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Lessons for topic Expressions

Que se Diga: Let's go there!

Pues, no tan bien que se diga, pero más o menos me defiende un poco.
"Whell, not so good exactly but It more or less helps me a bit."

[Caption 8, Doña Coco > La Vida De Una Cocinera]


Doña Coco is not earning enough money que se diga, which literally translates to something like "it might be said." However, que se diga (commonly expressed as que digamos) is in fact a colloquial expression which has approximately the same meaning as precisamente ("precisely" or "exactly"), and is often used to mitigate negative statements, as we see here.

No me siento muy bien que se diga.
"I don't exactly feel good."

El pollo no está muy rico que digamos.
"The chicken isn't exactly very tasty."

Note that if we add "ni" we get the expression"ni que se diga," which is the Spanish equivalent to "Let's not even go there."



Los alumnos de cuarto grado son ruidosos. Los de quinto, ni que se diga!
"The fourth grade students are noisy. As for the fifth graders, let's not even go there!"

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Planta Baja: Ground Floor

In Mexico City, our Amigos D.F. return to tell us something about arquitectura (architecture) in el D.F. (in Mexico City, that is). Indicating a nearby building, we hear:

...abajo es una zona comercial, todo lo que vendría a ser la planta baja... y arriba, allá, son este... departamentos... residenciales.
"...below it's a commercial area, everything that would be the ground level... and above, there, are... apartments... residential."

[Captions 17-19, Amigos D.F. > Arquitectura]

Despite the rambling nature of this unscripted dialogue, it's easy enough to understand that there are commercial businesses on the ground floor of this building and residential apartments above. If the building has an elevator, pressing the p.b. (planta baja) button will take you to street level.

Push "1" in the same elevator and you'll end up on what's referred to as the "second floor" in New York or Miami.  You see, in Spain and in Latin America, "l primer piso is "the first floor *above* the ground level."

So, let's take this language lesson up a step. Say you want to visit your Mexican friend in his apartment up on "2." That's el segundo piso ("the second floor"). You see, you rarely hear la segunda planta or la primera planta outside of architectural drawings. In everyday speech, you'll usually hear pisos"instead of plantas describe floors 1 through, well, the sky's the limit.
A final note on arquitectura: Departamento is the word of choice for Latin American apartments. Meanwhile, over in Spain, you'll typically hear apartamento.



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En sí: In and of itself

On the Venezuelan shore, Francisco expresses his deep appreciation for the wild, natural beauty of his surroundings. In front of the camera, Francisco hesitates a few times, but it's not from lack of conviction. He's simply buying time to find the right word. For example:

Los arrecifes... la... la... el fondo marino en... en sí que es demasiado increíble.
"The reefs... the... the... the ocean floor in... in itself is too incredible."
[Caption 4, Adícora > Francisco > 4]


One might take pause upon hearing en sí because those two words separately can mean "in" and "yes." But with an accent over the i is not just an affirmation; it's also a reflexive personal pronoun (short for sí mismo / sí misma) meaning himself, herself, itself, oneself, yourself (as in the formal usted), yourselves (ustedes) or themselves -- depending on the context.

Lo leyó para sí misma.
"She read it to herself." [not out loud]

Cada uno debe hacerlo por sí mismo.
"Each person has to do it himself or herself."

Solía pensar por mismo; no era influenciado por los tan llamados expertos.
"He used to think for himself; he wasn't influenced by the so-called experts."

¡Venga y compruébelo por sí mismo!
"Come and check it out for yourself!"

Let's look back at our original example and home in on the idiom en sí, which means the same thing as en sí mismo (English translations: "in itself" or "in and of itself" or simply "itself").

El trabajo en sí no era interesante, pero le daba la posibilidad de viajar.
"The job itself wasn't interesting, but it gave him the opportunity to travel."

Amor es bueno en sí naturalmente,
"Love in itself is naturally good,"

[from Juan Boscán's Sonnet, sixteenth century poetry]


You will also find it interesting to note that volver en sí, which we might be tempted to translate as "to come back to one's self," is an expression that means "to regain consciousness / to come to." It can also mean "to come around," as in "to realize the truth."

Si no vuelve en sí pronto, debemos llevarlo a un hospital.
"If he doesn't come to soon, we must take him to a hospital."

Por suerte volvió en sí y se dió cuenta que era una locura.
"Luckily he came around and realized it was a crazy idea.


This lesson has valor en sí misma, if you ask us!

You can further explore reflexive pronouns with our friends over at Spanish Online.

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Caer Bien: To like it

Going to the private party where The Ramones were performing for the first time ever ended up changing the life of painter/ artist Arturo Vega. Our featured video interview with Vega captures the story.

Entonces, yo fui porque, pues, era una fiesta, ¿verdad? Y Dee Dee me caía bien.
"So, I went because, well, it was a party, right? And I liked Dee Dee."
[Caption 40, Entrevista > Arturo Vega > 3]


So, students following the subtitles of this interview may choose to click the Spanish words that they don't know for Yabla's handy dictionary definitions. It happens that if they clicked caía, the dictionary would reveal that it's a third-person past tense of the verb caer. And what does caer mean?:

  • caer: v.: fall; drop, tumble; plunge; decline; droop; sink; demise; catch on

All these definitions are true, but what about "liking someone" -- as the verb is used here? Turns out that in Spanish, to say you like someone, you basically say that someone, well, falls well for (or, to) you. That is to say, Me cae bien means "I like him/ her" or "He/she made a good impression on me."

Conversely, Me cae mal means "I don't like him/her."

You may be wondering if he might have used the verb gustar, which also can be used to indicate liking something or someone. However, when using gustar to refer to people, there can be romantic/sexual connotations. Using caer bien eliminates any potential misunderstanding, as it refers to a purely platonic attraction.


In your travels through the Spanish speaking world you will undoubtedly come across other interesting uses of caer.

No puedes caer así sin avisar. (slang)
"You can't drop by like that without calling."

Siempre es igual, le cuentas un chiste y cae media hora más tarde.
"It's always the same, tell him a joke and he gets it
a half hour later."

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Me Puedes: It's irresistible

Me puedes
"You can get to me / I can't resist you"
[song title, La Gusana Ciega > Me Puedes]


The song title for La Gusana Ciega's new video may at first sound like an incomplete phrase. After all, it's common to see the verb poder (to be able to) conjugated with a direct object -- as in, me puedes -- followed by another verb in the infinitive, such as Me puedes ayudar, (You can help me) -- or, with question marks, ¿Me puedes ayudar? (Can you help me?).

So, when encountering me puedes on its own, one may struggle to find sense in "you can me." (You can what me?) But the verb poder can also mean "to be stronger than," or "to have power over," which will give us "You are stronger than me / You have power over me" or, seen from another angle, "I can't resist you."

To investigate further, we went straight to the source, Daniel Gutierrez, lyricist/vocalist/guitarist of
La Gusana Ciega. We asked him what he had in mind when he titled the song "Me puedes." Daniel, who speaks English quite well, replied and told us how the title ties into the song's refrain of me vas a ver llorar (you're going to see me cry):

It would be sort of a YOU GET TO ME referring to "you can make me cry" if you want.

¡Gracias, Daniel! If only we could always contact all our video stars directly. Alas, no podemos.

La curiosidad me pudo y fui a ver el combate de lucha.
"Curiosity got to me [got the best of me] and I went to see the wrestling match."

Está bien, me puedes... vamos a ir al zoológico el domingo.
"Alright, I can't say no [to you]... we'll go to the zoo on Sunday.

Estoy a régimen, pero la torta de chocolate me puede.
"I'm on a diet, but I can't resist chocolate cake."

¡Ese chico me puede!
"I'm crazy for that boy! [can't resist him]"

Esta niña me puede... no pude decirle que no.
"I can't resist this girl [her charms]... I couldn't say no to her."

Cuando llegué estaba enojada, pero esa sonrisa me puede...
"When I arrived I was angry, but I can't resist that smile..."



NOTE: You might be wondering if it's therefore possible to say te puedo for "you can't resist me." But our translators inform us that native speakers don't do this, and probably wouldn't understand it if you attempted to convey this sentiment like that.

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Ir al grano: Let's Get To The Point

If you want to say, "Let's get to the point" in Spanish, you say, "Vamos al grano." Remember the word "grano" mentioned earlier in this newsletter? It's a noun that means "grain" (e.g., a grain of cereal or sand), "bean" (as in a coffee bean) or "pimple" (a spot on the skin -- as we used it above).


Based on the individual words, you might think "vamos al grano" meant "let's go to the grain" if you didn't know the expression. But in standard Spanish from both Spain and Latin America, "vamos al grano" is commonly understood to mean "let's get to the substance of something" (pushing aside all superfluous niceties or meaningless details).

The lyrics to Risa from Babasónicos include the phrase (with the verb "ir" in its subjunctive form):

Algo en tus labios color carmín sugiere que vayamos al grano
"Something in your carmine lips suggests we get to the point"
[Captions 14-5, Babasónicos > Risa]


Another way we might say that in English is "let's cut to the chase" or "let's not beat around the bush."

We stumbled upon some more useful phrases containing "grano" (or its diminutive "granito"):

apartar el grano de la paja
"to separate the wheat from the chaff"

hacer una montaña de un grano de arena
"to make a mountain out of a molehill" (Hint: "arena" means "sand")

poner su granito de arena
"to do one's bit / add one's two cents"



And that's our granito de arena for now. Enjoy the videos.

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¿Cómo dice?: How does it go?

In our latest live concert footage of Belanova, lead singer Denisse Guererro turns to the audience and asks:

¿Cómo dice?
[Caption 17, Belanova > Tus ojos]


The crowd responds by singing along to the well known song. North of the border, concertgoers might hear the words "How does it go?" to provoke a similar sing-along.

But wait. Most of you know the verb decir most often means "to say" or "to tell." It's ir that typically means "to go." A literal-minded translation of
¿Cómo dice? might be something more like "What does [it / the song / the tune] say?"

When we asked around, we gathered some more examples of English phrases in which "go"
is best expressed in Spanish with decir. Here they are:

"As the song goes"
Como dice la canción

"As the saying goes"
Como dice el refrán

"So the story goes"
Se dice

"So the argument goes (reputedly)"
Según se dice

Hearing "decir" used in this context, it becomes much easier to understand another new music video. In "Llora mi corazón," La Secta Allstar leads into their own refrain with:





Y dice...
"And it [i.e., the song's refrain] goes [like this:]..."

[Caption 6, La Secta > Llora]


So, how does La Secta's refrain go?

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No es lo mismo: It's not the same, but it is "un chiste"

Puerto Rican band Circo remind us that a suspicion is, by definition, not the same as a confirmed fact. Here's the refrain:

No es lo mismo una sospecha que saberlo de verdad.
No es saberlo de verdad lo mismo que una sospecha.

"A suspicion isn't the same as knowing it for sure.
Knowing it for sure isn't the same as a suspicion."

[Captions 7-8, 9-10, etc., Circo > La Sospecha]


The repeated refrain is reminiscent of a series of jokes in Spanish that start "No es lo mismo [decir]..." ("It's not the same [to say]... "). For example:

No es lo mismo decir: "me río en el baño" que "me baño en el río."

And the English translation?

It's not the same to say: "I laugh in the bathroom" as "I bathe in the river."

And that's funny? Well, the little joke is hinged on the fact that the verbs "reirse" ("to laugh") and "
bañarse" ("to bathe") have conjugations that sound just like the nouns "el río" ("the river") and "el baño" ("the bathroom"). And that's why flipping the words around is un chiste (a joke) only in Spanish. Just try translating a groan-worthy English "knock-knock" joke into another language...

You can find dozens
more "no-es-lo-mismo" chistes online with a simple search.

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Darse Cuenta: Realizing through repetition

Asked about his influences in the arts, Arturo Vega gives a long, thoughtful answer that includes one particular verb phrase over and over. Here are the excerpts:

Después de la actuación... me di cuenta que... mi talento o mi vocación... era para... lo visual
"After acting... I realized that... my gift or my vocation... was for... the visual"

[Captions 7-9, Entrevista > Arturo Vega > 2]

Me ha dado cuenta que mi manera de percibir y de valorizar...
"I have found that my way of perceiving and appreciating..."

[caption 10,
captions 7-9, Entrevista > Arturo Vega > 2]

Pero a mí... yo me di cuenta que no era nada más...
"But for me... I realized that it was not just..."

[Caption 13,
Entrevista > Arturo Vega > 2] di cuenta que podía hacer algo...
"...I realized that I could do something..."

[Caption 15,
Entrevista > Arturo Vega > 2]

Y... me di cuenta del gusto...
"And...I became aware of the pleasure..."

[Caption 17,
Entrevista > Arturo Vega > 2]

me di cuenta que... y me di cuenta que
"I realized that... and I realized that..."
Captions 22 and 29, Entrevista > Arturo Vega > 2]


Through repetition, you learn. Here our lesson is clear: Darse cuenta = "to realize". Yes, it's used often, you must realize.

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Aun Así: Even so, it's still tricky

Even native speakers have no end of trouble with the distinction between aun and aún. In fact, this newsletter was instigated when our chief proofreader removed the accents she found on the u's in Belanova's title refrain Y aun así te vas. The band's own CD shows an accent on the u, so we were dubious. Ultimately, she convinced us that there should be no accent on the u in the phrase aun así. Hopefully the following will convince you too!

Y aun así te vas
"And even so you leave"
[Captions 17-9, 22-4, 29-31, 34 Belanova > Y aun así te vas]


Aun así is a Spanish idiom, or usage expression, meaning "even so", "still" or "yet." We could have equally well translated the line as "And still you leave," or "And yet you leave."

Hace frío afuera, aun así ella no se pone un abrigo.
"It's cold outside, yet she won't wear a coat."

No tengo mucho dinero, pero aun así voy a comprar la computadora.
"I don't have much money, but still I'm going to buy the computer."

Habíamos pagado por la habitación y aun así tuvimos que buscar otro hotel.
"We had paid for the room and yet we had to look for another hotel."

Aun así, creo que deberías disculparte.
"Even so, I think you should apologize."

The word aun, by itself, and with no accent over the u, and not followed by así, can often be translated as "even."

No como torta, aun en mi cumpleaños.
I don't eat cake, even for my birthday.

Aun cuando lo leyera, no lo entendería.
I wouldn't understand it, even if I read it.

Ni aun sabiendo la dirección llegarías a su casa.
Not even knowing the address would you find his house.

Can you see how when we put aun together with así ("like this" / "this way"), we get something along the lines of "even like this" / "even this way"? Or, more concisely, "even so"? Diccionario de Uso del Español, by María Moliner, a favorite of professional translators, goes deeper:

"AUN ASÍ" Expresión adverbial de significado adversativo, ya que expresa oposición entre el resultado real de la circunstancia expresada por "así" y el que podría esperarse de ella. "Aun así no llegaís a tiempo"

"AUN ASÍ" Adverbial phrase with adversative meaning since there is a contrast between the actual outcome of that circumstance expressed by "así" and the expected result. "And still/ yet you are not on time"

If that's a bit too deep, ¡no importa! (don't worry), just remember the basic meaning and you'll be fine!


Aún, with the accent on the ú, means "up until the present moment" and is basically synonymous with todavía. Confusingly enough, aún is also defined as "yet," "still," but in the temporal sense (as opposed to when they mean "even so" / aun así).

¿Aún estás aquí?
¿Todavía estás aquí?
Are you still here?

Aún no ha llamado.
Todavía no ha llamado.

She hasn’t called yet.

Ya son las once y aún no ha llamado.
Ya son las once y todavía no ha llamado.
It’s already eleven o’clock and she still hasn’t called.

¿Has tenido noticias? —Aún no
¿Has tenido noticias? —Todavía no
Have you had any news? — Not yet.


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Qué Onda: What's Up? Waves and good vibes.

Let's continue with Arturo Vega's tentative arrival in New York:

Y vine primeramente en el sesenta y nueve para ver qué onda, a ver qué tal estaba Nueva York
"And I first came in sixty-nine to see what was going on, to see how New York was."

[Caption 52, Entrevista > Arturo Vega > 1]


"¿Qué onda?" It's a common question in Mexico and elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world. It's even a common greeting. If you took it literally, the question sounds like "What wave?" -since "qué" (with an accented é) means "what" and "onda" means "wave," technically speaking. While "de onda corta" is "shortwave," as in shortwave radio, note that "onda" can also mean "vibe" informally. And so "qué onda" can mean, basically, "what's up" or "what's going on," as our translators have it. ("What vibe" sounds silly in English.)

Onda in this informal sense seems to have originated in Mexican colloquial speech and is used in a
wide variety of ways. This usage has spread throughout Latin America but, by most accounts, continues to be most common in the place it originated.

Note that ola is also a word for "wave," and this is the word used to describe the things that slap the beach. If you talk about an onda when describing a body of water, most native Spanish speakers will take it that you mean a "ripple." So, next time you visit
Puerto Escondido, note that a surfista is certainly riding las olas, but might be staying at Cabañas la Buena Onda (The Good Vibe Cabanas) -- which are still so pure that they don't appear to have a website, but we guarantee you they exist (find them at La Punta, "The Point").



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Los Sesenta: The sixties and the grammar police

Chatting with Arturo Vega, the artistic director of the seminal New York rockers The Ramones, we learn he's from Chihuahua, Mexico (yes, the namesake of those tiny Taco Bell / Paris Hilton dogs). We also learn that he came to the U.S. in "los sesentas" ["the sixties"] -- as in, "los años sesenta." In fact, in just over six minutes of chatting in front of the camera, Vega mentions "los sesentas" four times (in captions 22, 23, 30 and 38, to be precise). But the grammar police say that Vega gets it wrong four times: In proper Spanish, the decades are supposed to be singular, so it's los sesenta (short for los años sesenta).


Well, let's give Vega the benefit of the doubt. You see, Anglicisms in Spanish are increasingly popular. By "Anglicism" here we are referring to the application of a rule of English grammar to Spanish. Besides making decades plural, as an Anglicism, you may hear some family names pluralized in Spanish as the are in English. For example: Los Ramones (as uttered by our interviewer in caption 28) is technically the incorrect way to refer to the members of the fictional Ramone family. (Granted, "los Ramone" does not echo the name of the legendary band....) Note: the band members each took the last name "Ramone" as stage names, but these neighborhood pals from Queens were not, in fact, related, nor born with this surname.

Tip: If you want to hear a more traditional translation of a famous U.S. family into Spanish, tune into
Los Simpson.
(Yup: it's singular: "Simpson.")

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Llevarse Bien: To get along

In the song's refrain, there's another example of a common verb used in a secondary sense.

Si dos ya no se llevan bien
"If two don't get along [well]

captions 11, 26, 33 and 39, Jeremías > Uno y uno igual a tres

The first definition you'll probably learn for the common verb llevar is "to carry." Learn the nuances of this versatile verb and you'll find this construction:

Llevarse bien/mal con alguien
"To get on well/badly with somebody"

For more examples -- and more nuances of llevar -- you could check out: > Spanish language > Using llevar



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Prestar un Servicio: To Lend a Service

The verb prestar (which means "to lend') has some different uses in Spanish than the verb "lend" does in English. For an example, let's turn to Chober, chatting on the beach in Venezuela in this week's new interview.

Y bueno, el destino final es prestar un servicio donde la gente pueda degustar gratronomía local
"And, well, the final objective is to provide a service where people can taste local gastronomy"
caption 24, Playa Adícora > Chober

If you translated the above quotation and decided 'prestar un servicio' was "to lend a service," you'd still get the gist of the sentence. But your English might sound a little stilted. Same holds true of this common phrase in Spanish:

Prestar atención

To lend attention? Well, in modern English we'd say "to pay attention."

For more Spanish phrases containing prestar, see: >



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Poder Soñar: Dream About

...vestía la ropa con la que tú sólo puedes soñar
"...she wore clothes that you can only dream about"

[Caption 10, La Mala Rodríguez > La niña]


In caption 10 of María's song La Niña we are told that the protagonist  wore clothes con la que tú sólo puedes soñar, "that you can only dream about." Soñar is the infinitive "to dream" and of course is related  to the word for dreams themselves, sueños. The tilde (~) over the n tells us that this n is pronounced with the "palatal nasal sound" or [ny], like what we hear when we say the English word "canyon" (which is, appropriately, cañón in Spanish). Soñar, therefore, is pronounced [sonyar].

Being a rapper and therefore a poet, it's no surprise that a few lines later she ends another line with a very similar looking infinitive.

...tu teléfono no deja de sonar
"...your phone doesn't stop ringing"

[Caption 13,
La Mala Rodríguez > La niña]

By dropping the ~ over the n in soñar we get sonar, which means "to sound" and also, as in this case means "to ring." Because there is no tilde over the n, the word is pronounced with the standard [n] sound we are used to in English. As so often happens, in this case the infinitive sonar is best translated into English using the present participle ("ing") form of the verb, which gives us "ringing."



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Se trata: What it's about

This week we also offer the eighth installment of De Consumidor a Persona ("From Consumer to Person"), from Spain, a probing look at tough environmental questions. In this clip, we hear:


...[S]e trata de vincular la misma actividad...

...[I]t is about linking the same activity...

[Caption 21, De Consumidor a Persona > Part 8]

We've discussed the versatile verb tratar ("to treat" or "to attempt to") in this space before. But we didn't yet touch on the common construction tratarse de [algo] ("to be about [something]"), which is seen in the phrase above.

Here's a common question:

¿De que se trata?

"What is it about?"

And one possible answer:

Yabla Spanish se trata de gente interesante.

"Yabla Spanish is about interesting people."


Got that? Have a look at an interesting discussion of the phrase, found here.

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A finales de: Beginnings, middles, and ends

...terminamos nuestro trabajo de grado en abril, a finales de abril

[Captions 15-6, Patricia Marti > Estudios Médicos > 1]


With all Patricia's talk of school requirements, you could be forgiven for initially thinking 'a finales de abril' referred to her final exams. But the phrase actually means "at the end of April" or "around the end of April." And so, the quote cited above is translated as: "....we'll finish our thesis in April, at the end of April."

f Patricia's project were to be delayed, she might say:

...terminamos nuestro trabajo de grado a principios de mayo

or even:

...terminamos nuestro trabajo de grado a mediados de mayo

As you probably guessed, those two phrases above mean "around the beginning of May" and "around the middle of May" respectively.



If she wanted to be even more vague, Patricia could also use the common phrase a mediados de año which means "around the middle of year." As an adjective, mediado(a) means "half-full" or "half-empty," depending on how you look at it.

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Tener que ver con: What's sight got to do with it?

[A]plicarle la palabra 'solidario' a las finanzas tiene que ver con que todo el mundo puede acceder a ese elemento de intermediación que es el dinero para poder hacer lo que en verdad importa, ¿no?

Applying the word 'solidarity' to finance has to do with everyone being able to access that element of intermediation, that is money, to be able to do what's really important, no?

[captions 29-30, De consumidor a persona> cortometraje > Part 6]


There are some complicated thoughts being expressed in this short film about the social consequences of consumerism. The number of verbs in the above quote alone could make a head spin. But here we want to home in on just two of those verbs, joined together in a common phrase: tener que ver.

In Spanish, tiene que ver con means, basically, "has to do with" or "got to do with" in English. But, of course, ver means "to see" and not "to do" (that's hacer). That's just the way it is.

¿Y eso qué tiene que ver?

"What's that got to do with it?" [Or, more simply:] "So what?"

No tiene nada que ver

"It's got nothing to do with it"

One of the points that comes across loud and clear in this short film is that a lot of social issues have to do with $money$ (el dinero). Eso es la verdad. ("That's the truth.")

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