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Portuguese Phrases: 15 Interesting Brazilian Figures of Speech

Brazilian Portuguese is a very colorful language, much less literal and logical than its European counterpart. Although this brings its own challenges, it has also led to a wide variety of fascinating figures of speech that brighten up everyday conversations. Learn Portuguese with a tutor to learn more of these and make your language learning experience more interesting. You’ll also learn to speak the language more like a native and connect with people more fully.

In this post, we’ll take a look at 15 particularly interesting idiomatic Brazilian Portuguese phrases.

Ir à Roma e não ver o papa

Literally, “to go to Rome and not see the Pope”; to miss out on a golden opportunity.

Meter a mão na massa

“To stick your hand in the dough”; to start making an effort. English has a range of similar figures of speech, such as “pull your socks up,” “get your act together,” “roll up your sleeves,” and so on.

Só para inglês ver

This curious expression translates as “just for the English to see.” If a rule, regulation, or law is of purely symbolic value and there is no attempt or desire to put it into practice, it is só para inglês ver. This possibly dates back to the 19th Century, when a treaty was signed between Britain and Brazil, obliging Brazil to patrol its coast for slave ships, which was done half-heartedly, só para inglês ver. However, there are various explanations of its origin.

Levar água ao mar

“To take water to the sea.” If somebody is performing an unnecessary, redundant action, they are levando água ao mar.

Pular a cerca

If a Brazilian person tells you that your significant other is pulando a cerca (jumping over the fence), you should be very worried—it means they’re cheating!

Santo do pau oco

This idiomatic Brazilian Portuguese phrase has a particularly unusual translation—it means “hollow stick saint.” The meaning is anything but saintly, though: a santo do pau oco is a hypocrite.

Se correr o bicho pega, se ficar o bicho come

“If you run, the beast catches you; if you stay, the beast eats you.” This figure of speech has much the same meaning as the English expression “you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” but is somewhat less literal and more poetic.

Ser de comer rezando

This food expression literally means “to be eaten praying.” Not because it means there’s a risk of food poisoning—on the contrary, this is the highest of compliments! If you serve a dish and somebody says “este é de comer rezando,” it means that they find it to be exceptionally good.

Puxão de orelha

Literally, “a tug on the ear”; a telling off.

Última bolacha do pacote

This expression, literally meaning “last cookie in the pack,” is one of the more interesting idiomatic Brazilian Portuguese phrases on our list, because it has two very different meanings. If somebody thinks they are the última bolacha do pacote, it means they are very egotistical, that is, they always think they’re the most important person in the room. Conversely, a última bolacha do pacote can also mean a lonely person.

Nascer virado para a lua

Literally, “to be born facing the moon,” which refers to a lucky person. Ele nasceu virado para a lua, “he was born facing the moon”; he was born lucky.

Acordar com o pé esquerdo

“To wake up with the left foot.” To have a bad day from the moment you get up. The Brazilian equivalent of “to get up on the wrong side of bed.”

Dor de cotovelo

This literally means “elbow pain.” The idiomatic meaning is jealousy or envy.

Cão chupando manga

A colorful expression, which literally means “dog sucking on a mango.” If somebody says “ele parece um cão chupando manga,” (“he looks like a dog sucking a mango”) it means they think the person they are talking about is very ugly. This is often used when somebody loses their temper: acalme-se, pelo amor de Deus, você parece um cão chupando manga! (Calm down, for the love of God, you look like a dog sucking on a mango!)

Dar com a língua nos dentes

“To give with your tongue in your teeth.” To give away a secret. English equivalents include “to let the cat out of the bag” and “to give the game away.”

Learn More Figures of Speech

The 15 Brazilian Portuguese phrases above are just the tip of the iceberg. Brazilian Portuguese is a highly expressive language, full of metaphors and similes that can seem nonsensical at first but have their own surreal logic and make learning the language a lot more fun. If you learn Brazilian Portuguese with an expert tutor, you’ll discover many more of these wonderful figures of speech.

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