Learn some Brazilian idioms: how to use them and the story behind it.


“A vaca foi pro brejo” (The cow went to the swamp): When a situation that was initially positive becomes bad.

This term refers to the time of drought on large cattle farms. Searching for water, the cows move toward lakes and swamps, ending up bogged down and dying.

Example in Portuguese:

Tudo ia bem até nosso carro enguiçar no meio da estrada. Aí a vaca foi pro brejo.


“As paredes têm ouvidos” (The walls have ears): People can be heard without knowing it.

This expression exists in German language, French and Chinese. It originated in medieval castles, where there were ducts and secret openings on the walls to facilitate the hearing of political gatherings in closed rooms.

Example in Portuguese:

– Quero te contar um segredo

– Fale baixo, as paredes têm ouvidos.


Não adianta chorar pelo leite derramado (It’s no use crying over spilled milk): It’s not worthed regretting about something that is already gone.

Story says that once a peasant woman was carrying a bucket of milk over her head while thinking about what she would do with the money she would make from selling the milk. She then stumbled and lost all her product, coming to the conclusion that it would not be worthed regretting the situation that has already happened and can no longer be changed.

Example in Portuguese:

Gustavo não quis estudar direito o ano todo e está prestes a repetir o ano na escola. Agora não adianta chorar pelo leite derramado.


Pode tirar o cavalinho da chuva (Take the horse out of the rain): Make someone give up on something.

People used to ride horses as their main mean of transportation back then. When they went to visit someone with any intention of staying long, they would leave their horse unprotected outside the person’s home, but if they were invited to stay longer, they would put the animal somewhere that would protect it if it rained.

Example in Portuguese:


– Posso dormir na sua casa hoje?

– Pode tirar o seu cavalinho da chuva.


Não adianta lamentar a morte da bezerra (It’s no use mourning the death of the calf): Be distracted or thoughtful.

This expression originates from a Hebrew story about King Absalom. The king would sacrifice calves to offer to God. One of his sons was very fond of one of the calves, but Absalom sacrificed it anyway. The story tells that since the calf’s sacrifice, the king’s son spent the rest of his life sad and recluded, thinking about the death of the animal.

Example in Portuguese:

O está fazendo aí parado? Está pensando na morte da bezerra?


Sair a francesa (Sneak out like French people): To leave without anyone noticing and/or without saying goodbye to anyone.

The phrase arose in England by a feud between English and French people, who would say that the other side was rude.

Example in Portuguese:

Tinha muita gente na festa, então saí à francesa.


Uma andorinha não faz verão (One swallow does not make a summer): Working together is more beneficial than alone.

Centuries ago, Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote «one swallow does not make a spring». The meaning of what he meant changed a little, what Aristotle meant was that swallows flock searching for favorable climate for survival, implying that a human being cannot be judged by an isolated act. In Brazil it is said that «one swallow does not make summer», meaning that a person alone cannot do much and that working together is much more profitable.

Example in Portuguese:

Você acha que vai conseguir construir uma casa sozinho? Uma andorinha só não faz verão.

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