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Meanings of 'Santo'

Word Has Expanded Beyond Religious Use


Catholicism has always been the dominant religion in countries where Spanish is dominant. So it shouldn't come as any surprise that some words related the religion have come to have broad meanings. One such word is santo, which is most commonly translated as "saint" as a noun, "holy" as an adjective. (Like the English words "saint" and "sanctify," santo comes from the Latin word sanctus, meaning "holy.")

According to the Diccionario de la lengua española, santo has no less than 16 meanings. Among them:

  • Perfect and free of sin.
  • A person declared as such by the Church.
  • A virtuous person.
  • Said of a something that is dedicated to God or a holy service.
  • Said of something that is venerated.
  • Describing a religious festival.
  • Sacred.
  • Holy.
  • Said of something that brings good luck.
  • Characteristic of the Catholic church.
  • A person's saint's day or name day.
  • A picture of a saint.
  • A type of portrait in a book.
Santo also is used in a variety of idioms and phrases. Here are some of them:
  • ¿A santo de qué?: Why in the world?
  • Llegar y besar el santo: to succeed at something immediately or on the first try. (Su sustituto, Juanjo, llegó y besó el santo: gol en su primer partido. His substitute, Juanjo, pulled it off right away: a goal in the first period.)
  • Campo santo: cemetery.
  • Espíritu Santo: Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost.
  • Guerra santa: holy war.
  • Hierba santa: mint (herb).
  • Hora santa: prayer given before the Eucharist, or in commemoration of the suffering of Jesus.
  • Hueso de santo: a type of almond pastry in the shape of a bone.
  • Lengua santa: the Hebrew language.
  • Mano de santo: fast and complete cure for an ailment or problem.
  • Quedarse para vestir santos: to remain unmarried (said of a woman).
  • Santa Faz: an image of the face of Jesus.
  • Santa Sede: Holy See.
  • Santo de cara: good luck. (Cierto es que no todo el mundo tiene el santo de cara. It's certain that not everyone has good luck.)
  • Santo de espaldas: bad luck. (Los habitantes de El Ídolo describen a 1998 con una frase: "Tuvimos al santo de espaldas". The residents of El Idolo describe 1998 with a phrase: "We had bad luck.")
  • Santo de pajares: person whose sainthood can't be trusted.
  • Santo y seña: military password.
  • Semana Santa: Holy Week (the week preceding Easter, including Good Friday).
  • Tierra Santa: Holy Land.
Of course, Santo and its variations also has been used as a title of sorts before the names of Saints: San José (St. Joseph), Santa Teresa (St. Teresa).
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