Taking Portuguese idioms literally
Learning a new language often allows for lots of fun cultural titbits, including unexpected literal meanings of common idioms. The Portuguese language is filled with fun idioms that literally translate into situations that sound amusing to English speakers. Of course, these idioms are no stranger than lots of idioms that you would find in other languages, including English, which offers a source of equal amusement when one turns a literal eye to idioms such as steal someone’s thunder or heard it through the grapevine. Below, we have taken a close and literal look at five Portuguese idioms.
To feed the donkey sponge cake
Portuguese: alimentar um burro a pão de ló
This phrase refers to treating someone (or something) really well who does not deserve it. In this instance, a donkey stands in for that person or thing; after all, you probably wouldn’t waste a tasty sponge cake on a donkey.
Eating fish doesn’t pull wagons
Portuguese: comer peixe não puxa carroça
This idiom refers to the response that might be offered by a ‘meat and potatoes’ man when offered fish for a meal, with the implication that fish is not suitable food for someone doing manual labor.
Your neighbour’s chicken is always fatter
Portuguese: a galinha do vizinho é sempre mais gorda
The English idiom that best approximates the meaning of this phrase is the grass is always greener on the other side. The basic premise is one of dissatisfaction with what one has and feeling that there are better opportunities nearby.
An old donkey doesn’t learn languages
Portuguese: burro velho não aprende línguas
The donkey does not do well in Portuguese idioms. In this phrase, the donkey is the dog in the English idiom you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, meaning that someone or something old generally will not be able to learn new things or adapt to new circumstances.
Searching for horns on a horse’s head
Portuguese: procurar chifre em cabeça de cavalo
This Portuguese idiom does not have a common equivalent in English. The task of ‘searching for horns on a horse’s head’ refers to searching for something that isn’t there. The phrase search for a needle in a haystack is similar, but is a misleading comparison, because the ‘needle’ in question exists and may be located – the ‘horse’s horns’, on the other hand, are not there at all.
Explore our new online bilingual Portuguese dictionary at Oxford Dictionaries Portuguese.