Spanish Corner: “Break a Leg” Idiom and how to say it in Spanish

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Spanish Corner: Spanish-English Idioms and Expressions

In the theatre world, you must never say “Good luck”, but “Break a leg”. Do you know how to say this expression in Spanish?

You may use many expressions to wish success to someone on a show or performance, but avoid saying: “Good luck!”

It is well known that in theatre and even in sports, there is a very strong belief in superstition. Even in the case of the expression mentioned, which does not have a magic explanation, its use belongs to the rituals or beliefs and practices that have to be strictly respected.

From time immemorial and going through the Elizabethan theatre, different theories have been posed on the origin of the meaning of the expression “break a leg”, which has become a tradition.

or example, the posture of an actor, always retaining the line is one of the characteristics in a scene. During Elizabethan theatre performances, the audience approved or disapproved of what they saw by throwing objects to the stage. When spectators threw vegetables or garbage, they showed that did not like what they saw. Instead, they threw coins to the actors to show that they enjoyed the play. When the actors bent down to pick the coins up, they had to “break the line” and kneel to collect their payment, which clearly was understood as success.

Another explanation has to do with the curtains on the sides of the stage which are called “patas” in Spanish or “legs” in English. After the last act, and with the closing of the curtains, came the greetings of rigor. If the show had a good reception, the applause would last a long time and consequently, the curtains had to be opened and closed for the greetings of the actors many times, which would cause the “legs” to break, as a consequence of the “success” that the show had.

There is another expression that we use in Argentina when we wish success that, maybe to sound softer, includes a French word: “Mucha merde”, in Spanish “Mucha mierda” (“Lots of crap” in English).

Its origin is considered to go back also to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the theatre entertainment was reserved to members of the higher class, who arrived at the theatre in carriages. These horse-drawn carriages parked in the doorstep to drop off their occupants, and the horses left “their mark” with the dung that accumulated in the street, the more crap (horse shit) there was, the higher the number of spectators that the show attracted, giving a glimpse of an eventual success.

If you are planning to travel to Latin America and Argentina and you expect to have the best experience there, make sure that when you board the plane to make that trip, nobody wishes you good luck, but: “Mucha merde!“