From Such a Stick, Such a Splinter

You look just like your dad. “De tal palo, tal astilla.” You’re a star athlete just like your mom was when she was in college. “De tal palo, tal astilla.” Your dad loves his sweets and so does your brother. “De tal palo, tal astilla.” I think you can tell where I’m going with this.

“De tal palo, tal astilla” literally translates to “From such a stick, such a splinter.” In English we’d say “Like father, like son,” or, even better, “A chip off the old block.” This makes sense, the splinter comes from the stick- it’s made up of the same things the stick is, just smaller, maybe differently shaped, and in a new place. However, it still very much resembles the stick in both appearance and substance (or a better word for what’s on the inside). This is often how a parent-child relationship works. The child is different than the parent, but the resemblance between the two is apparent, and often very strong.

When a child is similar to the parent, we have lots of sayings to describe it. Like father like son. A chip off the old block. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Spitting image. All of these sayings describe our similarities to our parents. These can all be used in different contexts, however.

If the father was a star baseball player, and the son hit a home run, you wouldn’t want to say “wow, he’s a spitting image of his dad!” because in general, spitting images are more about physical appearance. Instead, “like father like son” or “a chip off the old block” might be more fitting. And vice versa.

Considering the way I usually hear it used, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” seems to have more of a negative connotation. She got pregnant young just like her mom did- the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Or something like that, something that is generally considered to be more negative.

It’s so interesting to me that idioms (otherwise arbitrary sayings) that mean the same thing STILL have different connotations and situations for when they should be used.

The Spanish language also has another way to say it,” Cual cuervo, tal su huevo,” or basically that the crow’s egg will be like him. As to which phrase should be used when, or if they have different connotations, I’m not sure. Maybe I can find out as I continue to learn more and more Spanish.

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