In Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," one sentence says, "My woman's cousin was in McAlester an' they give him hell."

The Spanish ("Las Uvas de le Ira") translation is: "El primo de mi mujer estuvo alli y lo paso fatal."

This sounds to me like the cat croaked. Isn't it saying, "My woman's cousin was there and it proved fatal for him."?

Or is "paso fatal" really a good translation for "give [sic] him hell"?

  • 2
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about the meaning of an English sentence, not about spanish at all.
    – Envite
    Commented Jul 4, 2014 at 7:00
  • No, it's about the Spanish translation - what does it really mean? It has been answered well. Commented Jul 4, 2014 at 13:12
  • 1
    I like the use of "the cat croaked" in a question about colloquialisms...
    – ltcomdata
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 19:58

5 Answers 5


It depends, I'm from Argentina and we don't use that expression, though it's correct. Personally I would go for a more universal translation such as "El primo de mi mujer estuvo en McAlester y lo trataron muy mal". I'm not sure about the context of the sentence, but the difference between what I wrote and the translation you found is that mine conveys the sense that this person had a terrible time because of the people there. The translation you found says that he had a terrible time, doesn't say why. Hope this helps! Edit: Forgot to say that "lo pasó fatal" translates to "he had a terrible time".


First, I have no idea what "The cat croaked" means haha[I have my theories]. Second, "fatal" in spanish it is not only related to death, here "lo pasó fatal" just means that "he spent that time in a very terrible way". It's a good translation, it seems to me that it's from Spain. I agree with Eleyson that "El primo de mi mujer estuvo en McAlester y lo trataron muy mal" it's more accurate because specify "who gave him hell" and the other one don't but both sound good.

  • 1
    "The cat croaked" is hep-cat Estado Unidensan for "the guy died." It's a combination of pre-hippie (beatnik) and "Leave it to Beaver" lingo. Commented Jul 4, 2014 at 13:10

El primo de mi mujer estuvo alli y lo paso fatal. - My wife's cousin was there and had a terrible time.

The closest Spanish equivalent for 'gave him hell' would be 'le hicieron la vida un infierno' or 'le hicieron la vida imposible'.


I agree with Jaime as the translation would be a much closer reference to "El primo de mi mujer estuvo en McAlester y lo trataron muy mal" and I'd also say that the use of the word "fatal" may not always be linked to death, it can be linked to bad luck, misfortune or any general shock that may occur. The statement in question "Lo paso fatal" would be best linked to a person "El primo de mi mujer" have a tough/bad/"fatal" spending of time in that place which may further be linked to a death but not in direct reference therefore you can never be too sure through the way in which the text is written.


"They gave him hell" could mean that the treatment he got from the people there was cruel or harsh and far from respectful. I agree that it's important to get those clueless people into the translation, but also to do it with a colloquialism, preferably something a bit of a rough edge. "Lo trataron retemal" or "Se le amontaron líos" might approach that.

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