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Improve Your Brazilian Portuguese with These 5 Animal Idioms

A fox looking into the camera

Every culture has a different view of animals. This view influences the way we speak, and it gives birth to many expressions of common use across the languages.

Brazil, a huge, tropical country seems to be prolific when it comes to expressions and linguistic associations between animals and expressions.

Today, after reading this article, you’ll be able to grasp some basic, humorous expressions to spice up your Portuguese.

Em rio que tem piranha, jacaré nada de costas.

“In a river where one can find pirañas, alligators swim backstroke.”

Better safe than sorry. You should be extra careful.

We generally use this expression as a remark to some situation, and it’s a set phrase. We never change it.

Paulo: Rapaz, eu quase fui pego no trabalho. Tenho de ser mais cuidadoso quando for usar o facebook no escritório.

Zélia: É, meu querido. Em rio que tem piranha, jacaré nada de costas. Ali é perigoso.



Tirar o cavalinho da chuva.

“Take the little horse off the rain.”

Don’t hold your breath, it’s not going to happen.

Paulo: E, como somos bons amigos, sei que você vai poder me emprestar mil reais, né?

Zélia: Quem, eu? Mas pode tirar o cavalinho da chuva. Estou tão lisa quanto você.

Emprestar: to lend (money)

Liso, lisa: penniless, moneyless

Ficar / estar / andar com a pulga atrás da orelha.

“To have a flea behind one’s ears.”

To be suspecting something, to be doubtful as to something

Ontem vi que a Paula estava agindo muito estranho. Fiquei com a pulga atrás da orelha. O que ela poderia estar aprontando?

Yesterday I saw that Paula was acting very funny. It got me thinking. What would she be up to?

Sometimes this expression translates as to smell a rat, but that’s not always possible.

Ser um bicho-de-sete-cabeças

“To be a seven-headed beast.”

To be too complicated, to be excessively intricate

Todo mundo sabe que estudar português não é nenhum bicho de sete cabeças. Basta praticar todos os dias.

Everyone knows studying Portuguese is no difficult thing. All you need is to practice every day.

Estar com a macaca

a chimpanzee eating straw

“To be with the female monkey.”

To be extremely stressed, irritated, quarrelsome.

That’s a funny expression whose origins are related to religion.

In Brazil, even mentioning the name of the Evil One might bring bad luck. In order to avoid this and saying he has the devil inside him, we use the word macaca. So we avoid saying “devil”.

Rapaz, o Diógenes hoje está com a macaca: brigou já com a Nora, da recepção, gritou com o Carlos e agora está procurando confusão com o primeiro que lhe cruzar o caminho.

Geez, Diogenes has the devil inside him today: he argued with Nora, the receptionist, then he yelled at Carlos and now he’s up for a fight with the first one who comes across his way.


Don’t you think you’ll be left without homework. Take your little horse off the rain!

Find the meaning to the following expressions and write it in the comments:

Lágrimas de crocodilo

Bicho de sete cabeças

What other expressions do you know and like? Share them with us 🙂 A vaca foi para o brejo is my favorite one.

    • Essa é uma boa, Barry! Na mesma linha, temos “vai catar coquinhos!”

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