Spanish Etymology Trivia #5: Put your foot in it/Meter la pata

Hi again! I took a little vacation, but Spanish etymology posts are back! Today we're gonna look at the idiom to put your foot in it and its Spanish counterpart, meter la pata.

Meter la pata (literally, to put the paw) is a "frase hecha", which is the name in Spanish for an idiomatic expression. That means that the phrase is not to be taken literally, but figuratively, so it's even more interesting to know where the expression comes from! Brief footnote: pata is, in Spanish, the name given to an animal or a piece of furniture's legs, so in Spanish we differentiate between a human's leg (pierna) and an animal's one (pata).

However, this expression has nothing to do with an animal's leg! The origin of meter la pata is mentar a Pateta. Mentar means to mention, to name. Pateta is an old fashioned term to talk about the Devil. The original expression was used when someone had had bad luck or something unfortunate had happened to them. Like many expressions in a language, its usage changed throughout the years and became what we know today: mentar became meter; Pateta became pata. So when someone mete la pata, it's because the Devil himself tricked them into screwing up.

Today, the expression is used when you do something unfortunate, like asking a woman when is she due... and it turns out she isn't pregnant. However, that wouldn't be completely your fault: you can always say the Devil had something to do with it!

Other etymology posts: remember/recordar, olé, God bless you/Salud-Jesús and Spain/España.

September 1, 2019


I enjoyed your explanation which is most likely correct. But I always assumed (you know what they say about asuming!) that it was more literal: that you were admitting you awkwardly "put your foot in it" as we might say in English.

September 2, 2019

I did not know about this expression! I’m actually going to edit my post for it to be more accurate. Thank you!

September 2, 2019

"Estudio Duolingo todas las días, porque no quiero mete la pata mi streak"
(please correct the sentence if it is not right :)

September 1, 2019

The sentence is not exactly correct, not because you didn't apply properly what I talked about, but because I think I didn't really give an example, which was my bad. I updated the last part of the post to make it clear when to use it and its meaning nowadays.

Basically, you use it when you do something unfortunate. A clear example of that is, as I added in my post, when you ask a woman when is she due and it turns out she isn't pregnant. You could then say "He metido la pata". "I screwed up". I hope this clears it up.

The main """issue""" with your sentence is that you put "meter la pata" where you would've put "screw up", and it doesn't work that way. It's more about the meaning that they share that the fact that you can change them in a sentence. Thank you for your comment, though, as it made me improve the post and make it clearer for other people, and for being brave enough to try and add the expression to a sentence! That's how you learn!

EDIT: hecate4stuff pointed out that there’s an idiom in English, to put your foot in it which has the exact same meaning as meter la pata. These are interchangeable and it may be easier for you to understand when to use it!

September 1, 2019

Wow! Amazing! I would never have guessed it comes from mentar a Pateta., that's amazing. This is my favorite so far of your etymological posts. thanks for sharing these!

September 9, 2019

Thank you so much! The absolute favorite of mine is the recordar/remember one. It’s a very touching and beautiful origin. Thanks for reading and for finding this interesting

September 9, 2019
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