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Spanish Expression of the Day: Pintar la mona

That’s right, there’s a saying in Spanish which literally translates as ‘paint the monkey’, and it’s got nothing to do with simian art or the Mona Lisa. 

spanish expression of the day pintar la mona
Put your paintbrush away because this expression actually has nothing to do with painting monkeys. Photo: JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK / AFP

Pintar la mona is a Spanish expression which basically means to be doing nothing, to be bored or to be of no use in a certain situation. 

It’s a bit like saying that you’re twiddling your thumbs, to be neither use nor ornament or sitting idle. 

It’s usually used in the present continuous – pintando la mona – and it’s worth remembering that it’s a colloquial expression, but not offensive. 

Other ways of saying it in Spanish can be the more standard no hacer nada (to do nothing), sobrar (to not be needed) or the more vulgar tocarse los huevos (touch one’s balls). 

So what are the origins of this bizarre expression? Does it have anything to do with painting a simian portrait or chucking a bucket of paint over their head? Or perhaps the mona is a reference to Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa?

La Mona is actually a card game in Spain, a game of pairs to be precise where La Mona is the only card which doesn’t have a pair and the losing player ends up with it in their playing hand. 

There’s also the word pintamonas, which either describes a poor quality painter, or a person who is of no great use but pretends the opposite.

Another related expression is to dormir la mona (something along the lines of ‘sending the monkey to sleep’) which actually means to sleep off a hangover. 

So the next time you’re in a situation in Spain where you’re not serving any purpose and might as well go and do something else, remember the expression pintar la mona.


Aquí estamos pintando la mona, así que mejor nos vamos.

We’re of no use here, so we might as well leave.

¡Deja de pintar la mona y vete a hacer los deberes!

Stop sitting around and go do your homework!

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Spanish Word of the Day: Rifirrafe

Nobody wants a ‘rifirrafe’ but it’s part of life sometimes. 

Spanish Word of the Day: Rifirrafe

Un rifirrafe is a verbal or physical altercation which doesn’t amount to much. 

It’s not quite una pelea – a fight – as it doesn’t usually result in harm. 

In the verbal sense, it’s more of a squabble, a noisy quarrel about something trivial.

In the physical sense, un rifirrafe will usually involve a few pushes and pulls rather than any punches being thrown. It’s a scuffle; basically a short, confused fight or struggle at close quarters.

Some synonyms of rifirrafe include alboroto, bulla, contienda and riña.

Even though there’s only one ‘r’ at the beginning of the word, it is pronounced as a strong double r just like the ‘rra’ in the word – RRi–fi-RRa-fe. Words in Spanish never begin with two rs. 

There are two theories over the origin of rifirrafe. There are those that say it’s got Arabic roots and that it’s derived from the word ‘rafrara’ which means to palpitate or flutter about. 

Examples of ‘rifirrafe’ used in the Spanish press.

The other theory is that rifirrafe is an onomatopoeia, a word from a sound associated with what is named, so in this case perhaps the sound of clothes being pulled and feet moving.  

So the next time you witness a squabble or a scuffle in Spain, now you know what to call it: un rifirrafe


Hubo un pequeño rifirrafe entre los boxeadores antes de la pelea. 

There was a small scuffle between the boxers before the fight. 

He tenido un rifirrafe con esa señora porque se ha saltado la cola. 

I had a quarrel with that lady because she jumped the queue.