Brazilians say the darnedest things. Take Portuguese, chop it up with some indigenous and African roots, and you get unique Brazilian expressions like these:
“Enfiar o pé na jaca”
(To stick your foot in the jackfruit)
To commit excesses
Back in the 17th century, Brazilian cowboys used to get drunk and kick their saddle packs – called jacá, almost like the jackfruit (jaca in Portuguese) – to the ground trying to get on their mounts. Today, whether it’s with alcohol or food, Brazilians use this expression when someone goes beyond their limit.
“A vaca foi pro brejo”
(The cow’s in the swamp)
Something’s gone really wrong
During a drought, cows go off in search of water in swampy areas. When they end up stuck in the mud, they put up a lot of work for farmers to pull them out. Oftentimes, the cows drown in the swamp, meaning a big loss for the farmer.
“Tapar o sol com a peneira”
(To cover the sun with a sieve)
A poor attempt at covering up an obvious mistake or blunder
Ever tried to block sunlight with a sieve? Right, sieves are just a bunch of tiny holes. Maybe you shouldn’t try and cover up your mistakes either.
“Casa da mãe Joana”
(Mother Joanna’s House)
A total mess
This popular saying originates with Queen Joanna of Naples. Joanna was a woman ahead of her time, and a bit too “modern” for medieval European taste. She fled to Avignon following numerous scandals and regularized the brothels there. She ordered all of her statues to read “May there be a door through which all may enter.” In Portugal, the saying “Mother Joanna’s Palace” emerged, which became “Mother Joanna’s House” once transplanted to Brazil.
“Pensar na morte da bezerra”
(To think about the heifer’s death)
To be distracted
According to Hebrew legend, when King Absalom sacrificed one particularly beloved heifer to God, his youngest son took on a distant and sad character. Brazilians say he was still “thinking about the heifer’s death.”
“Um espírito de porco”
(A pig’s spirit)
A dirty character, someone always trying to pick a fight
The poor pig’s always got to carry a bad rep. In addition to the “dirty” nature associated with the pig, in plantation times, slaves would fight over who had to slaughter the pig. Nobody wanted to kill the pig, whose spirit they believed lived on in the body of its killer.
“Última bolacha do pacote”
(The last cracker in the bag)
Someone awesome, extremely attractive
Admit it, that last cracker is hard to resist taking for yourself.
(To give soup)
To lead someone on
Brazilians consider soup an “easy” food – easy to make and easy to digest. If you’re letting someone hit on you, or even flirting back, you’re definitely “giving soup”.
“Tirar o cavalinho da chuva”
(To take the little horse away from the rain)
To give up on something
Back when horses were the main form of transportation, travelers would leave their horses outside during quick visits with friends. When the visit would last longer, the hosts would encourage their guests to “take their horses out of the rain” and shelter them inside a protected area. Over time, the saying came to have a similar meaning as the English expression “don’t hold your breath.”
“Esticar o chiclete”
(To stretch gum)
To prolong a conversation
You’ll usually hear this expression as a warning. Like, “don’t even think about stretching the gum with me.” Those with street smarts will know it’s time to bow out of the conversation.
“Vai trocar a ferradura”
(Go change your horseshoe)
You need an attitude check
Horses get grumpy when they’re stuck in old horseshoes. Brazilians don’t want you to be grumpy. So keep your horseshoes up to date.
“Cuidar da vida dos outros”
(To take care of other people’s lives)
Brazilians love to gossip so much they’ve created the perfect euphemism. Gossiping can’t be bad if we’re just doing it to take care of you, can it?
“Passar-lhe a perna”
(To pass a leg under you)
To trick you
Hey, in English we say crazy things like “pulling the carpet out from under one’s feet.” Same meaning, different language.
“Bater uma xepa” (To smack a leftover)
To eat some food
Xepa is Brazilian slang for the cold leftovers that you reheat at the next meal instead of cooking again. Brazilian soldiers first used the term for the food they ate in the barracks. But today, bater uma xepa just means eating some food, reheated leftovers or otherwise.
“Meter o louco” (To put the crazy)
To go crazy
Sometimes it feels good to do something out of the ordinary and break the rules.
So there you go, a quick rundown of some common Brazilian expressions. But before you run off trying these expressions out on your Brazilian friends, you might want to double check your pronunciation. Or else you might end up biting your tongue like these “gringos” (foreigners).
Or else you might end up biting your tongue like these “gringos” (foreigners).
And in case you want to skip having to use words altogether, this crash course in Brazilian gestures can help you out.
So there you have it. We hope you will “meter o louco” sometime soon and put your new Brazilian expressions to use.