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Spanish words

“He always thought of the sea as 'la mar' which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman."

As we wrote in the "Before you read Hemingway" section, a mark of Hemingway's style is the use of foreign languages and unusual syntax that approximates direct translation. Here are some of the terms that appear in the novel. 

The Spanish Salao: 


In The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago is described as salao, which Hemingway defines as “the worst kind of unlucky.” A slang term derived from the formal Spanish word salado, meaning salty, the term carries a connotation of unlucky fishermen in particular: Salao implies that the ocean is too salty to support life. In response to Santiago’s lack of success—forty  days without a single catch—Manolin’s parents designate Santiago with the term, promptly sending their son to fish with a more successful man; his identification with being salao acts in the text as a foreshadowing of his long battle with the marlin.

Stormy Sea

Spanish Words in The Old Man and the Sea

  • Salao (page 1)

    • Used to describe someone who is extremely unlucky

  • Dorado (page 26)

    • Mahi-Mahi/Dolphin fish

  • Guano (page 5)

    • Fertilizer from bird and other animal feces that enhances the strength of the palm tree leaves

  • Bodega (page 6)

    • A small convenience store

  • Qué va (page 8,9)

    • “Nonsense!”

  • La Mar/ El Mar (page 10)

    • “The Sea”

    • el/la is used interchangeably to describe the gender (masculine/feminine)

  • Bonita (page 11)

    • Small schools of fish

    • Literal translation of “beautiful” (feminine)

  • Bonito (page 20)

    • A dead fish carcass

    • Literal translation of “beautiful” (masculine)

  • Agua Mala (page 12,13)

    • Jellyfish/Portugese man-of-war

    • Literal translation of “bad waters”

  • Catalan Cordel (page 19)

    • A bast fiber string that is coiled and braided

  • Brisa (page 21,43)

    • “breeze”

  • Calambre (page 21)

    • A physical cramp

  • Virgen de Cobre (page 23)

    • The Virgin Mary of charity (a specific sanctuary/church in Cuba)

    • Hemingway donated his nobel prize to this Cuban Sanctuary after receiving it for this novella

  • Gran Ligas (page 23)

    • The big leagues (as in major league baseball)

  • Tigres of Detroit (page 23)

    • “Detroit Tigers”

  • Juegos (page 24)

    • “Sports”

  • Un Espuela de Hueso (page 24)

    • “Bone spurs”

  • Casablanca (page 24)

    • A local Cuban tavern

    • “White house”

  • Cienfuegos (page 24)

    • A bay off the Cuban southcoast

  • Santiago El Campeón (page 24)

    • The name of the old man in his youth

    • El Campeón; The Champion

  • Dentuso (page 35)

    • A big-toothed mako shark

  • Ay (page 37)

    • “There is no translation for this word...a noise...such as a man might make” in agony (page 37)

    • Similar to-oye, ay caramba, oof

  • Galanos/Galano (page 37,38, 39,41)

    • Cuban/Spanish word to describe a spotted fish

    • “Elegant man”

  • Pedrico

    • A Spanish name meaning hailstorm

  • Guanabacoa (page 43)

    • A city in west central Cuba

  • Tiburon (page 44)

    • “shark”

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