Spanish Expression of the Day: ‘No dar un palo al agua’

What do a stick and water have to do with working in Spain?

no dar un palo al agua
Are you 'rowing' hard enough at work to not be crossed off as a lazybones? Photo: S Alb/Unsplash

One of the main clichés foreigners perpetuate about Spaniards is that they’re work-shy hedonists with a “mañana mañana” attitude towards any sort of responsibility.

Even among Spaniards themselves, there are regional stereotypes about southerners that claim they’re all vagos (lazy), especially those from Andalusia and the Canary Islands. 

Studies have actually shown that people in Spain work longer hours than Germans and other northern Europeans, so it’s understandably frustrating for many Spaniards to hear the same stereotypes regurgitated again and again.

Without a doubt, there are idle people in Spain, just like anywhere else in the world. So what’s one way to describe this laziness in Spanish?

No dar un palo al agua, which in its literal sense means to ‘not hit the water with a stick’. 

In fact, it’s the equivalent of saying in English ‘to not lift a finger’, ‘to never do an ounce of work’ or ‘to do sweet FA’ (FA standing for ‘fuck all’, or Fanny Adams, but that’s another story). 

Even though we initially thought that this Spanish metaphor drew a parallel between not being able to do something as simple as throwing a stick in a lake or a river, the origins of this saying are actually from the world of sailing.

Sailors who weren’t willing to put in the work and let everyone else do the rowing were called out for loafing around and told ¡No das un palo al agua!, in the sense that their oars (the palo or stick refers to the oar) weren’t even touching the water. 

So the next time you want to describe the fact that someone is not pulling their weight, remember this interesting Spanish expression. You can also use the shortened version – ‘no dar ni palo’.

It’s an expression which is widely used in all manner of settings (including formal ones), so you don’t have to worry about offending anyone, apart from perhaps the person who you are describing as working very little or not at all. 


Pedro no da un palo al agua. Se pasa el día en las redes sociales aunque haya un montón de trabajo que hacer.

Pedro doesn’t lift a finger, he spends his days on social media even if there’s loads of work to do.

¡No das un palo al agua! ¡Eres un holgazán! ¡A ver si te pones las pilas!

You do sweet FA! You’re a right lazybones! Get your arse in gear!

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Spanish Expression of the Day: Veranillo de San Miguel

What do Spaniards mean when they say 'little summer of Saint Michael'?

Spanish Expression of the Day: Veranillo de San Miguel

Veranillo de San Miguel is used in Spanish to refer to a period of time in autumn when there are higher than average temperatures and dry weather.

It tends to last around a week and is a meteorological anomaly as it’s preceded and followed by colder and wetter weather more common for the season.

It’s what English speakers usually call an Indian summer. 

There’s currently a veranillo de San Miguel taking place in Spain, as much of the country is experiencing temperatures hovering around 30C after a couple of weeks of plenty of rain and cooler weather overall. In fact, some people are calling it veroño, a play on words by combining verano (summer) and otoño (autumn) as it’s hot enough to be July. 

But back to matter at hand – Where did the expression veranillo de San Miguel come from?

The reason why it’s called the ‘little summer of Saint Michael’ is that it tends to happen at the end of September, right at the beginning of autumn, coinciding with the Day of San Miguel in Spain: September 29th. 

This spell of warm weather is also called veranillo del membrillo, which translates as ‘quince summer’, around the time in which this fruit is ready to be harvested.


No guardes la ropa de verano que se acerca el típico veranillo de San Miguel.

Don’t put your summer clothes away as the typical Indian Summer is approaching.

Examples of ‘veranillo de San Miguel’ in the Spanish press.

There’s another Spanish expression to do with unseasonable weather – Hasta el 40 de Mayo no te quites el sayo – which literally means ‘Don’t take your tunic/coat off until May 40th’, in reference to the fact that sometimes in June the weather is still a bit rainy. 

And there are plenty of other expressions used in Spanish to refer to all types of weather, from ‘sweating like a chicken’ to ‘raining octopuses’ and more.