Words: ‘Leche’, in Spain, can mean more than ‘milk’


As Lisa and I continue to settle into our new way of life in Spain, it is interesting to see not only the correct use of words but also their place in modern usage. Milk is a good, and hopefully humorous, example of what I mean.

Milk is a wonderful product that can be prepared in different ways, used by itself or in so many foods and drinks and a word that is able to be used in other contexts.

First of all, let’s take a look at what milk is called in just a few different languages. In French, it is Lait; in Welsh, Llefrith; and in Spanish, Leche.

Now, taking the liquid product alone, it can be homogenised, evaporated, condensed, sterilised and even ultra-heat treated (UHT). Also it can be full milk, semi-skimmed or skimmed.

And that is without its many other uses to produce cream, cheese, yoghurts and so on. Pretty useful stuff.

Milk is also a surprisingly versatile word in the Spanish language. In English, we can talk about the milk of human kindness, you can milk something for all it is worth and say that it’s no good crying over spilled milk – but that’s about it. Not so in Spanish as it is spoken in Spain. I say ‘in Spain’ as it is necessary to distinguish it from Spanish spoken in other countries where slang and idioms may differ.

In Spain, Leche (pronounced lech-ay) can be used in so many different ways as to be almost mind boggling. A wide range of emotions can be expressed through just that one word. I found the following fictional conversation on the internet1 the other day, It uses slang and illustrates my point so perfectly that it felt right to include it here. English translations follow each Spanish phrase:

El jugador de fútbol corría a toda leche cuando uno de sus oponentes le dio una leche en la pierna.

(The soccer player was running at full speed when one of his opponents hit him on his leg.)

Ay la leche, gritó el jugador al caerse al suelo.

(“Damn it”, cried the player as he fell to the floor.)

Un espectador en el estadio comentó a su amigo, ¡Qué mala leche! Ese futbolista es la leche, y si está herido no va a poder jugar en la final, ¡Me cago en la leche!

(A spectator in the stadium turned to his friend, “That was out of order! He’s the best, and if he’s injured he’s not going to be able to play in the final. Bloody hell!)

Su amigo le respondió, “no te pongas de mala leche, tio. No me parece tan serio. Se levantará y seguirá jugando. Lo verás.”

(His friend responded, “don’t get into a bad mood, man. It doesn’t look that serious. He’ll get up and continue playing. You’ll see.”)

Y una leche”, dijó el espectador abatido.

(“No way”, said the spectator, dejected.)

In that short passage, we can see the word leche being used to express so many different things; it goes to prove that a little milk does go a long way.


1 https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/favorite-spanish-words


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