Tag Archives: spare the rod spoil the child

Guatemalan Proverbs

Context: The informant is a grandmother in her 60s, originally from Guatemala, but now lives with her family in Southern California and works as a home-health nurse. When asked some of her favorite proverbios (proverbs), she gave me the following examples and attempted to translate them for her American audience (me). I also looked up the proverbs online for further clarification and explanation. The results are below.

  • Porque te quiero, te aporreo: Literal translation is “Because I love you, I hit you.” Seems to be a cultural explanation or excuse for spanking or other corporal punishment, similar to the old saying, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” In online discussions, teh general consensus seems to be that it is (or used to be) a parent’s job to correct bad behavior and promote good behavior by any means necessary, so that beating was an accepted way to discipline your child and ensure they became good, moral adults.
  • Salir de Guatemala y entrar en guatepeor: This was the most interesting proverb to me, because it is both a proverb and a pun. The meaning is something like, leaving one bad situation and entering an even worse one–like “Out of the frying pan and into the fire.” But the pun part comes from the name Guatemala, where mala means ‘bad’, and guatepeor, where peor means ‘worse’. So the proverb is literally saying, going from bad to worse, but it does so through by locating the concept in a Spanish-speaking country that, presumably, most of the Spanish-speaking world would know of and therefore have some preconceived notion of.
  • El perro que ladra no muerde: The dog that barks does not bite. Seems to be similar to the American/English saying that some(one/thing)’s bark is worse than its bite, in that they may put on an intimidating show and seem very formidable, but really they’re harmless or nothing to worry about.

Analysis: I think it is quite interesting that these proverbs are all very similar to ones that I know in English, either the general content/concept of them, or the exact wording of the phrases. This makes me wonder whether these proverbs originated in either English or Spanish and then were translated for that language group; or perhaps they came to both languages around a similar time period and from the same source (is Latin too pretentious a guess?) (one source claims that the “frying pan into the fire” saying and its many European variations is ultimately derived from an ancient Greek saying. however, the Guatemala/guatepeor saying seems to be uniquely for a Spanish-speaking audience, based on its unique play on words, so it is possible that the sayings evolved independently.)