5 Portuguese Idioms You Need in Your Life

5 Portuguese Idioms graphic

How a Portuguese idiom saved my sanity and why everyone can use them in their life.

Skip to the Portuguese idioms here!

Remember that phrase, “in one ear and out the other?”

My language capabilities, ladies and gentlemen. If I had a penny for the number of times I’ve learnt the word “rubber” in Portuguese….

Rubber happens to be one of those words that is useless enough to forget, yet still crops up every 6 months. 


For future reference rubber in Portuguese is borracha. Now feel free to forget it for the next couple of months or so. 

This phrase “in one ear and out the other” became very applicable to my life not too long ago.

I moved to Brazil in 2015 with no visa. I spent six months feeling like a two-year-old.

Not quite understanding anything, too needy and with a Portuguese conversation ability that could rival Trump’s people skills. 

Not a word of Portuguese seemed to stick in my mind. 

The penny dropped the day I was trapped in the house of a Great Aunt. My boyfriend was attempting to give me a taste of “rural Brazil.” Bizarrely involving the blessing of some distant relatives.

The great aunt is talking me down.

She’s telling me her life story.

I’m fathoming no more than 10% of her chronicles and feeling really rather faint. 

I’ve been known to exaggerate, however, I sincerely believe I was there for 4 hours. Not so bad you say.

All the same:

4 hours – 10% that I understood = 216 minutes of NONSENSE.

My brain was slowly turning to bubblegum.

It was the final straw when on the eventual departure of that tiny house I had a breakdown in the street. Tears, trembling, my debut “Hurricane in a Cup of Water” moment.  From this point on Henrique stopped talking Portuguese to me completely in a bid to keep a half-sane girlfriend.

What is a Hurricane in a Cup of Water moment?

A person creating a drama of situation that is actually as insignificant as a cup of water. In Portuguese, “fazer uma tempestade em copo d’água.”

I hope you are catching on here. My theme is idioms. Perfectly nonsensical phrases that actually make perfect sense. In fact, throw a couple of these around and you can understand just about anything. This is because they almost always touch on an intrinsically human emotion, solution or problem that transcends cultural boundaries.

Homing back on the Great Aunt story, one day I learnt a phrase that is a beautifully Brazilian expression.

“Não é a minha praia.” Meaning “it’s not my thing.”

The literal translation is “it’s not my beach.”

Now you have my attention Brasileiros. A beach to a Brazilian is like a tea to a Brit. If it’s not right, or God help us is a three hour drive away, all hell is going to break loose.  

You’ll drive yourself insane.

You’ll drive every poor soul that steps into your tiny little isolated house insane.

And why not?

If there are one million stunning Brazilian beaches, why do you have to settle for one that just is “not your thing”?

During the traumatic visit, the Great Aunt had been explaining to me why little Lima Duarte in Minas Gerais, with more cows than people, was not her beach. She was reminiscing to the glorious Copacabana in the 30s. To the Bossa Nova glory days. Yet for the last 15 years since her Brazilian husband died she’d been cooped up 300 miles from any beach at all.

Don’t worry Maggie. That ain’t my “praia” either! 

In fact, had I known this was the subject, with or without Portuguese, I’d have talked her socks off for 4 hours about all the things in Brazil that most certainly were not my beach. Though I digress, that topic would be an entirely different saga altogether.

I believe that you don’t need to master the unending, lyrical muddle of brain-zapping complexity that is the Portuguese language. You just need a few key phrases to connect with any Portuguese speaker in vicinity.

Here are 5 Portuguese idioms to help you express your deep inner emotions. It’s everything you need to converse with a 90-year-old Brazilian relative.

Or simply to unfurl cooped up sentiments in a foreign language to any unsuspecting passerby.

#1 Portuguese Idiom : Soltar a franga

Literal Translation: To release the hen

Portuguese Idiom | Footloose Lemon Juice

Meaning: Flap your arms around maniacally

i.e: To let one’s hair down

Simply put: relax a little

Perfectly adequate moments to use it:

The moment a wasp lands on your picnic

Running out of water when seaweed touches your toe

Drinking too much at the work’s Christmas party

#2 Portuguese Idiom: Pagar o Pato

Literal Translation: Pay the duck


Meaning: Pay for someone else’s mistake

i.e: You take the blame for something you didn’t do

Simply put: Not stand up for yourself

Perfectly adequate moments to use it:

– someone breaks the photocopier, but you are the one seen (attempting) to use it last

– grabbing the petrol pump already covered in oil which goes all over your shiny work attire

– being the last to pay your part of the joint bill and paying much higher than you ever could have possibly consumed.

#3 Portuguese Idiom: Engolir Sapos

Engolir sapos Portuguese Idiom

Literal Translation: Swallow Toads

Portuguese Idiom | Footloose Lemon Juice

Meaning: Putting up with a lot of in-pleasantries silently

i.e: Not complaining even in a disagreeable situation

Simply put: Being a bit of a wet lettuce OR an optimistic perseveror

Perfectly adequate moments to use it:

– when someone brings you the wrong order and you eat it in silent dismay

– keeping a smiley face in a never-ending team building meeting

– staring as your luscious locks go tumbling to the ground at the hands of a scissor-happy hairdresser

#4 Portuguese Idiom: Ir pentear macacos

Ir pentear macacos Graphic

Literal Translation: Go comb monkeys


Meaning: Telling someone to get lost

i.e: Telling someone to leave you alone

Simply put: buzz off

Perfectly adequate moments to use it:

– the guy on the beach trying to sell you sunglasses when you already have a pair on your face

– directed towards all mosquitos in the world

– the cat that keeps whipping my face with it’s tail (I’m allergic to cats)

#5 Portuguese Idiom: Viajar na Maionese

viajar na maionese graphic

Literal Translation: Travel in the mayonnaise


Meaning: To be daydreaming

i.e: Not paying attention or have crazy unrealistic ideas

Simply put: have the attention span of a fruit fly or the expectations of a Disney princess

Perfectly adequate moments to use it:

– Any of the 10,000 times you think about life in the Maldives during the workday

– Your partner says you will never buy a dog (I most certainly will)

– You think one day you might pay off your student loan

Finally One Portuguese idiom you do not need in your life

Phrase: Dor do cotovelo

Literal Translation: Elbow pain

Meaning: Heartbroken, coming from the idea that girls when they were heartbroken would stare out the window with their head in their hands, leaning on their elbows.

You most certainly don’t need this phrase in your life because you are a rock star that does not need to mope about a breakup. Be sad, eat some ice-cream, but never hurt your elbows by staring out the window after a lost cause.


4 Comments. Leave new

  • haha I love these idioms! I was certainly not traveling in the mayonnaise whilst reading this post!

  • Travel in the mayonnaise! What a great post- very much enjoyed reading. I’m sure we have some hilarious idioms in English as well!

  • These are amazing! I love learning idioms in foreign languages. I think they often express things I’ve been searching for for a long time! And sometimes they’re just hilarious. Go comb monkeys. I think that might be my new line 🙂 (closely aligns with another recent favourite of mine: not my circus, not my monkeys!)

  • I spend quite a bit of time with people veritably stuck in the mayonnaise up to their waists ??

    What w wonderful article. I’ve learned a lot 🙂


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