In the book of the Colombian novelist García Márquez Love in the Time of Cholera there is the following phrase:

She said: “Not even Jonah’s wife would swallow that story.”

I tried to find some information about Jonah's wife online but couldn't find anything. Could anybody please help me interpret this sentence? What is so special about his wife? Does the use of the verb swallow have anything to do with the fish that swallowed Jonah?

  • What is the wording of the Spanish original? Is this a question about something written by García Márquez or by his translator? Apr 25, 2020 at 11:06

2 Answers 2


Does the use of the verb swallow have anything to do with the fish that swallowed Jonah?


Jonah's wife had to "swallow" (accept) the ridiculous story (as an explanation for his disappearance for a few days) that Jonah had been swallowed by a whale and survived.

So "she" is talking about a story that is so ridiculous that not even Jonah's wife would believe it.

Of course, Márquez is playing with the word "swallow", linking Jonah's wife's acceptance (swallow the truth) with Jonah's alleged swallowing by a whale. It is humorous.


The wording of the Spanish original is:

Dijo: “Ese pretexto no se lo traga ni la mujer de Jonás”.

In Spanish, there is a colloquial figurative use of the verb tragar, that is, "to swallow", defined in this way in the DLE dictionary of the Real Academia Española:

Dar fácilmente crédito a las cosas, aunque sean inverosímiles. U. t. c. prnl. Le contó una mentira y no se la tragó.

That is, tragar in this sense means "easily believe things, even if they are unlikely". The dictionary gives us un example of usage of this verb which is similar to the one written by García Márquez: "le contó una mentira y no se la tragó", which means "he/she told him/her a lie, but he/she didn't believe it". This sense of "tragar" is quite usual in infomal speech in Spanish. The sentence in the novel means "not even Jonah's wife would believe that pretext".

That said, García Márquez has used in other writings the figure of Jonah's wife, where Jonah is indeed the biblical character, in reference to someone who easily believes any implausible story. The idea is that she would have believed the fact that Jonah spent three days in the belly of a fish and then was vomited out, something which seems incredible.

In this article by García Márquez published in El País newspaper, he says:

La literatura de ficción la inventó Jonás cuando convenció a su mujer de que había vuelto a casa con tres días de retraso porque se lo había tragado una ballena

which can be translated as

Fiction literature was invented by Jonah when he convinced his wife that he had returned home three days late because he had been swallowed by a whale.

Another example of a similar usage of the figure of Jonah's wife in García Márquez works has been pointed out by @GarethRees. It comes from One Hundred Years of Solitude:

[...] acostumbrado a vivir de las mujeres, y convencido de que se había casado con la esposa de Jonás, que se quedó tan tranquila con el cuento de la ballena

that is,

[...] used to live from women, and convinced that he had married Jonah's wife, who was was so content with the story of the whale.

  • 1
    It's not an overly literal translation—the exact same figurative use of the verb swallow exists in English. See Lexico: "Believe unquestioningly (a lie or unlikely assertion) ‘she had swallowed his story hook, line, and sinker’"
    – Peter Shor
    Jul 12, 2022 at 13:13
  • 1
    Thanks, @PeterShor: I will try to modify the answer.
    – Charo
    Jul 12, 2022 at 13:21
  • 1
    On the other hand, in One Hundred Years of Solitude, one of the characters is described as "convinced that he had married Jonah’s wife, who was so content with the story of the whale". Jul 12, 2022 at 16:00
  • 1
    OK, many thanks, @GarethRees! I've modified the anwser.
    – Charo
    Jul 12, 2022 at 18:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.