Juegos de Manos son de villanos (Proverb)

My informant is Alice. Alice is 50 years old and was born and raised in San Salvador, El Salvador. She lived there until she was 18 then moved to the United States and proceeded to live in Mexico for a short time before returning to the states.


Alice: “Ok so the proverb is “Juegos de manos son de villanos” and I heard that from my mother, I heard that from my grandmother, and basically anyone that was older then me. I even said it to my children when they were younger.

What is the direct translation?

Alice: “If you play with your hands you are a villain”

What does that mean?

Alice: “Basically what that means is when you start doing stuff to other people with your hands you’re gonna get into trouble, there’s gonna be a fight. So as siblings or kids when you’re pushing each other or playing rough games, you know, they escalate and they get rougher and that’s when my grandmother or mother would say to us when she would see it escalating, you know when I was playing with my cousins or siblings they’d say “Juegos de manos son de villanos!”

Is there a specific time you first remember hearing this?

Alice: “No I just heard it a ton, especially with my sister. As far back as I remember I couldn’t tell you when the first time was. I’ve always had it in my life”

Does this have meaning to you?

Alice: “Well I think it’s true! Something starts out as a game, even with teasing, this is more physical but it starts as a game and it escalates and leads to someone getting hurt. There’s a lot of truth to it”


This proverb is one that Alice had heard extremely often as a child. It seems that it was very popular and especially with her sister she would hear this warning. I think a lot of proverbs are about advice and how they are phrased make them more memorable to children and in turn are practiced more. Alice remembers a number of people telling her this one and even passed it on to her children. It is harder though to make a proverb stick in Spanish in the United States because people won’t understand it which is a barrier.