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14 Portuguese Expressions That Are Essential To Understanding Brazil

Learn these 14 Portuguese expressions from Brazil and you'll be a step closer to understanding Brazilian humor (and the Brazilian way of life).

Illustrations by Jana Walczyk

Who doesn’t love a good list? For anyone trying to tackle the Portuguese language, here are some idiomatic expressions that will not only help you improve your Brazilian Portuguese but shed light on the "Brazilian way of life."

1. Comprar gato por lebre

to buy a cat thinking it was a rabbit
Meaning: to be fooled

This is a very famous expression and it can actually be applied to our politics. Of course, the person being deceived ends up with the worst deal.

2. Fazer alguém de gato e sapato

to make someone a cat and shoe
Meaning: to play with someone’s emotions or humiliate them

Speaking of cats, here comes another feline one about trickery. Its origin lies in an old version of tag where whoever was "it" got blindfolded. It was all too easy for the rest of the children to tease and torment their blindfolded "assailant," sometimes by hitting them with shoes! Oh, but the "cat" part, um… I have no idea!

3. Matar dois coelhos com uma tacada/cajadada só

to kill two rabbits with just one shot
Equivalent: "to kill two birds with one stone"

Do you know when you need to go to the doctor and leave your daughter at the kindergarten almost at the same time? Good thing the kindergarten is next to the doctor’s office! Done, "two rabbits hit with just one shot."

4. Não ver um palmo diante do nariz

to not see an inch in front of your nose

This is one is quite straightforward and is used to describe someone who doesn’t notice what is obviously in front of them.

5. Cavalo dado não se olha os dentes

Don’t look at a gift horse’s teeth
Equivalent: "don’t look a gift horse in the mouth"

Be grateful for what’s given freely and don’t judge it or — just say "thanks!

6. Andar com o nariz empinado

To walk with your nose high
Meaning: to be stuck up or conceited

Snobs — we all know some — the kinds of people who think they are above the rest of us mere mortals. Since their feet are actually stuck on the ground like the rest of us, they have to raise their noses up to feel superior.

7. Acertar na mosca

To hit the fly
Equivalent: to hit the nail on the head / to hit the bulls-eye

I guess this is also quite self-explanatory. You just got. it. right.there.

8. Procurar pelo em ovo

To look for a hair in an egg
Meaning: to look for problems where there aren’t any

9. Chutar o pau da barraca

to kick the tent pole
Equivalent: to throw in the towel

This one is definitely my favorite. "To kick the tent pole," means that you just don’t care anymore and everything can pretty much fall apart. Sometimes in life you just want to kick the whole thing down, but that does not necessarily means you should.

10. Enfiar o pé na jaca

to put your feet in the jaca
Equivalent: three sheets to the wind

After "chutar o pau da barraca," when everything seems completely lost, you might as well put your feet into the "jaca"! It means to get absurdly drunk until, well, you have not only one, but two feet inside a jaca (tropical Brazilian fruit known for being very sticky).

11. Quebrar o galho

to break the branch
Meaning: to do someone a small favor, often for a close friend.

12. Cara de pau

wood face
Meaning: a brazen, shameless person

Why "wood face"? Well, try punching a piece of wood. Did it flinch? I didn’t think so.

13. Encher linguiça

to stuff a sausage
Meaning: to talk on and on without really saying anything

14. Bater as botas

to hit the boots
Equivalent: to kick the bucket

This is the end, my only friend, the end. To "hit the boots" means you are dead. The boots are no longer serving you anymore, they are just kickin’ it without you now.

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