Spanish language Tacaño ~ Spanish Gesture

This article was written by Dave Clark for US Institute of Languages and is republished here with permission.

The Spanish word tacaño means "tightwad" or "cheapskate." This is one of my favorite gestures used in the Spanish language. Maybe it's because I grew up in a financially tight home and I can easily relate to it. When I was growing up, because of income, my parents would take my five sisters and me to McDonald's only two or three times a year. We usually only had enough money to get a half a hamburger each if we were lucky. We never had enough money for fries or sodas. I also walked uphill both ways to school barefoot in the snow (just kidding about the school and barefoot part).

Anyway, because of my upbringing I learned to be conservative with my money. My wife and coworkers often notice the fact that I am "tight with my money," and they occasionally tease me about it. They probably consider me to be somewhat of a tacaño. If they knew the tacaño hand gesture, they would most likely use it on me.

Anyway, let's learn how to make the official Spanish sign for tacaño. Put your right forearm in front of you with the fist pointing up in the air (forearm vertical, the rest of your arm is horizontal). Make sure your right hand is in a fist. Then, with your left hand, slap the bottom of you elbow three times (slap up and down and not sideways). Go ahead and try-out this important hand gesture.

I was told by some native speakers that this hand gesture is like having money in your fist and you are trying to knock it free by hitting your elbow. You are sort of saying, "Come on! Don't hold on to your money so tight."

In my own defense, I do have to say that when I lived in Latin America, I saw how generous the people were and I became more generous also. I actually became a lot less of a tacaño than I used to be. Because of that, nobody ever made the tacaño gesture to me, but it was fun to watch others make it to each other and find out who the real "tightwads" were.

Moral of the Story: It is fun to learn different aspects of a new culture. From gestures, to body language, to how people live, learning the cultures of other people can enrich the way we look at life and help us to appreciate the differences of others.

Copyright © 1999-2005 US Institute of Languages All rights reserved.

Note from LKL: When this gesture is used in Mexico, one says codo rather than tacaño.


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