What does ‘Buscarle très pies al gato’ mean in English?

On my morning walk (in the drizzle and under grey west country skies) I found myself wondering about the above saying. I returned to my gaff and googled. I knew roughly what it meant, but

Literally Buscarle très pies al gato means to look for three legs on the cat.  Obviously it is a saying, so the literal meaning isn’t the actual meaning.

So what does it mean?

I found a reference to this on lasfrasesparahoy where they suggest that the Real Academia Española (big dudes who are officially responsible for overseeing the Spanish language)  state that it means empeñarse temerariamente en cosas que pueden acarrearle daño.

This translates as ‘insist recklessly  in things that can bring you damage’.  empeñarse could mean ‘insist on’ or ‘get into’ depending on the context but I think here ‘insist on’ is a better translation.

I found another meaning here the gist being No le busques tres pies al gato para indicar que no debe uno complicar lo sencillo o intentar probar lo impossible.  The expression ‘no le busques tres pies al gato’ indicates that you should not overcomplicate or try to prove the impossible.

Well, that seems similar but not identical to the meaning given by Real Academia Española.

I googled some more and discovered a definition stating it meant Significa buscar el lado negativo de las cosas ‘to look for the negative side of things’. I don’t like this one.

I googled some more and a common translation given is ‘to split hairs‘ . This means to argue about small or unimportant details.

Stop splitting hairs.

Like.

Now.

I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone use it.

So what does it mean?

I think the primary translation is ‘Don’t look for trouble/complications where there aren’t any’.

I think is can also be used in the sense of ‘splitting hairs’ E.g. Yo no le busco tres pies al gato, simplemente que me parece absurda la explicación dada. ‘I don’t want to split hairs but the explanation given  seems ridiculous to me’.

There might also be another meaning of ‘there is no point flogging a dead horse’. I’m not sure about this.

None of these match empeñarse temerariamente en cosas que pueden acarrearle daño which I may have mistranslated – which is distinctly probable.

After writing this,  it is still raining, there are still paw prints everywhere, my dog is still wet, and I am still none the wiser about this saying. I need to find more examples, and all will become clear.

Besos, peace, ciao

MoonFace

5 thoughts on “What does ‘Buscarle très pies al gato’ mean in English?”

  1. Busco tres pais del gato means “I’m looking for trouble.” I said that to my Spanish teacher in class when he asked how I was. I also said it to a girl from Spain who laughed heartily because she too was looking for trouble. We found it together.

  2. The problem with Spanish is that all of what you said is correct. It all depends on the context you are saying. The definition that the Real Academia Española used is the main general definition. For example

    If someone is insisting on fighting you, you can tell them No le busques tres pies al gato. “Do not recklessly insist on fighting me because I will cause you harm (damage)”

    If someone is insisting on driving drunk, you can tell them No le busques tres pies al gato. “Do not recklessly insist on driving because you might crash and damage yourself”

    How do the other sentences that you used fit the Real Academia Española definition:

    “I think is can also be used in the sense of ‘splitting hairs’ E.g. Yo no le busco tres pies al gato, simplemente que me parece absurda la explicación dada. ‘I don’t want to split hairs but the explanation given seems ridiculous to me’.”

    If you are splitting hairs means you are overly critical of small details, by doing this you might annoy of you conversational partner. (the person you are annoying can cause you harm (damage) by punching you or by no giving you a promotion, by talking bad about you etc..)

    Does this make senses to you?

    1. Thanks for your examples.

      In light of these, I wonder if ‘no le busco tres pies al gato, simplemente que me parece absurda la explicación dada’ would be better translated as ‘I don’t want to caus trouble but …’.

      I was never entirely satisfied with ‘splitting hairs’ as a translation. You are correct as it means being overly critical, but it doesn’t normally include the idea of harm or damage to yourself. If I am splitting hairs with someone, I’m being pedantic but not necessarily placing myself in any particular danger.

      I could say ‘I dont want to split hairs but this phrase seems impossible to translate’ in English but I suppose ‘No le busco tres pies al gato pero esta frase me parecer impossible de traducir’ would be incorrect in spanish as I am not worried about suffering damage?

      Cheers,

      MF

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