‘Manita de gato’: Essential Mexican Spanish!

Have you ever had to do your hair and/or makeup super quickly? Well, there’s actually a Mexican expression for just that: ‘manita de gato’.

‘Una manita de gato’ literally translates as ‘a cat’s paw‘, BUT it’s also used to describe that quick lick of makeup or hasty spray of perfume when you need to look (and possibly smell!) presentable … and sharpish!!

Yep, just like a cat giving themselves a quick lick/groom 😉

Full explanation + examples galore

A ‘manita de gato’ is basically what any self-respecting Mexican does to themselves when they need to get ready REAL QUICK and have no time for a full-blown grooming session!

A perfect example would be when a woman goes to the toilet to touch up her makeup during a date.

Or perhaps when someone’s running late for work (uh-oh!) and has to put that final touch of blusher and Rimmel on while riding the metro …

A cactus putting on lipstick while looking at her watch anxiously

Yep, a pocket mirror, is a must-have if you plan to give yourself a ‘manita de gato‘!

Elsa – Daniel, te quieren ver en la oficina de inmediato.

Daniel – Va, me doy una manita de gato y llego lo antes posible.

Elsa – Daniel, they want to see you at the office right now.

Daniel – OK, let me just spruce myself up a bit and I’ll be there in a jiffy.

Sandra – Amiga, Pablo me llamó; quiere invitarme a cenar después del trabajo. ¿Qué hago?

Teresa – ¡Tú rífate*! Nada más date un manita de gato y ¡listo!

Sandra – Sis, Pablo called me; he wants to take me out to dinner after work. What do I do?

Teresa – Go for it! Spruce yourself up a little and you’ll be good to go!

*Rupert’s pro tip – THE EXPRESSION ‘RÍFATE’ is used to encourage someone to complete a given task (especially if it’s somewhat difficult or risky!!).

‘Manita de gato’ also works to describe objects! Again, it just refers to a quick once-over!

Let’s have a look at a few ejemplos –

A cactus saying "Le di una manita de gato"; he's holding a sparkling clean laptop.

Ya vendí mi vieja computadora. Le di una manita de gato y lucía como nueva.

I’ve already sold my old computer. I just gave it a quick once over and it looked as good as new.

¿Me ayudas a arreglar la casa un poquito?*. NOMÁS hay que darle una manita de gato.

Can you help me tidy up the house a bit? We just need to give it a quick tidy-up.

*Rupert’s pro tip – ‘un poquito‘ is the DIMINUTIVE FORM OF ‘UN POCO’. Diminutives are SUPER popular in Mexico, and they’re actually a great way of making your Spanish sound just that little bit more native!

The following words/phrases are particularly common:

esperame tantitito = this one’s a bit like the English ‘wait a sec‘!

calientito = hot (in a cozy, comforting sort of way)

perrito = a dog, normally of the small, cute variety (but not always!)

By the way, if you wanna top up on your Mexican slang, you NEED to check out our “Master Guide” … it’s everything you need to know all in one place 👇🌵🇲🇽

Erika pointing to the word "Mexican Slang Master Guide"

How to say it properly!

Manita’ is said like ‘mah’, ‘nee’ and ‘tah’.

‘De’ sounds like ‘deh’ and ‘gato’ is pronounced ‘gahtoh’.

/ mah-nee-tah deh gah-toh /

Similar words (yippee!)


‘Chaineada’ is an Anglicism derived from the word ‘shine’, and it means to clean or remove dirt from something.

This is a VERY colloquial Mexican expression and although it’s normally used when something needs a quick clean, it can also be used like ‘manita de gato’ (i.e., when referring to a person).

Ya le hace falta una chaineada al coche, está todo sucio.

The car needs to be cleaned, it’s really dirty.


This is a useful synonym of ‘manita de gato’.

It’s the diminutive form of ‘(una) arreglada’ (I told you Mexicans go crazy for diminutives!) which translates to something like ‘(a) fix up’ in English.

A cactus looking disheveled and someone saying "Date una arregladita...¡estás toda desgreñada!"

Ok, te voy a invitar a desayunar, pero date una arregladita primero.

Ok, I’m going to take you for breakfast, but fix yourself up a bit first.

Before you go …

Did you know that there are LOADS of Mexican expressions with animals, especially with THE WORD GALLO (or ‘rooster‘)?

You’re gonna be SHOCKED by how many different meanings it has!

Rupert's lived in Mexico for nearly a decade and has been working as a Spanish teacher for even longer (over 10 years now, wow!). He specializes in simple (yet effective) explanations and is a veritable grammar-whizz.

And some cheeky vids ...

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