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).
Portuguese Expressions

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 will shed light on the “Brazilian way of life.”

1. Comprar gato por lebre

Literally: “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.

Portuguese Expressions — Comprar gato por lebre
2. Fazer alguém de gato e sapato

Literally: “to make someone a cat and shoe”

Meaning: to play with someone’s emotions or humiliate them

Speaking of cats, here comes another feline-themed one about trickery. Its origin lies in an old version of tag where whoever was “it” was 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

Literally: “to kill two rabbits with just one shot”

Equivalent: “to kill two birds with one stone”

You know the experience of when you need to go to the doctor and leave your daughter at the kindergarten at almost 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

Literally: “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

Literally: “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

Literally: “To walk with your nose high”

Meaning: to be stuck up or conceited

Snobs — we all know some — are 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.

Portuguese Expressions — Andar com o nariz empinado
7. Acertar na mosca

Literally: “To hit the fly”

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

This is also quite self-explanatory!

8. Procurar pelo em ovo

Literally: “To look for a hair in an egg”

Meaning: to look for problems where there aren’t any

Portuguese Expressions — Procurar pelo em ovo
9. Chutar o pau da barraca

Literally: “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 go ahead and 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

Literally: “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).

Portuguese Expressions — Enfiar o pé na jaca

11. Quebrar o galho

Literally: “to break the branch”

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

12. Cara de pau

Literally: “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

Literally: “to stuff a sausage”

Meaning: to talk on and on without really saying anything

Portuguese Expressions — Encher linguiça

14. Bater as botas

Literally: “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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