Idiomatic Expressions 1

Expressões IdiomáticasIdiomatic expressions, or idioms, are expressions that you shouldn’t interpret literally. They have a symbolic meaning, which is rarely maintained when they are translated into other languages. These expressions reflect the customs and history of the country and are part of all conversations of the Portuguese, rich or poor, from North to South of Portugal. They often incorporate slang words and can be used to convey irony, exaggeration, or impatience, or even just to save time.
Or, as we say in Portugal:
Poupar o nosso latim Spare our Latin
This expression, Poupar latim Spare Latin, is itself idiomatic, and is based on the fact that Portuguese is a language originating from Latin.
During the 1755 earthquake, two convents collapsed in Lisbon, one with the name Carmo and one with the name Trindade. It was here that the expression Cair o Carmo e a Trindade appeared, which initially implied terror and panic. Although it still retains that meaning, nowadays it is often used in an ironic tone, when you fear the consequences of something unimportant. For example:
Ui, parece que caiu o Carmo e a Trindade! Yikes, it looks like the crap hit the fan
There is another expression which, supposedly, also originated on that terrible day: resvés Campo de Ourique. Resvés means by an inch and Campo de Ourique refers to an area of Lisbon that narrowly escaped the destruction caused by the earthquake.
Foi mesmo resvés Campo de OuriqueYou cut it pretty close
Another old idiom, which references the lifestyle that the French General Junot and his soldiers maintained during the French invasions, is à grande e à Francesa. It means with luxury and abundance or, more literally, in a big and French way. You can use it, for example, when having dinner at a buffet or, ironically, if someone keeps asking you for things, favors, or money.
Isto aqui é tudo à grande e à Francesa! We do it big here!
If you have a lot of experience in a specific job or know a lot about a particular subject, muitos anos a virar frangos is an expression you can start using. Although the literal meaning is many years turning chickens, it’s not just for those who cook chicken on a barbecue. If someone says to you “Wow, you sure know what you’re doing!”, you can reply by simply saying:
São muitos anos a virar frangos I know the ropes
Keeping with the theme of Portuguese gastronomy, we have the expression encher chouriços, which literally means filling chouriços, with chouriço being a type of Portuguese blood sausage. We use it whenever we have to wait for something or someone and, during that wait, carry out useless or unimportant activities. In these cases, we can say that:
A professora estava a encher chouriços na aula The teacher was padding out the lesson
When a problem is easy to solve you can say that é de caras. People also use it when something is obvious.
Mas isso é de caras! But that's easy!
However, de caras can also appear preceded by the verb dar to give. For example, “dei de caras com o Paulo”, which means you bumped into Paulo while doing something else.
Feito num oito means messed up and it can be used literally if someone is hurt or figuratively, if the person is in a tough situation.
Ele ficou feito num oito He's all messed up
Of course there are also idioms related to death. One that is very common is bater as botas, which is a simple euphemism for dying. There are other similar ones, such as esticar o pernil (literally stretch the leg) and ir desta para melhor (literally move to a better one).
Parece que ele bateu as botas Looks like he died
Estive quase a ir desta para melhor I almost died
There are many, many other expressions like these, and you can practice them in the following lessons. Get ready for some laughs!


  • I really appreciate this unit! It is perfect to learn common expressions. Now I have to start listening for them in my daily life :-). Thank you for this unit and for doing a great job with your site!

  • I think that this is the most dispiriting unit in the whole couse. It is a guessing game at best. I have just come back to it after completing all the units and am faced with the same issues. I just cant remember these after a few minutes. They make little sense when translated. There is no chance of me remembering them in a month.
    I have so much to learn in Portuguese….just not this stuff at this time. I will take a rain-check.
    Sorry R & J. I am usually among your greatest supporters.

    • Hi Mac, sorry you didn’t like this unit. Idioms can be frustrating since, like you said, the literal translation makes no sense! Don’t be discouraged though – not all the units are going to be useful for everybody, and I think you can safely ignore this one. I would think of idioms as more of a bonus, rather than a requirement. You’ll probably learn many of the more common idioms by picking them up over time in conversation.

  • When I was an English teacher in the German speaking part of Switzerland some years ago, I dedicated part of a lesson to an advanced conversation class to the use of idioms, and I did it by giving them small cards with a) the English idiom, b) the German equivalent, and c) the literal translation. It went amazingly well and the learners really enjoyed it. A couple of my favourites were:

    She’s a bit batty . = Sie hat nicht alle Tassen im Schrank. = She does not have all her cups in the cupboard.

    To muddle through = Durchwuersteln. = To sausage through.

    Idioms can be SUCH fun!!

    • What a great idea! I agree, it’s fun to try to figure out the actual meaning from the literal translation. 🙂

What did you think? Leave a Comment for Rui & Joel:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.