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Mala leche

The Meaning and Origin of Mala Leche Expressions

¡Ese tío está de mala leche!

Have you ever heard of this phrase in Spanish? You would be surprised if we told you how many expressions Spaniards have that include the word leche (milk).

Some of them have a positive meaning and some negative. As you can imagine, none of them are actually related to milk.

Spaniards use the expression estar de mala leche to generally describe someone’s bad mood. The literal translation of ‘mala leche’ is ‘bad milk’. Where did this expression come from? And why milk and not some other word? Let’s check it out!

Spaniards use the expression estar de mala leche to generally describe someone’s bad mood. The literal translation of ‘mala leche’ is ‘bad milk’. Where did this expression come from? And why milk and not some other word? Let’s check it out!

The Meaning of Mala Leche

Mala leche is a Spanish colloquial expression accepted by the Real Academia Española.

People use it to define a person’s character as bad or grumpy. But not only that. Someone can have mala leche because they have a bad temper and it’s part of their nature. However, it can also be something temporary, like being in a bad mood.

Over time, different expressions have developed from this saying, such as tener mala leche or estar de mala leche. They’re all similar but not quite.

The first one means someone acts in bad faith. However, the second one means a person is in a bad mood.

There’s also another one – ¡La leche que te dieron / han dado! (The milk they gave you!), meaning that, if they gave that person good milk, then you will be a good person or you will behave properly. If not, you received ‘bad milk’.

Here are some examples of how we use mala leche expressions:

  • Este chico tiene muy mala leche, no te juntes con él. → This boy is very mean, don´t hang out with him.
  • Alfredo está de mala leche porque se le rompió el coche. → Alfredo is in a bad mood because his car broke down.

Origin of Mala Leche Expression

These expressions are based on an old belief, which supports the fact that the mother’s milk can affect the baby’s personality later.

In old times, wet nurses used to breastfeed the babies instead of mothers who could not do it for whatever reason. They believed that the wet nurses transmitted their habits and manners to the breastfed baby through the milk. Even though it’s only a belief, a baby is connected to its mother through breastfeeding.

In this manner, when a grown baby showed any malice, they would blame the ‘the bad milk’ that the baby had nursed. Consequently, they would also blame the person who had breastfed that baby. Such a person had ‘bad milk’. The same thing would happen if a baby gets sick. A wet nurse who would breastfeed the child would be the culprit of the child’s illness.

Final Thoughts

What do you think about this expression now that you know its origin and how Spaniards use it? Who would’ve known that a person’s character can be related to ‘milk’, right? Not literally, of course!

But when you think about where it comes from, it kind of makes sense, don’t you think?

Have you ever been de mala leche? We bet we all have at least once in our life.

And there’s nothing wrong with it, as long as it’s not permanent.


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