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.”
Give up

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

Showing off


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.

Cause problems


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”

“À grande e à francesa”

Big and French.

This is not a compliment – it means being a show off, especially showing off money that was gotten in a quick, easy way. 


“Diz o roto ao nú!”

The shabby says to the naked

Similar to the pot calling the kettle “black”


“Meter o Rossio na Betesga”

To shove Rossio into the Betesga

Rossio is a huge square in Lisbon, while Betesga is the shortest street. This is similar to trying to shove 10 pounds of manure into a 5 pound sack.


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