Guide to Portuguese Idioms

Portuguese Idioms: Queimar as Pestanas!

Guide to Portuguese IdiomsThe correct use of Portuguese idioms is a great way to really use a language and an even better way to understand the people who speak it.

Not surprisingly, the Portuguese use a lot of references to vinyards (vinhas) and sardines (sardinhas), but I was confounded by their frequent use of chickens (galinhas). For example:

Não conte com o ovo no cu da galinha: (literally: don’t count the eggs on the ass of the chicken) Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

A galinha da vizinha sempre é meilhor que minha: (literally: My neighbor’s chicken is better than mine) The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence

É canja: (literally: It’s chicken stock) Easy as pie

Miudos: (literally: children) Describes the various innards of a chicken (liver, kidney, etc.)

Then we have the fish (of course): Armar-se em carapau de corrida: (literally: He’s like a racing mackerel) He’s full of himself

A mulher e a sardinha querem-se da mais pequenina: (literally: Women and sardines, you want them to be small.) 36-24-36

Fish and chickens aren’t the only ones getting attention. Here are some idioms that use other species:

É cor de burro quando foge: (literally: It’s the color of a donkey on the run) Describes a color that is not easy to describe (like the color of someone’s eyes)

Fazer um bicho de sete cabeças: (literally: To make an animal with seven heads) To make a mountain out of a mole hill

Ser um bicho: (literally: To be an animal) To be anti-social

And then there’s the ones that focus on body parts. We’ve all got some of these, (and a lot are the same), but somehow it just sounds better in Portuguese.

João sem braço: (literally: John without arms) To play dumb

Unhas de fome: (literally: Starving nails) A tightwad

Dar/Estender uma mão: (literally: to extend a hand) To give/lend a hand

Custar os olhos da cara: (literally: to cost the eyes of the face) To cost an arm and a leg Bolas!: (literally: Balls!) Nuts!

Por uma unha negra: (literally: By a black nail) By the skin of your teeth

Cara ou coroa: (literally: Face or crown) Heads or tails

Não prego olho: (literally: Not to nail your eyes) To not sleep a wink

And who can blame them for using wine whenever possible? Ok, one of these uses water, but only to turn into wine, right?

Abafa-te, abifa-te, avinha-te: (literally: warm yourself, meat yourself, wine yourself) Feed a cold, starve a fever

O medo guarda a vinha: (literally: Fear guards the vineyard) Fear of being punished is punishment enough

Águas passadas não movem moínhos: (literally: Past waters don’t power mills) Don’t cry over spilled milk

And then there are some that don’t really have a category (yet). Send us some of your favorites and we’ll get them on the site!

Deixar andar: (literally: leave the floor) Let sleeping dogs lie

Dar um toque: (literally: To give a touch) To have a fender bender

Queimar as pestanas: (literally: To burn the eyelashes) To hit the books, to cram

As obras de Sta. Engrácia: (literally: the work on St. Engrácia Church) It’ll take forever

Merde: (literally: shit) Break a leg

Engraxar: (literally: to grease) To suck up to someone

Tratar com paninhos quentes: (literally: To treat with hot cloth) To handle with kid gloves, to sugar-coat

Vou dormir sobre isso: (literally: I will sleep over this) To sleep on it

Não me digas!: (literally: Don’t tell me!) You don’t say! (sarcastic) Chumbar: (literally: to apply lead) To fail (a class)

De Espanha, nem bom vento nem bom casamento: (literally: From Spain, neither good wind nor good marriage.) A warning that nothing good comes from Spain

A huge thank you to Miss Maria Fátima Cunha Góis Figueira Sr. José Fernando e Melo Matoso Sr. António Manuel Maia Neto Neves for their translation work, their corrections, and their patience with Atlas’ B2 fluency English classes.

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