Watch Out! What Does ‘Ojo’ Mean in Spanish?
What does ojo mean? And why is it used in a thousand different ways in Spanish?
Well, while ojo in the simplest context means “eye,” it means so much more to people of Hispanic heritage.
Common expressions in Spanish use ojo as a way of saying “watch out,” but this word also plays a lot of different roles in figures of speech.
Keep reading to learn all its colloquial meanings, and—let me warn you—there is more to this word than meets the eye!
Are you ready? ¡Empecemos!
Various Meanings: What Does Ojo Mean?
While the essential meaning of el ojo is “eye,” it also references things that are shaped like an eye or a hole. Some examples include keyholes and roof skylights, and more:
Gemstones: el ojo de tigre, ojo de halcón, ojo de gato
Tiger’s eye, hawk’s eye, and cat’s eye are iridescent gemstones in different colors that are reminiscent of these animal’s eyes.
Keyhole: el ojo de la cerradura
The literal meaning of this phrase is “the eye of the door lock.” A keyhole is called un ojo de la cerradura because you can see through it.
Top/Bottom of a Spiral Staircase: el ojo de la escalera
The “eye of the staircase” or ojo de la escalera is a visual perspective of the top or bottom ends of a large spiral staircase. If you were to stand on the bottom floor of a building with a long, spiraling staircase above you, the tip would look like an eye.
Porthole: el ojo de buey
This phrase literally means “ox eye” and refers to a porthole, or a circular window typically seen in ships, spacecrafts, or planes. You’ll also see this type of window in automobiles and houses, but it’s not as common. These types of portholes have different purposes such as decreasing vibration tensions, preventing heat cracks, or bringing in proper lightning and ventilation.
Spring / Water Source: el ojo de agua
The literal meaning of this phrase seems clear: “water eye.” It’s a carved out hole where water springs are or where water accumulates in a dormant volcano.
Mexican Sweet Bread: el ojo de pancha
One of the things that define Hispanic culture is its food. Its place in our culture is sacred and its variety is awe-inspiring. Especially when it comes to sweet bread. Ojo de pancha is a kind of bread made in Mexico that resembles an eye. The name Pancha was adopted due to the popularity of that name back in the day.
Watch Out / Be Careful: ¡Ojo!
Most people who google the phrase “what does ojo mean?” are looking for this definition. This particular usage of ojo translates to “keep an eye on,” “pay attention to” or “be careful with.”
This expression is also non-verbal, which you can gesture by pointing to your eye with your index finger.
Ojo con el escalón.
Mind the step.
Ojo con tu papá.
Look after your dad.
Ojo con tu dinero.
Take care of your money.
Ojo con el bebé.
Protect the baby.
Ojo con el cuchillo.
Watch out for the knife.
Ojo con el carro.
Careful with the car.
Keep an eye out.
Cultural Phrases Using ‘Ojo’
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “A nation’s culture resides in the heart and soul of its people.”
I’d argue that the heart and soul of Hispanic culture resides in its collection of colloquial phrases, some of which have lasted for centuries. This is the glue that makes us identifiable as a whole while still divided into 33 countries.
Want to know more about what’s unique to Latin America? Read Polychronic Culture in Latin America: Thoughts and Facts on Time.
We use the word ojo in literal and figurative phrases in our everyday life, which has led to a widespread variance in meaning. Let’s take a look at a list of metaphors, idioms, and proverbs that have appeared within Latin American culture using the word ojo.
Metaphors are figures of speech that don’t make sense literally but have an abstract connotation. Here are some examples with further explanations to answer the question “what does ojo mean?”
Él está en el ojo del huracán.
He is in the eye of the hurricane.
While a hurricane’s eye is the center of a tropical cyclone, being in the ojo del huracán means to be in the middle of a very problematic situation, or in the most chaotic part of the process. It also signifies you are involved in a scandal and everyone is talking about you.
Donde pone el ojo, pone la bala.
Where (he) she puts the eye, (he) she puts the bullet.
This phrase describes someone who is assertive, determined, and tenacious. They will get whatever they put their mind to because they fight for it. It depicts an accomplished person who always achieves their goals.
Echo chispas por los ojos
I am shooting sparks from the eyes.
This is a way of saying “I am furious” after something that happened.
¡Qué bonita bebé! Tiene ojos de plato.
What a cute baby! She has plate eyes.
Having “plate eyes” is a compliment meaning to have big eyes.
This section will put you to the test!
You didn’t realize that after asking “what does ojo mean?” you’d get such mind-bending answers, but you asked for it!
These idioms will equip you with the speaking ability to blend in with native Spanish speakers during regular, informal conversations.
Échate un taco de ojo.
Get (eat) an eye taco.
Échate has more than 50 different meanings, but in this informal command means “get” or “eat.” And while eye tacos do exist, echarte un taco de ojo in Mexico means “glance at someone you like.”
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Mi mamá tiene ojos detrás de la nuca.
My mom has eyes in the back of her neck.
Moms across the globe seem to have this quality, and it’s certainly true for Latin moms. Similar to the English expression, it means that even if mom’s not looking at you, she knows exactly what you’re up to.
Dichosos los ojos que te ven.
Blissed eyes, those that see you.
This is a polite, endearing way of telling someone you have missed them or that you are happy to see them.
Literal translation: A lot of eye.
What it means: Watch out, be careful.
This phrase became extremely popular in Mexico when kidnap prevention commercials on TV told little kids to beware of strangers.
A ojo de buen cubero.
To the eye of a good cubero.
Closest phrase in English: Rule of thumb.
A cuba, was an artisanal recipient with no standard capacity. A good cuba fabricant or cubero could measure it by relying on his perception.
Échale un ojo a mi bebé mientras voy al baño.
Literal translation: Throw an eye to my baby while I go to the restroom.
What it means: Keep an eye on my baby while I go to the restroom.
“To throw an eye” means to keep an eye on someone or something.
Te va a costar un ojo de la cara.
It’s gonna cost you an eye from your face.
It refers to something that is so expensive you will probably have to pay with an eye.
Te echaron el ojo.
Literal translation: They threw you an eye. / They have an eye on you.
This is a common saying in Mexico and Guatemala. It means someone really liked you or was impressed by you. It can be in a professional or romantic way.
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Sayings and Proverbs
The refranes or dichos and proverbios are the reflection of popular wisdom that was enriched through time. These are common even today due to their significance in meaning and their essence as a “living teaching” or enseñanza viva.
These sayings remind us of our abuelas (grandmothers) and how they were always right. Now that you’ve got a good list of possible answers to “what does ojo mean?” you’re ready to explore these refranes.
Ojo por ojo, diente por diente.
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
This phrase calls for revenge in an even way. Mahatma Gandhi responded very wisely: “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente.
Literal translation: Eyes that don’t see, heart that doesn’t feel.
What it means: Out of sight, out of mind.
It means the same as the similar English saying, but it’s loaded with emotion thanks to the mentioning of heart.
A letra de médico, ojo de boticario.
Literal translation: To a doctor’s handwriting, give an apothecary sight.
What it means: To be or to have what is needed.
Los ojos son la ventana del alma.
The eyes are the window of the soul.
Un ojo al gato y otra al garabato.
Literal translation: One eye to the cat and another to the doodle.
What it means: to have one’s mind on two things at once.
This is a funny one. Although garabato means “doodle” or “scribble,” it’s also a piece of wood that once traditionally hung from Mexican kitchen ceilings like a swing. Most likely the origin of this phrase came from the fact that people used to put all kinds of meats and sausages up there so it was out of reach from hungry house pets. In other words, you better have your sight set on the cat and el garabato at all times or the cat will eat your food!
Figurative Speech Using ‘Ojo’
Here are some common ways we use ojo in figurative Spanish expressions.
Poner los ojos en blanco
To roll your eyes
Abrir los ojos
To open your eyes (to a situation)
Ver con buenos ojos
To favor, to welcome, or to accept
En un abrir y cerrar de ojos
In a blink of an eye
Dilo mirándome a los ojos.
Say it looking at me in the eye.
Le guiñé el ojo.
I winked at him.
Tomé la decisión a ojos cerrados.
I took the decision with my eyes closed.
No pegué el ojo en toda la noche.
Literal translation: I couldn’t “glue” my eye all night.
What it means: I was up all night.
Pregúntale a tu papá que tiene ojo clínico.
Ask your dad who has a clinical eye.
Someone with a clinical eye is able to grasp situations quickly and can provide fast answers thanks to their experience and expertise.
What Does ‘Ojo’ Mean in ‘Mal de Ojo’?
While the literal translation of this phrase is “eye disease,” in Hispanic culture, it really means “the evil eye.”
This popular belief not only exists in Latin American culture but also societies around the globe, including Arabic, European, and Asian as well as Jewish and Islamic tradition.
In fact, around 40% of the world’s population believe in mal de ojo and have different rituals to prevent or deal with it.
Strictly speaking, “evil eye” happens when someone wants to damage you in any way and looks at you (literally or figuratively) with contempt. But ultimately, the “evil” that comes from someone else’s eye is often envy or bad energies, which can supposedly cause you misfortune or injuries.
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Have a Conversation in Spanish with a Native Speaker
So, what would you say now if someone asks you, “what does ojo mean in Spanish?”
You’ve got plenty of fun and interesting answers! You’re also one step closer to understanding the richness and diversity of Hispanic culture.
If you’re ready to practice your new understanding of the word ojo with native Spanish-speaking professionals from Guatemala, join 24,000 actively enrolled students who desire to learn fluent Spanish and understand Hispanic culture. Sign up for a free trial class today so you practice your refranes and eye metaphors!
With Homeschool Spanish Academy you will be proficient at Spanish en un abrir y cerrar de ojos. So, ¡abre los ojos! and practice with one of our certified native Spanish teachers who tiene ojo clínico for teaching you Spanish!
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