Just as in English, there are many phrases in Portuguese that used in ways that are not literal translations. While some idioms are pretty self-explanatory, others can be very confusing to non-native speakers. We had a huge laugh, for example, when we tried to figure out what the dessert “Baba de Camelo” was by plugging it into Google translate. The answer? Camel drool. The actual dessert is a pudding much like crème brûlée without the burnt sugar on top. Much more appetizing.
Here are a few choice Portuguese expressions that don’t translate directly into English.
“Tirar o cavalinho da chuva”
“Take the horse out of the rain.”
“Quem vê caras, não vê corações”
Who sees faces, does not see hearts
Similar to “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
“Não chegar aos calcanhares”
Do not reach the heels.
Doesn’t quite measure up.
“Muitos anos a virar frangos”
Many years turning chickens
Implying someone has a lot of experience doing a specific activity.
“Rés-vés Campo de Ourique!”
Grazing in Campo de Orique
A disastrous situation that was avoided. This expression stems from the fact that the countryside of Campo de Ourique was largely spared from the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Lisbon in 1755.
“Quem anda à chuva, molha-se!”
Who walks in the rain, gets wet!
Suggesting that actions have consequences.
“Pão, pão, queijo, queijo”
Bread, bread, cheese, cheese
Used to introduce a direct statement – suggesting it’s simple or “it is what it is”
“Para inglês ver”
For the English to see
Euphemisms for when someone has died:
“Bater as botas”- Knock the boots
“Ir com os porcos”– Go with the pigs
“Ir desta para melhor”- Go from this one to the best
A few fighting words:
“Chegar a pimenta ao nariz”
To get pepper in the nose
Becoming irritated (time to change the subject!)
Estou feito ao bife!
“I’m done to the beef!”
I’ve had enough!
Partir a loiça toda.
Break all the dishes.
Estar com os azeites
To be with olive oil
To be upset
“Chegar a roupa ao pêlo”
Get the clothes close to (someone’s) hair
To get up into someone’s face – the hair here is referring to chest hair. This is used as a threat to do physical violence. It is sometimes used as a joke, but you best understand the context and body language!
“Onde Judas perdeu as botas”
Go to where Judas lost his boots
“Vai pentear macacos”
Go comb monkeys
Basically, “piss off”
“Quem tem boca vai a Roma!”
Whoever has a mouth goes to Rome.
This means the person who asks for the information they need will succeed – somewhat like “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
“Acordar com os pés de for a”
Wake up with the feet outside
Similar to “Wake up on the wrong side of the bed”