Darse con un canto en los dientes

Category: Spain Terms

With the idiomatic expression “darse con un canto en los dientes” we continue our weekly explanations of Spain’s popular sayings and proverbs. This one is a little tricky as we could not find an explanation of where the saying came from, that made enough sense to us.

First, the literally meaning of the saying is “to hit oneself in the teeth with a stone.” And why would you want to do that?–you might ask. Well, that is not really what you are saying. If you hear someone saying “ya me puedo dar con un canto en los dientes,” what the person is actually saying is: that is not what I really wanted, but I will consider myself fortunate, since something worse could have happened. In other word, we make a decision to be satisfied with the results obtained—even though they are not the best possible result, and we had wished that things had gone better.

So the actual meaning of the expression is much different from the literal meaning. You are counting yourself lucky, but you are hurting yourself for it? You could wonder how this idiomatic expression, “darse con un canto en los dientes” came about, and so did we. We looked for that information and found the following explanations:

1. This expression has its origin in the ancient custom of thanking God by beating oneself in the chest with a stone. To show more gratitude, the place of hitting is moved from the chest to the teeth, causing even more pain.
2. A “canto” is a fairly flat stone without any sharp points, so that the pain produced by these stones is not as sharp as the pain caused by sharp and pointed stones.
3. Perhaps it is a derivation of an ancient gesture of hitting oneself with a stone on the chest as a way of showing satisfaction when something desired had been achieved.

None of these explanations of the origin of the idiomatic expression “darse con un canto en los dientes” make enough sense to us. What about you?