“Dor de cotovelo”
To have a broken heart
It doesn’t make sense to suffer from elbow pain when you’re dumped, does it? But, well, that’s how Brazilians talk about their love problems. The origin of the expression is the image of someone in a bar, with his/her elbows on the counter, drinking and sobbing. Since the person would stay for a while in that position, his/her elbows would start to hurt. Hence, elbow pain.
(To swallow frogs)
To bear unpleasant things without protesting
This expression comes from the second plague of Egypt: frogs. Millions of the animals invaded Egypt, including food supplies. That’s how “swallowing frogs” came to mean enduring unpleasant things without protesting.
“Para inglês ver”
(For the English to see)
Something intended only to keep appearances
Its origins can be traced back to the 19th century, when England pushed Brazil to abolish slavery. Our government then passed a bill officially forbidding slave trafficking in the country, but did little to actually stop what was then a pillar of Brazil’s economy. The bill, quite simply, was only for the English to see.
(To fill up a sausage)
To ramble, to fill space with meaningless things
Long ago, only the rich could afford good-quality meat. The rest of people had to eat only pork guts and high-fat meat. They started to fill pigs’ intestines with that low-quality meat.
Over time, “filling up a sausage” came to mean filling a void with things without quality, importance, or meaning.
“Mão na roda” / “Quebrar o galho”
(A hand on a wheel / To break a branch)
To be helpful
The most accepted explanation for being “a hand on a wheel” dates back to the pre-automobile era. Often enough, carts would get stuck in the mud. Their owners would then need as many people they could get to push the wheel out from a ditch with their bare hands.
“To break a branch” is an expression connected to the Umbanda, a religion with African origins. The Exu Quebra-Galho is a divinity that helps men to seduce women. That’s how “breaking a branch” became “giving someone a hand.”
“Fazer nas coxas”
(To make something on your thighs)
A half-assed job
During Brazil’s colonial period, good-quality tiles were very expensive. So most properties used low-quality ones, which consisted of clay molded on the thighs of slaves. As a result, tiles had different sizes – which led to leaks. Making something on your thighs came to indicate poor-quality work.
“Tomar chá de cadeira”
(To drink a chair tea)
To wait for a long time
Historically, people asking for a meeting with a noble would have to wait for hours. It was a way of reaffirming the nobles’ superiority over the common. While they were waiting, servants used to serve them some tea.
“Fazer uma vaquinha”
(To make a little cow)
To collect money
This expression first appeared during the 1920s and has ties with football and gambling. At that time, players didn’t have salaries, and fans collected money between themselves to pay for their fees.
The crowd used to decide on how much money to collect with a popular lottery game called Jogo do Bicho (“the animal game”). The game matches the numbers drawn to different animals. The “cow” number offered the highest prize.
So fans would try to match that amount to compensate the players. They tried “to make a little cow.”
“Farinha do mesmo saco”
(Flour from the same bag)
To be just like someone else
This expression comes from the Latin expression Homines sunt ejusdem farinae – “They are men made from the same flour.” It is a metaphor used to describe upstanding, or reprehensible, behavior. Just like good-quality flour that must be stored in separate bags (not to be mixed with low-quality flour), good men walk together, and bad with bad.
“Colocar panos quentes”
(To put warm cloths on something)
To find a peaceful solution
This saying comes from popular medicine techniques. When someone was ailing from a fever, it was customary to apply warm cloths over his/her body. The heat would help the patient, without having to use aggressive methods.
“Onde Judas perdeu as botas”
(Where Judas lost his boots)
Off in the middle of who knows where
This expression comes from Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus. There exists a popular belief that Judas hid the 30 pieces of silver he earned from snitching on Jesus inside a pair of boots. He then allegedly hid those boots in a remote area, for no one to find, just before hanging himself.
“A ver navios”
(Looking at ships)
Not getting what one expects
There are two possible explanations for this expression, both originating in Portugal. The first explanation points to Don Sebastião, a Portuguese king who died in Africa in 1578. Since his body was never found, many believed that he would come back to the motherland. Thus, they would watch the ships coming to the Port of Lisbon hoping one might be bringing the king back.
The other refers to the 1807 Napoleonic invasion of Portugal. French troops were ordered to capture the Queen and her son, the Prince Regent. But the troops got to Lisbon only in time to watch the ships carrying the royal family leave the city. Their arrival in Brazil was pivotal to the founding of the nation.
“Maria vai com as outras”
(Mary follows the others)
To be easily influenced by others
This expression comes from Queen Maria I of Portugal. Due to her mental problems, which earned her the nickname “Maria the Mad” in Brazil, she was never alone. Thus, Maria always followed a group of acolytes.
“Chorando as pitangas”
(Crying the Surinam Cherries)
Crying a river
The pitanga, or Surinam Cherry, is a red scarlet fruit – just like the colors your eyes get when you cry a lot.
“Puta que pariu”
(The whore that gave birth)
Brazilians use this expression for pretty much any situation. Say, for example, the national team just scored on itself in its first home game of the World Cup – the entire crowd yells “puta que pariu.” Then let’s say a Brazilian angry with someone, he or she would send them off to “the whore that gave birth” by saying “vá pra puta que pariu.” And if they want to describe a place that is really far away, they say “fica lá na puta que pariu,” or “it’s over there by the whore that gave birth.”
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