Here at ICO, we hope that you’ll learn just how much fun Spanish can be.  Like any language, Spanish is full of colorful slang expressions.  On Fridays, we’ll be teaching you a combination of useful everyday words and fun common colloquialisms.


Following up on our discussion of echar, we’ll look at reflexive uses of this verb.  echarse, to throw oneself, does have a literal meaning.  El gato se me echó encima, the cat pounced on me.

However, the most common use of echarse  is with a and an infinitive.  It means to begin doing something, usually in a sudden manner.  Se echó a llorar, she burst into tears.  Se echó a reír, he burst out laughing.  When I saw the big scary dog, me eché a correr (I burst into a run).

Similar expressions include:

echarse a la bebida            to take to the bottle, to begin drinking, to turn to drink

Someone who’s “thrown himself to drink” has started drinking, and heavily.  You can’t say this about someone who’s had their first sip of wine but only about someone who has recently begun to drink like a fish.  (In Spanish, you can’t drink like a fish, but you can beber como una esponja, or drink like a sponge.)

echarse a dormir            to go to sleep (lit.), to let things slide (fig.)

In English, you can “go to sleep on the job” in a literal or a figurative sense.  So, too, in Spanish.  La maestra se echó a dormir, por eso no regaña a estos chamacos.  The teacher’s gone to sleep, that’s why she doesn’t scold those kids.

echarse a morir            to lie down and die
echarse a la vida            to live life to the fullest

Someone who’s given up completely se ha echado a morir, with the same figurative meaning as in English.  The complete opposite would be echarse a la vida, or to really throw yourself into life.

echarse a perder            to spoil, to break down, to go rotten

echarse a perder means almost exactly the same thing as descomponerse.  If your car se echa a perder, it’s broken down.  If the fruit in your refrigerator se echa a perder, it’s rotten.  If your kids se echan a perder, you’ve spoiled ‘em rotten.

Other idiomatic expressions:

echarse atrás                to back down

When you make a promise or a threat and don’t keep it, what do we call it in English?  Backing down, backing out, or going back (on your word).  Me amenazó con la escoba, pero cuando le dije que me pegara, se echó atrás.  He threatened me with the broom, but when I told him to go ahead and hit me, he backed down.

echárselas de (…)            to brag or boast or pretend to be something

If you’re pretending to be brave when you’re quaking in your boots, te las echas de valiente.  If you’re trying to convince all your friends that you’re a ladies’ man, te las echas de galán.

echarse las manos a la cabeza    to be scandalized

echarse las manos a la cabeza means, quite literally, to put your hands on your head, but the English equivalent is to bury your face in your hands.  It means, essentially, to be so scandalized that you have to cover your eyes.