Mano a Mano

The phrase "mano a mano" literally translates to which of the following?

Considering "hand to hand," "brother to brother," "cheek to cheek" and "Greetings, Earthling" the answer is: hand to hand.    

Photo credit: Independent

In Spanish, "mano" means "hand," so the phrase "mano a mano" literally means "hand to hand." Figuratively, it means when two people meet in direct competition or conflict to each other, similar to head-to-head. The phrase comes from bullfighting, and describes a type of duel between two matadors.

Spanish speakers use this phrase in a variety of forms. While it does directly translate to "hand to hand," it's frequently applied to forms of conflict that aren't physical. For example, two lawmakers in Madrid can have a mano a mano debate, while two bullfighters in the ring can also have a mano a mano. In this sense, Spanish speakers use the phrase to refer to a conflict between individuals.

In English, the phrase applies directly to a conflict between two people. In golf, a playoff between two golfers can be called a mano-a-mano, while a fight between two boxers is also a mano-a-mano.

Meanwhile, "man to man" (which is not, in fact, the translation of mano a mano) means something completely different. This phrase, instead, means an honest or frank connection with another individual, i.e. a conversation man-to-man. While these lexical similarities can seem confusing, they are but the tip of the iceberg in the complex formation of grammar along the lines of translation.  

Test your knowledge and review this list of common terms and phrases that English speakers have borrowed from other languages.


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