Turn your español up to 11.
It’s fair to say that these are not words normally associated with Spanish.
It’s a colourful and vibrant tongue, naturally designed to allow its users to express their emotions freely.
Writer Laurie Lee described hearing it for the first time when he hiked through Spain as a teenager.
As he woke up one morning, he overheard a group of old washer women ‘firing off metallic bursts of speech that bounced off the rocks like bullets’.
He fell in love with the language from then on, listening in wonder at the vibrancy of it as he walked.
With this in mind, sometimes the standard, ordinary vocabulary they teach you in Spanish class just doesn’t cut it. ‘Muy bien’ is nice but it’s also slightly dull and can sound repetitive.
When I first arrived in Spain, an American friend told me:
Don’t be afraid to be a little more extreme when you speak Spanish, it helps you get along.
It was wise advice.
Here are 5 extreme Spanish adjectives to add a kick to your vocabulary.
- When you’re having that once-in-a-lifetime experience
You’re at a place that is often referred to as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’.
Set against a backdrop of the spectacular peaks of the Sierra Nevada, the ancient Alhambra palace glistens in the glory of the setting sun.
You contemplate the 800 years of history this place holds — the intricate design of its towers, the stunning beauty of its gardens.
‘Qué piensas?’ whispers your Spanish friend and guide.
‘Bien’, you reply.
*Record scratch sound*
Doesn’t quite cut the mustard, does it?
‘Bien’. It could even be considered offensive to a local, proud of the jewel in the city’s crown.
Don’t say ‘bien’, say ‘asombroso’
Literally meaning ‘to overshadow’. A fitting way to describe how the Alhambra dominates the Granadan landscape.
2. When your skin crawls…
Everyone hates cockroaches. The way they scuttle their jet-black bodies around a room, skilfully evading attempts to catch them.
Their favourite food is festering rubbish, they reproduce at a scarily rapid rate and, to top it all off, they’re able to survive a nuclear holocaust.
Did you know that a common way for them to get into your home is by one of their eggs sticking to your footwear?
Nope. Just nope.
Don’t say ‘malo’, say ‘asqueroso’.
Derived from the word ‘escara’ meaning a type of swamp or dung, this is a strong word used to express disgust. It’s even related to creepy-crawlies, with ‘Escarabajo’ being the word for beetle, so someone was thinking along the same lines all those years ago…
3. When you’re at a sporting extravaganza
Let’s talk about football.
OK, I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it’s a huge part of culture in Spain. You’ll often see a game blaring away in the background of one of the country’s gazillion cafeterias.
The sport also throws up a few gems that are worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time. Take, for example, Barcelona’s Camp Nou. Home to one of the biggest clubs in the world and scene of countless dramatic sporting events, this behemoth of a stadium invades your senses even when its empty.
So imagine being there on match day.
Full to its near 100,000 capacity, the noise that cascades down from the stands as Leo Messi and co. take to the pitch is overwhelming. It’s surely what the term ‘wall of sound’ was invented for.
You can’t hear your friend speak next to you, in fact you can’t hear anything at all.
Don’t say ‘ruidoso’ say ‘ensordecedor’
Literally meaning ‘ to make one deaf’, it does a great job of describing the din of a packed stadium. Get those ear plugs ready.
4. When it’s been a loooooong day
Spanish culture makes it difficult for you to get bored. Its social nature means that there’s normally something going on, especially in the summer months. If you’re not sipping a caña on the terrace, maybe you’re partying at a fiesta or trying out a new tapa.
It also often means eating late in the evening, and going to bed in the early hours of the morning. To top it off, the national work day is among the longest in Europe, disproving the popular stereotype of Spanish laziness.
So it’s hardly surprising when it all catches up with you. Working and playing hard means sometimes you just need to sleep, for your own good.
Don’t say ‘estoy cansado’ say ‘estoy muerto’.
Literally ‘I’m dead’. This might sound a tad extreme, but it’s a common colloquial expression. If you’re burning the candle at both ends (as my gran used to say) then maybe it’s a useful way of summing up how you feel.
5. When you can’t stand the heat
The summer of 2018 was one of the hottest on record and nowhere more so than Seville, where temperatures touched 50c.
Seville is a city that takes summer as a kind of punishment. For anyone brave enough to walk its streets during daylight hours the experience is gruelling. The heat climbs up your legs, overpowering you to the extent that walking is nearly impossible.
Sevillanos know this, which is why you’ll often find the streets empty in deep summer. It’s also how the siesta became such a famous part of Spanish tradition; hiding in a cool, dark room being the only way to escape the oppressive heat.
Don’t say ‘hace calor’ say ‘hace bochorno’
Meaning ‘it’s disgracefully hot’, this is a great phrase to throw into a conversation on a sweltering day — if you can find the energy.
6. When you’re feeling claustrophobic
To say Spain loves a good party is an understatement. Every city, town and village has a special time of year where everyone hits the street to celebrate — and by everyone, I mean EVERYONE. Nobody misses out on the fun, which means space can be at a premium.
Take San Fermín, for example. Originally Pamplona’s hometown festival, it has now exploded into an international festival, with almost 1.5 million people attending the 2017 event.
Controversies surround its infamous bull run, but it’s clear that being there is a unique experience. Festival-goers have described being swept along in an ocean of people in the city’s narrow streets, barely having room to turn around, let alone walk or dance.
Don’t say ‘lleno’, say ‘a tope’
Also used to denote a doorstop, ‘a tope’ literally means that nothing else can get in the door, or fit into a certain space: useful for a party that’s ‘packed to the rafters’.
In a nutshell
So, get it off your chest. Say what you really mean — sometimes it’s better not to nadar entre dos aguas (literally ‘to swim between two waters’, or ‘sit on the fence’ in English).
Spanish is famous for its flair and, after all, it’s a well-known fact that it’s healthy for us to express ourselves freely: so take a walk on the extreme side once in a while.