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SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Spanish Expression of the Day: ‘Hacerse el sueco’

If a Spanish person says you’re ‘acting Swedish’, what do they mean?

abba spanish expression hacerse el sueco
Were legendary Swedish pop group ABBA every guilty of 'hacerse el sueco'? Photo: Roger Turesson/AFP

The Spanish expression hacerse el sueco means to play dumb or feign ignorance, but any Swedish readers should hold off from writing a stern letter of complaint to the Spanish embassy in Stockholm until they’ve read this article, at least.

That’s because sueco, which can mean “Swedish”, also refers to a type of shoe: the clog. 

In fact, nowadays it’s written with z rather than a s – zueco – originating from the Latin word ‘soccus’.

These clunky wooden shoes were once worn by theatre comedians that performed during Roman times, and they’ve also been widely used for centuries in rural communities of northern Spain.

Spanish lexicographers such as José María Iribarren believe that the expression hacerse el sueco refers to the clog and not the Swedish people, as the shoes are associated with clumsiness. The Spanish word zoquete, which means dimwitted, also originates from ‘soccus’. So the expression would be ‘acting like a clog’ rather that ‘acting like a Swede’.

But then there are some who believe that the expression does refer to Swedish people, as there’s another expression with the same meaning, which is hacer alguien oídos de mercader (‘to do merchant ears’).

Therefore, there’s a theory that Swedish merchants arriving at ports in Spain either didn’t understand or pretended not to know what their Spanish counterparts were saying in order to get a better deal.

Whatever the true origins of this expression (the clog theory is more widely supported), if someone is pretending not to understand, deliberately avoids answering a question by changing the subject, doesn’t come to work to later claim they thought it was a public holiday, or acts as if they haven’t seen you in the street and walks past, they’re haciéndose el sueco. A similar expression is hacerse el loco, to ‘pretend to be crazy’.

There’s also the saying hacer oídos sordos, but this applies more to turning a deaf ear to something that’s been heard, whereas hacerse el sueco can refer to all kinds of ways someone is playing dumb or falsely claiming ignorance.

Hacerse el sueco and these other related expressions are not too colloquial and can be used in all social settings, but obviously keep in mind that you’re accusing a person of playing dumb.

Examples:

¡No te hagas el sueco! Sabes perfectamente a qué me refiero.

Don’t play dumb! You know exactly what I’m talking about.

¿Has visto como ha pasado de nosotros y se ha hecho el sueco? Estábamos justo al lado de él.

Did you see how he ignored us and feigned ignorance? We were right next to him.

Te estás haciendo el sueco, te he envíado diez mensajes y no me has respondido porque no te daba la gana.

You’re playing dumb, I’ve sent you ten messages and you didn’t reply to me because you couldn’t be bothered.

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For members

SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Spanish Word of the Day: Bisiesto

Today is a special day in the calendar, so let’s go over a word in Spanish that explains it. 

Spanish Word of the Day: Bisiesto

There’s only a February 29th every four years, which explains why 2024 is a leap year. 

In Spanish, a leap year is called un año bisiesto. You can also refer to a leap day as un día bisiesto.

The word bisiesto originates from the Latin bis sextus dies ante calendas martii (sixth day before the month of March). 

This corresponded to a day between February 23d and 24th brought in by Roman general Julius Caesar in 49BC after coming across a more accurate calendar in Egypt as a means of synchronising the calendar with the solar year. 

This Roman calendar meant to ensure seasonal accuracy was later perfected by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 – hence the name Gregorian calendar – which still stands today.

The simple reason why leap years play a pivotal role in matching our calendar with the Earth’s orbit around the sun is that it takes 365.24 days for the planet to complete one revolution around the sun, so every 365-day year is a quarter of a day short of the complete orbit.

Generally speaking, Spain considers the leap year as a whole, and the itself day, to bring bad luck.

A few Spanish proverbs sum it up:

Año bisiesto, año siniestro – leap year, sinister year

Año bisiesto y año de pares, año de azares – leap year and even year, random year

Año bisiesto, ni casa, ni viña, ni huerto, ni puerto – Leap year, no home, nor vineyard, nor orchard, nor port.

The chances of being born on a leap day are 1 in 1,461. 

Funnily enough, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is the most famous Spaniard to be born on February 29th, which means that today he actually turns 13 (okay, he’s really 52).

Examples:

El 2024 es año bisiesto, lo cual quiere decir que habrá 366 días en el año.

2024 is a leap year, which means that there will 366 days in the year. 

Cumplir años el día 29 de febrero es una putada, sólo lo puedes celebrar oficialmente cada cuatro años. 

Having your birthday on February 29th is a real shame, you can only officially celebrate it every four years.

La Tierra tarda 365 días, 5 horas, 46 minutos y 48 segundos en dar una vuelta completa al Sol, lo cual explica porque existen los años bisiestos.

Planet Earth takes 365 days, 5 hours, 46 minutes and 48 seconds to complete orbit the sun, which explains why leap years exist.

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