Translation troubles: give cat for hare

We don’t celebrate April Fool’s Day, but we buy colorful little mirrors sometimes

Last week was April Fool’s Day, which we don’t celebrate in Argentina. Well, we do, but it’s on December 28, the so-called “Day of the Holy Innocents” to mark biblical infanticide, which is fun. Anyway, we’ve talked about buying mailboxes and eating stories before so let’s look at colorful little mirrors and hard faces.

Dar gato por liebre

To “give cat for hare” basically means to scam someone. According to several sources, including children’s educational magazine Billiken, the phrase comes from travelers being literally served cat meat instead of the hare they had paid for during the Middle Ages. Ripped off or catfished, as it were, because the texture is apparently very similar? I am pulling out my vegan card again, so if anyone can attest to whether that’s true or not — don’t.

Espejitos de colores

This is very similar to dar gato por liebre but in this case, you got “colorful little mirrors” — this is usually attributed to the Spanish exchanging gifts with Indigenous peoples they encountered and gleefully thinking they were making a steal trading colored glass for gold. I won’t speak to the value judgments of Hernan Cortés or Montezuma II, but you’ll usually hear this as a warning against snake oil remedies, basic scams, or cheap things: like hey, be careful you’re not being taken in by something that seems valuable but really isn’t. Like colonialism.

Tomar el pelo

We’ve had several hair-related translation troubles like tirado de los pelos, medio pelo, and sin pelos en la lengua. Well, here’s how our capillary friends can express that you’ve had the wool pulled over your eyes or someone is making fun of you. While in English we might say someone is “pulling our leg,” in Spanish we say “hair” instead: ¿me estás tomando el pelo? 

Tener tupé

Since we’re talking about hair, I love this one mainly because it sounds funny and I don’t hear it in the wild enough. If someone “has the toupee” it’s like saying “the audacity.” Allegedly stemming from the 1800s and originally meaning ridiculous, the idea is that the person wearing the toupee was brazen enough to do so despite having gone out of style. No shade to toupees generally.

As a bonus, under the bold toupee, you might find a “hard face,” a cara dura — someone who can lie, connive, negotiate, act inappropriately, or “give cat for hare” with nary a hint of shame.

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