Missing the Spanish Phrase “Ni Modo”

I miss the phrase “ni modo.” It’s a wonderful Mexico City idiom meaning “oh well, this is not good, but it can’t be changed either, so we might as well accept it and deal with it.” They say few languages are as concise as English, and Spanish usually isn’t. But ni modo takes an English sentence to translate.

This is left over from my nine years living in Mexico City, many years ago.

Repeat after me: ni modo. Pronounce it as if it were neemodo. When you’re stuck in traffic, ni modo. When you really need to work but your Internet connection is down, ni modo. When you said the wrong thing and you’d love to take it back, ni modo.

I’m not sure whether this is just Mexico City slang or if it also applies in other Spanish-speaking cultures like the rest of Latin America or Spain. I learned my Spanish during those years living in Mexico City. Idioms like these are hard to gauge. Sometimes they’re very local, sometimes not.

What I do know is that it’s a wonderful mix of language, philosophy, life style, and karma. When things go wrong, ni modo.

11 thoughts on “Missing the Spanish Phrase “Ni Modo”

  1. I lived in Colombia for two years. The similar expression was ” Si dios quere” If God will it. Colombians are very fateful. If something goes against them, or a situation has an uncertain outcome, god will determine it fate, not man. This was extremely difficult to over come as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

    1. Thanks Andrew, that one is common in Mexico too, and it translates to “God willing,” and in Mexico, at least, is pretty much directly equivalent to the English translation. Tim

    2. Andy? lived in Colombia 1971-ish? I was just reading a journal I wrote at that time and your name was mentioned.

  2. Hey Tim, “ni modo” is mostly mexican but I believe it’s understandable on many other latinamerican countries because of TV: during the 80’s, 90’s and even today, mexican show “El Chavo del 8” has been on air an has enjoyed a lot of popularity repeated times, often on each decade when new generations discover it. And that show’s lovely characters use “ni modo” repeatedly.

    So it’s perfectly understandable on Chile (and let me add: when you say it, you must move your head a little to a side 😉 ) but not used because is a word from mexican slang that just didn’t enter our way to talk.

  3. I haven’t heard it used in Central America but, as Roberto says, they’re so loaded with Mexican t.v. down there that they would understand.

  4. Tim,

    I have another expression that has similar meaning to “ni modo”:
    Hakuna matata!

    Ist that familiar?

    Best regards!

  5. It is not a common saying in Spain, actually I had never heard it before. It does not macth with our mentality either, for example, when the internet connection is so slow, we know exactly what company is the one to blame…

    Kind regards and Happy New Year!

  6. Tim,

    Having lived in most of Central America (from Guatemala to Panamá) I can tell you that it is a common phrase.

    The best English translation I can think of is “what can you do?” as in when you have no option left or no control over the situation.

    And I agree with you, in this instance, the Spanish phrase is a lot more succinct yet more descriptive than the English one.

    Keep up the interesting writing,
    Axel

  7. I use it as needed when I go to Mexico and things don’t work out right.
    I am not sure where you are, but I go to it is used occasionally.

  8. I am teaching Spanish to 7th and 8th graders, and love your post about the word ni modo!

    Could I post in my school page so kids and parents can read about it?

    GRACIAS DE ANTEMANO!

    Karla 😉

  9. In colombia “ni modo” it´s a regular expression and we use when something goes wrong but you can´t do anything, you just let it pass!. Just like Time said in this post, btw nice post.

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