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I came across the phrase "La mamá de Tarzán" when reading Los años con Laura Díaz by top Mexican author Carlos Fuentes.

The part of the book was set in the early part of the 20th century if I recall correctly and immediately made me think of English phrases like "the bees knees" and "the cat's pyjamas".

But was it used right across the Spanish speaking world or just in Mexico? Was it just in fashion for a few years and then disappeared or do people still say it today? How widespread was it, or is it?


EDIT

Well, I hunted around and here it is in its context in the book:

...

―Yeah, I'm the cat's pijamas ―repitió Dantón que ella de una comedia de cine americano.

―Oigan, muchachos éste se las sabe todas. He's the bee's knees! ¡Es la mamá de Tarzán!

―Cómo no, Yo Colón.

...

As you can see it's complicated by being in a mixed Spanish/English context with wordplay and including both "bees knees" and "cat's pajamas" so it could be equivalent to those, but it could also be that they are using all three phrases to refer to somebody who think's they are the best of the best. Which would give it two meanings maybe?

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3  
I've never heard of it (Chile). –  dusan Nov 17 '11 at 16:54
    
I'm from Mexico and it's not a common phrase. –  Alfredo Osorio Nov 17 '11 at 17:02
3  
Never heard of it (Spain) –  Serabe Nov 17 '11 at 17:14
2  
Never heard of it (mexico) –  isJustMe Nov 17 '11 at 17:31
    
Never heard of it (Peru) –  juliomalegria Jan 3 '12 at 3:14
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2 Answers

Google Trends doesn't think the phrase "La mamá de Tarzán" exists in any notable way, nor the phrase "the cat's pajamas." It does show a graph for "the bees knees."

A google search for the phrase 'la mamá de Tarán' does show a number of results, including a news article comparing Fox, Calderon, and "la mamá de Tarzán".

It's also a notable enough phrase that it has been written about elsewhere. Apparantly "La mamá de King Kong" works as well.

Wiktionary translates la mamá de Tarzán to mean "the bee's knees."

There's a folk/comedy a song entitled La Mamá de Tarzán (with lyrics). (My favorite lyric of the song would have to be: hasta sientes que los pedos no te huelen)

There's even a web site called LamamadeTarzan: Intelegencía Colectíva

Conclusion: It sounds like it's a common enough phrase, but that many people would only understand its meaning based on context. Even so, I think I'll have to start using the phrase now. :)

Usage: From context, it seems the proper usage is to compare a person to la mamá de Tarzán, as a way of saying the person has super-human capabilities. Perhaps it is also used to describe things in a similar way (the Wiktionary entry that @hippietrail influenced would seem to be evidence of this.)

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Full disclosure: I'm at least one of the people behind the Wiktionary entry a few years back. I'm not sure how much is down to me any more but I didn't have a site like this to ask about it at the time (-: –  hippietrail Nov 17 '11 at 17:58
    
@hippietrail: Thanks, fixed. –  Flimzy Nov 17 '11 at 18:53
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up vote 2 down vote accepted

While looking for some example uses on Amazon I unexpectedly found the phrase in a book on Costa Rican Spanish - including a definition!

Official Guide to Costa Rican Spanish by Christopher Howard (2010)

Creerse la mamá de Tarzan - To be conceited

So at least this sense is not at all what I expected like "the bee's knees" or "the cat's whiskers".

But I do know a great idiomatic translation that works in Australian English:

Who does she think she is - Lady Muck?

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"Creerse la mamá de Tarzan" is seldom used here in Colombia in popular speech and with the same meaning (to be conceited); another expression used around here with the same meaning is "Creerse la última Coca-Cola del desierto". –  Gonzalo Medina Nov 21 '11 at 16:08
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