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I have heard the following sentence in the Narcos TV series:

Quiero que les quede bien clarito que lo único que deja serle fiel a Pablo es una bala en la cabeza.

Context: a drug dealer which used to belong to the Medellin cartel is asking her partner to tell the leaders of the cartel sub-gangs that Pablo is not reliable.

I don't clearly understand the expression "que lo único que deja serle fiel a Pablo es una bala en la cabeza". "lo único" who? What does "dejar serle fiel" mean in this context?

If I try to translate the sentence to English, I get

I want to make very clear to them that the only thing that allows Pablo to be faithful is a bullet to the head.

However, that doesn't seem right, because from the context, I think that the sentence is not about Pablo Escobar, but about the people that are faithful to him and end up getting shot by him.

  • I want it to be made very clear to them that the only thing that allows Pablo to be faithful is a bullet to the head. // I'm voting to close for lack of research. You can look up some of the words in a dictionary and share what you found. This is what makes a well-posed question. – aparente001 Dec 28 '19 at 5:26
  • I was able to get to the same word by word translation, but that makes no sense. I think that the sentence is not about Pablo Escobar, but about the people that are faithful to him and end up getting shot by him. – Alan Evangelista Dec 28 '19 at 9:10
  • I see what you mean. I think you're right. Let me try again. I want it to be made very clear to them that the only thing that allows one to be faithful to Pablo is a bullet to the head. Makes much more sense this way. In conversation one often allows the context to provide full clarity, whereas in writing one would make sure there's no ambiguity, e.g. "lo único que le deja a uno serle fiel a Pablo es una bala en la cabeza." – aparente001 Dec 28 '19 at 16:43
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    This is actually confusing both of you guys. Let me try an answer. – pablodf76 Dec 30 '19 at 10:39
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    I agree. It would have been much clearer to say: Lo único que se gana/se consigue siendo fiel a Pablo es una bala en la cabeza. – Gustavson Dec 30 '19 at 12:55
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This could be a rather confusing sentence to a non-native, and indeed, to a native if it's spoken too fast or heard without care:

Quiero que les quede bien clarito que lo único que deja serle fiel a Pablo es una bala en la cabeza.

The meaning of dejar in this sentence is not "to allow, to let, to permit". It's the other meaning, "to leave", in this case, "to leave as a result". Simplifying, rephrasing and reordering the sentence:

Serle fiel a Pablo deja únicamente una bala en la cabeza.

The subject is the infinitive verb phrase (serle fiel a Pablo), and the direct object (the thing that results) is una bala en la cabeza.

The indirect object is left out in the original sentence, unspecified, because it sounds OK in such a long phrase and because it's easily understood to be uno (that is, "one", anyone). In this formulation it would be better to say:

Serle fiel a Pablo únicamente le deja a uno una bala en la cabeza.

So, in English: "Being faithful to Pablo only leaves one [with] a bullet in the head."

A more idiomatic way to translate the whole thing could be "I want it to be very clear to them that the only thing that being faithful to Pablo will get you is a bullet in the head."

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    Good interpretation, @pablodf76. Also: The only thing you get by being faithful to Pablo is a bullet in your head. – Gustavson Dec 30 '19 at 12:01
  • Oh, now I get it! Now, tell me, was it your familiarity with the historical context help you realize what the sentence was really saying, or did you need to watch the scene? – aparente001 Dec 30 '19 at 21:04
  • No, I didn't know what the scene was about or anything (I did watch Narcos a while ago but didn't remember this particular scene). The sentence has no other suitable reading if you take into account the explanation given by OP (that it's a warning that Pablo isn't reliable). Grammatically, too, I think it cannot be interpreted in any other way, but it is a bit confusing when you see it in writing. – pablodf76 Dec 30 '19 at 22:12
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In conversation one often omits this or that little bit that one would make sure to include in persuasive writing. Here's an unambiguous version:

lo único que le deja a uno serle fiel a Pablo es una bala en la cabeza.

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