Idioms in language reflect culture
As we enter the second week of the month, I thought I would write about a few Spanish expressions that linguistically and culturally epitomise the month of April, being that this month is the turning point between the crispness of winter and the harvesting and new life season of spring.
What I love about idiomatic expressions – not necessarily just in Spanish, but my in native English as well – is the richness of linguistic influences that shape languages and make them accessible to all sections of society.
Below are three of my three favourite Spanish expressions for April, so here goes…
1. “En abril, aguas mil”
This expression, which roughly translates as “Lots of rain in April”, is probably the most-repeated idiom when referring to the month of April.
Traditionally, April is the “wet month” when most precipitation falls, and you’ll see Spaniards – regardless of the weather outside – either wearing or clutching on to a raincoat or heavy jacket the entire month.
This mentality goes hand-in-hand with the idiom mentioned in another recent post, “Hasta el 40 de mayo, no te quites el sayo”, meaning that you should be wary of sporadic bad weather conditions at least until early June.
For a foreigner learning the language, this is also the easiest idiom to memorise due to its brevity and its handy rhyme. Plus, the Spanish love a good idiomatic expression, so you’ll certainly get a Spaniard tipping their hat to you if you can slip this one in to conversation.
You’ll find that the trouble, as a speaker of Spanish as a second language, is using it in the right context (believe me, I’ve tried and failed hundreds of times over the years, resulting in a blank look or a blurted-out “¿Queeeeeeeee?” in response) – although, luckily, Spaniards do love talking about the weather…
2. “Abril lluvioso, mayo verdoso”
This Spanish expression is more or less linked to the one above and means “A rainy April makes a green May”.
Again, its use is for the transition from winter into spring and the preparation of fields for farming. The idea is that a rainy April is great for the harvest, since the greenness – or fertility – of the land in May is a direct consequence of the amount of precipitation in April.
Despite their yearning for rain, Spaniards certainly don’t want to be cold, though, as the next idiom points out…
3. “Abril frío, poco pan y poco vino”
“Cold April, little bread and little wine” is the translation of this expression in English. What do bread and wine have to do with the month of April?
Yes, you guessed it, agriculture again. Although the grape harvest to make wine isn’t until autumn each year, the start of the growing season is crucial to the success of the yield; hence why the quality and quantity of wine suffer if April’s meteorological conditions are not favourable.
In the case of bread, the key time to harvest cereals is in spring until around June, making this the most vital moment for this crop not to freeze over and be spoilt before their gathering.
Culturally, this expression has great significance. As well as wine and bread playing lead roles in Spanish gastronomy, we must also remember that we’re talking about a society with Roman Catholicism at its core, so the church and church-goers would be affected by a bad crop for Holy Communion.
As you can probably tell, I love everything to do with linguistics, the Spanish language and references to Spanish culture. I believe it helps you understand its culture and its people that bit more.
After all, there are many influences in Spanish idiomatic expressions as wide-ranged as the Church, work, agriculture, as well as Spain’s climate, wildlife and varied geography.
If, like me, this interests you, here are a few more… “Las mañanas de abril son largas para dormir”, “En abril, búscale el nido a la perdiz” and “En abril, cortas un cardo y te crecen mil”…