14 Portuguese Expressions That Are Essential To Understanding Brazil
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.
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.
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
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).
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
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.