I came across this phrase when I was speaking with a Brazilian friend, Adriana. She is a Portuguese/English translator and voice-over artist here in Sao Paulo. Turns out, doing voice overs can be harder than you think when it comes to writing subtitles for U.S. TV shows and movies.
U.S. English, as most languages, has its own set of idioms, which simply lose something in the translation: as rare as hen’s teeth; be out in left field; blow smoke up someone’s ass; close but no cigar; and the list goes on and on. My favorite was when I used “and Bob’s your uncle” with my Portuguese teacher. The look on her face was priceless. For a couple of weeks afterward, she would say after teaching me something new, “And Bob’s your uncle!”
Brazil, of course, has many idioms that need to be taken in context in order to be understood as something other than nonsense. One example is the phrase “like fingernails and skin,” which is the Brazilian equivalent to something going together “like bread and butter” or “like peanut butter and jelly.”
Some other fun expressions:
Tirar o cavalinho da chuva: “Take the pony from the rain.” Or, forget it, don’t wait for it.
Abotaor o paletó: “Button up your blazer.” To die.
Descasar o abacaxi: “Peel the pineapple.” Solve a problem.
Deitar o cabelo: “Lay down your hair.” Move fast.
Rei na barrina: “King in the belly.” To be conceited, or full of yourself.
Armar-se em carapau de corrida: “He’s a racing mackerel.” Someone who thinks he’s a big shot but is a nobody.
De pequenino se torce o pepino: “From very small, the cucumber is bent.” Character develops at a very young age.
Ficar em águas de bacalha: “Remain in codfish waters.” Tackle a problem, but leave it unsolved.
Comer o pão que o diabo amassou: “Eat the bread the devil provided.” To suffer intolerably.
Cantar de galo: “Crow as a rooster.” To attempt to control something.
Onde Judas perdeu as botas: “Where Judas lost his boots.” It denotes a very far away place, usually with the connotation of a place that is totally out of one’s way.
And one of my favorites: Viajar na maionese, “Travel in the mayonnaise.” To say something crazy.
These are the sort of things we learn as we understand a language better, beyond the literal basics. Again, the best way to learn these is to read Portuguese, or to watch movies in the language. I’ve been here 2.5 years and am woefully behind on the “living language.”
Ah well, fico em águas de bacalha!