In today’s fascinating Spanish Expression of the Day, we have a saying which may seem a bit confusing or even shocking to foreigners.
Montar un pollo, which in its literal sense translates as ‘to ride a chicken’ in Spanish, actually means to make a scene.
So if someone is flipping out, running amok, getting excessively angry or boisterous and generally overreacting in a loud and noticeable way, the colloquial way of saying it in Spanish is that they’re montando un pollo.
In fact, there are several other ways of saying that someone is making a scene in Spanish.
There’s armar un escándalo, hacer un drama, montar una escena and our personal favourite montar un numerito (as in perform a small musical or theatrical act).
But going back to the ‘riding a chicken’ expression. Even though everyone writes it as pollo, the original expression was with the word poyo with a y, which means stone bench or kitchen counter.
It originates from the Latin word podium, which is what Medieval Spaniards would bring with them to town squares, assemble and stand on to get the attention of a crowd when they wanted to give a speech, events which no doubt got pretty noisy and lively.
Montar in Spanish can mean to mount/get on (as well as assemble, ride or whip), so montar un pollo can really be understood as ‘getting on or setting up a podium’, which makes sense in terms of the expression ‘making a scene’.
If a person is giving someone a telling-off or berating them, this expression can also be used in its reflexive form by saying montarle un pollo a alguien. Similarly, the expression can be used in its reflexive form when describing a lot of commotion or disruption that’s taking place, as in se montó un pollo.
Esa mujer le ha montado un pollo al camarero porque se le olvidó traerle los cubiertos.
That woman flipped out at the waiter because he forgot to bring her cutlery.
Hay unos jóvenes borrachos en la plaza montando un pollo que no veas.
There are some drunk young people in the square making a scene that you wouldn’t believe.
¿Te quieres tranquilizar? ¡Estás montando un pollo y haciendo el ridículo!
Do you want to calm down? You’re making a scene and showing yourself up!
Se montó un pollo porque el novio le pilló poniéndole los cuernos.
All hell broke loose because the boyfriend caught her cheating on him.