kill’. This means they are wearing fashionable clothese designed to attract attention.

Why not try out some of these idioms in our blog test?


*Alberto Zuluaga Ospina (Universidad de Tubinga, Alemania

Fuentes: Fraseología y traducción. – Julia Sevilla Muñoz, UCM

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Alex Edstrom
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