Phrases Referring to Body Parts

lynx, or lince in Spanish
Enrique Dans/Creative Commons.

In Spanish, you can open your ears as well as your eyes, and something that fits perfectly is like a ring on a finger instead of a glove on a hand. The language has hundreds of phrases and colloquial expressions that include the names of body parts. Here are some of the most common or interesting; each phrase below is followed by a literal translation and then a common English translation followed by a sample sentence. Note that many of the sentence translations are not literal.

Brazo (Arm)

  • dar el brazo a torcer (to give one's arm to be turned) — to give up, to be persuaded — Era el equipo que no dio el brazo a torcer en busca del gol. (It was the team that never gave up in pursuit of the goal.)
  • nacer con un pan bajo el brazo (to be born with a loaf of bread under the arm) — to be born with a silver spoon in one's mouth — La hija de los actores nacerá con un pan bajo el brazo. (The actors' daughter will be born with a silver spoon in her mouth.)

Cabeza (Head)

  • andar de cabeza (to be heady) — to be busy, to have a full plate — Solo son las 11 de la mañana y ya ando de cabeza. (It's only 11 a.m. and already I'm swamped with plenty to do.)
  • andar mal de la cabeza (to be bad in the head) — to be crazy, to not think straight — Creo que yo no soy el que anda mal de la cabeza. (I know I'm not the one who needs my head examined.)
  • cabeza fría (cool head) — said of someone who remains calm or rational — La expulsión del jugador es totalmente justificada. Nunca tiene la cabeza fría. (The player's expulsion is totally justified. He's always a hot head.)
  • cabeza hueca (hollow head) — said of someone stupid — La persona de madurez no tiene la cabeza hueca. (The mature person isn't an air head.) One common synonym is cabeza de chorlito, equivalent of the English "bird brain." Other synonyms include cabeza de melón (melon head) and cabeza de calabaza (pumpkin head).

Cerebro (Brain)

  • cerebro de mosquito (mosquito brain) — bird brain, stupid person — Parece que tu cerebro de mosquito no te deja comprender lo que yo escribí. (It seems that your bird brain doesn't let you understand what I wrote you.)
  • cerebro gris (gray brain) — someone who is in charge behind the scenes. — El profesor niega ser el cerebro gris del presidente. (The professor denies being the hidden brains behind the president.)
  • lavar el cerebro (to wash the brain) — to brainwash, although the Spanish term doesn't always come across as pejorative as the English one — Me lavó el cerebro y me convenció de irnos a festejar Año Nuevo. (She brainwashed me and convinced me to go with her to celebrate New Year's.)

Codo (Elbow)

  • codo con codo, codo a codo (elbow to elbow) — side by side; in cooperation with others — Estudiaron codo a codo por una hora. (They studied together for an hour.)
  • empinar el codo, levantar de codo (to lift one's elbow) — to drink alcoholic beverages — Después de la pesca, empinaron el codo y se durmieron. (After fishing, they drank a few and fell asleep.)

Dedo (Finger)

  • chuparse el dedo (to suck one's thumb) — to be naive, foolish or unknowledgeable; to see someone else as such — No me digas que tu perro comió tus tareas. ¡No me chupo el dedo! (Don't tell me the dog ate your homework. I wasn't born yesterday!)
  • como anillo al dedo (like a ring on a finger) — perfectly timed or perfectly suitable for the situation — La oportunidad vino como anillo al dedo. (The opportunity came to me at the perfect time.)
  • no tener dos dedos de frente (to not have two fingers of a forehead; the phrase comes from a time when it was believed that the size and shape of the forehead was an indicator of intelligence) — to be stupid, to be as smart as a fence post, to not be the sharpest tool in the shed, etc. — El que se crea eso no tiene dos dedos de frente. (Whoever believes that isn't very bright.)
  • sin mover un dedo (without moving a finger) — without lifting a finger — Es posible tener éxito en los negocios sin mover un dedo. (It is possible to be successful in business without lifting a finger.)
  • tapar el Sol con un dedo (to hide the sun with one's finger) — to ignore reality, to bury one's head in the sand — Tapa el sol con el dedo cuando trata de defender lo indefendible. (He's ignoring reality when he tries to defend the indefensible.)

Espalda (Back)

  • cubrir las espaldas (to cover someone's back) — to protect someone, to have someone's back — Te cubro las espaldas. Todo está bajo control. (I have your back. Everything is under control.)
  • volver la espalda (to turn one's back) — to turn one's back — No me respondió antes me volvió la espalda. (He did not answer me before turning his back on me.)

Nariz (Nose or Nostril)

  • darle en la nariz (to be given in the nose) — to be suspicious — Me da en la nariz que la respuesta de mi padre es no. (I have a suspicion that my father's answer is no.)
  • no ver más allá de sus narices (to not see beyond one's nostrils) — to not see beyond the end of one's nose — Esta generación de políticos no ve más allá de sus narices e intereses. (This generation of politicians can't see beyond their noses and own interests.)

Oído (Ear)

  • abrir los oídos (to open one's ears) — to pay attention — Los escolares abren los oídos al cambio climático. (Scholars are paying attention to climate change.)
  • entrarle por un oído y salirle por el otro (to go in one ear and out the other) — to go in one ear and out the other — Las palabras de su hermano le entraron por un oído y le salieron por el otro, sin afectarla en absoluto (Her brother's words went in one ear and out the other without affecting her in the least.)
  • prestar oído (to lend an ear) — to pay attention — Elena no prestaba oído a las disculpas. (Elena didn't pay attention to the excuses.)

Ojo (Eye)

  • costar un ojo de la cara (to cost an eye from one's face) — to cost an arm and a leg — Viajar al oriente del país te costará un ojo de la cara. (Traveling to the eastern part of the country will cost you an arm and a leg.)
  • echar un ojo (to throw a look) — to take a look — Vamos a echar un ojo a lo que dice. (We're going to take a look at what he's saying.)
  • en el ojo del huracán (in the eye of the hurricane ) — in the center of a controversy, in the center of the storm — Le diseñadora está en el ojo del huracán por la extrema delgadez de sus modelos. (The designer is in the hot seat because of the extreme thinness of her models.)
  • tener ojo de lince (to have a lynx eye) — to have good vision, literally or figuratively; to have eagle eyes — Nuestro contador tiene ojo de lince para detectar pequeñas irregularidades. (Our accountant has eagle eyes for finding tiny irregularities.)

Pecho (Chest, Breasts)

  • dar pecho, dar el pecho (to give the breast) — to breastfeed — ¿Necesitan protección institucional las mujeres que dan el pecho en público? (Do women who breastfeed in public need institutional protection?)
  • tener un corazón que no le cabe en el pecho (to have a heart too big to fit in his/her chest) — to be big-hearted or generous — En más de una ocasión ha demostrado que tiene un corazón que no le cabe en el pecho. (More than once she has shown herself to be very generous.)

Pie y Cabeza (Foot and Head)

  • de pies a cabeza (from feet to head) — from head to toe — Mi hijo está tatuado de pies a cabeza con varios diseños. (My son is tattooed from head to toe with various designs.)
  • sin pies ni cabeza (without feet nor head) — making no sense; without rhyme or reason — El puente a ninguna parte es un proyecto sin pies ni cabeza. (The bridge to nowhere is a senseless project.)

Pierna (Leg)

  • dormir a pierna suelta (to sleep with a leg that is free to move; the phrase comes from the days when prisoners would sleep better if their legs weren't chained to prevent escape) — to sleep like a log — Nuestro bebé dormía a pierna suelta y no se despertó nunca por el ruido. (Our baby slept like a log and never woke up because of the noise.)
  • hacer piernas (to do legs) — to get exercise — Hace 15 años, cuando empecé a entrenar, me dije, "No necesito hacer piernas porque ya tengo músculos muy grandes". (Fifteen years ago, when I began training, I told myself, "I don't need to exercise because I already have big muscles.")
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Erichsen, Gerald. "Phrases Referring to Body Parts." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Erichsen, Gerald. (2023, April 5). Phrases Referring to Body Parts. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "Phrases Referring to Body Parts." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).