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10 Popular Brazilian Expressions

Updated on January 8, 2015
lidialbuquerque profile image

Lidi is a Brazilian expat living in the U.S for 10 years. She works as regional manager at BRIC Language Systems an online language program

There are endless popular expressions, idioms and proverbs in the Brazilian Portuguese vocabulary. Some of them are related to body parts (I actually have a hub about it). The animal kingdom also provides a rich variety of metaphors and expressions, and this will probably be my next post.
For this hub my blogger friend John Clites and I have put together a list with 10 most popular and widely used expressions in Brazil.
If you don’t want “pisar na bola” learn these useful idioms right now, and don’t be in a saia justa* on your trip to Brazil.

orelhão (telefone público) e ficha
orelhão (telefone público) e ficha

Cair a ficha

This expression goes back to the days of the public phone tokens (or ficha in Portuguese). The literal translation would be “token drop”, but it actually means to sink in, to understand.

Ex: Só agora caiu a ficha! Entendi porque ela foi despedida.

I got it! Only now I understood why she has been fired!

engolir sapo
engolir sapo

Engolir sapo

This one is interesting and apparently it’s not only used in Brazil. I've discovered that back in the 1790’s a French writer named Nicolas Chamfort wrote a famous quotation: “Swallow a toad in the morning and you will encounter nothing more disgusting the rest of the day.”
Which actually means being able to tolerate unpleasant situations: a bitter/hard pill to swallow.

Ex: Todos nós temos que engolir um sapo de vez em quando.

Sometimes we all have a bitter pill to swallow.

pisar em ovos
pisar em ovos

Pisar em ovos

The translation of this idiom can be understood right away, because there’s the same idiom in the English vocabulary: walk on eggshells, or be careful.

Ex: Ele pisou em ovos ao contar a notícia para a esposa.

He walked on eggshells when told his wife the news.

tempestade em copo d'água
tempestade em copo d'água

(fazer) tempestade em um copo d’água

The English equivalent for this one is: make a storm in a teacup (British), make a tempest in a teacup or make a mountain out of a molehill (American)

Ex: Não faça tempestade em copo d’água! Isso não é algo tão grave!

Don’t make a storm in a teacup! This is not something too serious!

quebrar um galho
quebrar um galho

Quebrar um galho (quebrar essa)

Widely used in Brazil, it translates as “break a branch” but it means to help someone out, to do a favor. It’s not clear when and why Brazilians started using this phrase, but it’s one of the most popular idioms in the country.

Ex: Tudo bem, vou quebrar esse galho para você e te levarei ao aeroporto.

No problem, I will help you out and take you to the airport.

Farinha do mesmo saco

It comes from the phrase in latin: “Homines sunt ejusdem farinae” in English: “flour from the same bag”. It’s generally used in a negative way, and the closest English equivalent is: birds of a feather flock together.

Ex: Aqueles políticos são farinha do mesmo saco, são todos corruptos.

Those politicians are all corrupt. Birds of a feather flock together.

segurar vela
segurar vela

Segurar vela

This expression has probably originated from the French: “tenir la chandelle” (in English “to hold a candle“. In the medieval times the servants would hold a candle so that the royalty could perform their tasks when the light insufficient.
Meaning: be the third wheel.

Ex: Não vou sair com vocês porque não quero ficar segurando vela.

I won’t go out with you guys because I don’t want to be the third wheel.

Santo de casa não faz milagre

Literally, “The saint at home doesn’t do miracles.” It means that even if you are someone important at work or in the world, at home you are no one special. No one is a prophet in his own country.

Ex: Ele é um ótimo nutricionista mas adora comer fast food, santo de casa não faz milagre.

He is a great nutritionist but loves to eat fast food; no one is a prophet in his own country.

pisar na bola
pisar na bola

Pisar na bola, dar uma mancada

As its American sister expression “drop the ball” the Brazilian version also comes from sports, in this case, soccer. The meaning is the same: to make a mistake by doing something careless or to fail. The literal translation is very different though: step on the ball.

Ex: Ele pisou na bola de novo. Não terminou o projeto a tempo e perdeu o contrato!

He dropped the ball again. He didn’t finish the project on time and lost the contract!

procurar agulha no palheiro
procurar agulha no palheiro

Procurar agulha no palheiro

This one is very easy! It translates almost directly and literally. Have you guessed it already? If you said: to find a needle in a haystack, you are right!

Ex: É impossível achar algumas coisa nessa bagunça! É como procurar agulha no palheiro.

It’s impossible to find anything in this mess! It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.

*I will leave the last one “saia justa” as a homework ;) Take the quiz below and find out what’s the meaning of this expression!

BRIC Language Blog

Hope you enjoyed my hub, and don't forget to check our blog for some very interesting post about Brazil's culture and language tips!

© 2015 lidialbuquerque


Submit a Comment

  • lidialbuquerque profile image

    lidialbuquerque 2 years ago

    Opa os canadenses tão domindando isso aqui! :)

    Que bom que vc achou bacana deia! Super obrigada!!

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    Deia 2 years ago

    Meu marido e canadense. Li isso p ele, ele riu mto. E ja enviou p uns amigos dele, haha

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    Karina Passos 3 years ago

    Awesome! Adorei o texto Lidi!!! Congrats xx

  • lidialbuquerque profile image

    lidialbuquerque 3 years ago

    Thank you very much Julie!! I am happy you liked it!

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    Julie 3 years ago

    Verry funny and interesting!!! And it's also useful tips for anyone who wants to learn (or is learning) Portuguese. I love it!

  • lidialbuquerque profile image

    lidialbuquerque 3 years ago

    Oi Bel!! Que bom!! Super obrigada! Fico feliz que vc tenha gostado e recomendado o post! :) beijão!

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    Bel 3 years ago

    Lidi!!! Adorei!! Já mandei pra minha irmã ler pro marido dela que é canadense!!! Beijos