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Bullfighting Vocabulary

Bullfighting in Spain

The Spanish Bullfighting. Learn more about the vocabulary of the bullfighting and its curiosities and customs.

Vocabulary: Animals

Cabestros: Cabestros are male castrated bulls or steer, of a different breed than the fighting bulls. They are tamed and used to help on toro bravo ranches. They are also trained to be used in encierros and bullfighting rings to guide the herd through the streets and into their corrals. They are easily identifiable by the bells they wear around their necks.

Tienta: Both female and male toros are tested at age two to see if they are suitable for breeding, bullfighting, or meat. Males are judged based on their aggression towards horses, as they are not allowed to confront a human on the ground until the day they enter a bullfighting ring. Females are often fully tested by a bullfighter and capes to determine their courage and suitability for breeding. Male bulls who pass the tienta will return to their pastures and females who pass will be used to bear offspring. Those who do not pass are slaughtered.

Novillos: Novillos are those male bulls that are less than 3 years old or do not pass the bravery and stamina test to become first rank fighting bulls. These bulls are used in novilladas to train novilleros.

Toro: a Bull - an Iberian cattle breed. Fighting bulls are selected primarily for a certain combination of aggression, energy, strength, stamina and intelligence. They reach maturity slower than meat breeds as they were selected to be athletic with massive muscles, especially the morillo, a complex of muscles over the shoulder and neck which gives the bull its distinctive profile and strength with its horns. The horns are longer than in most other breeds and are also present in both males and females. Mature bulls weigh from 500 to 700 kg (1100-1600 lb).

Toro de Lidia/Toro Bravo: male “macho” fighting bulls selected and bred to be used in encierros (running of the bull) and corridas de toro (bull fights).

Vaquillas/Novillas: female wild cow of the same breed as the fighting bulls between two and four years old. They are traditionally used in place of fighting bulls or novillos for capeas or encierros in village celebrations because they are much smaller and less likely to cause grave damage.

Vocabulary: Bullfighters

Banderilleros/Rejoneadores: Each matador has 3 banderilleros or “Flagmen” who are also considered as toreros or bullfighters. They perform in the first and second third of the corrida.

Cuadrilla: The  6 assistants of  a matador are collectively known as a cuadrilla, or an entourage: 2 picadores, 3 banderilleros, and 1 mozo de espada.

Matadores: Matador de toros literally translated as “bull killer” is the professional level of a bullfighter.

Mozo de espadas: The matador’s assistant or “sword page”. The mozo de espadas prepares and hands the matador all the equipment necessary during the corrida.

Novillero: a junior bullfighter who is still in training and has not yet been declared matador de torosNovilleros fight novillos to gain experience. These fights usually take place in small towns and villages during their celebrations.

Picadores: Bullfighters or “Lancers,” mounted on horseback with varas (lances). During the first stage of the bullfight the picador enters the arena on horseback armed with a vara. The horse is protected from the bull by a petro, a protective mattress-like covering. 

Torero: The term torero or “bullfighter” includes matadores, picadores and banderilleros.

Vocabulary: Bullfight

Banderillas: Translated literally as "little flags" which are harpoon-pointed colorful sticks that are jabbed into the bull's back.

Capote: gold and magenta dress cape used in the first third of the corrida

Descabello: The act of severing the bull’s spinal cord with a vedugo.

Estocada: a quick sword thrust between the bull’s shoulder blades and through the heart.  This movement is intended to result in a quick and clean death.

Faena: The third stage of the corrida performance with a muleta consisting of a series of tandas.

Indultado: A few times a year a bull will be indultado, or 'pardoned', meaning his life is spared due to 'outstanding' behavior in the bullring. The audience petitions its pardon by waving white handkerchiefs.  If pardoned, the bull is returned to the field where he will live up to 20 to 25 years and be used as a stud.

Lidiar/Torear: Verb “to bullfight” until death

Muleta: small red cape used in the third stage of the Spanish bullfight

Paseíllo: A parade of all the toreros through the arena before a corrida.

Tanda: Series of passes between the bull and torero: a typical tanda might consist of three to five basic passes and then a finishing touch, or "remate", such as a "pase de pecho", or "pase de desprecio".

Tercios: A corrida is divided into three tercios or “thirds.”

Traje de luces: custom-made matador costume embroidered with silver or golden thread inspired by 18th century Andalusian clothing.

Vara/rejones de castigo: long lance / lances of punishment used by the rejoneadores.

Verdugo/Puntilla: a second type of sword used to severe the bull’s spinal cord to kill it instantly in the event of a failed estocada.

Vocabulary: Bull events

Capeas: Organized events in which vaquillas are released in a plaza and the public can interact with them. Vaquillas are aggressive although much less dangerous than bulls.

Novilladas: Bullfights in which novilleros fight novillos to gain experience.  These fights usually take place in small towns and villages during their celebrations.

Encierro: Consists of a running of the bulls through the streets. Runners run down fenced lined streets in front of a small heard of toros, novillos or vaquillas on their way to the plaza where they will await the afternoon´s bullfight in the stalls. Cabestros are often present to guide the herd and often suffer aggressive attacks from the bravo untamed bulls.

Corrida de toros: A public spectator bullfighting event which occurs in a bullfighting ring. Normally three bullfighters confront 3 bulls each in a corrida.