Today I decided to dedicate my article to some idioms that are quite common in the Portuguese language that come from the histories and traditions of this country and that represent a cultural richness that I find interesting to share with you. For those who were not born speaking Portuguese, it may be the opportunity to learn some idioms and for those who have always used them, let’s see if everyone knows the meaning!
– With the king in the belly: The expression comes from the time of the monarchy when queens, when pregnant with the sovereign, began to be treated with special deference, as they would increase the royal offspring and, sometimes, give heirs to the throne, even when bastards.
Nowadays this expression refers to a person who gives a lot of importance to himself.
– Cover the sun with a sieve: The sieve is a circular object made of wood with a metal, silk or horsehair bottom, through which the flour or other ground substance passes. Any attempt to cover the sun with the sieve is inglorious, since the object is permeable to light.
The expression would have been born out of this finding, currently meaning an unsuccessful effort to hide a blunder or deny evidence.
– Saved by the bell: The saying originates in England. There, in the past, there was no space to bury all the dead. Then the coffins were opened, the bones were taken and sent to the ossuary and the tomb was used for another unfortunate one. But sometimes, when opening the coffins, the gravediggers noticed that there were scratches on the lids on the inside, which indicated that the dead man had actually been buried alive (catalepsy – very common at the time).
So the idea arose that when closing the coffins, tie a strip around the dead man’s wrist, a strip that passed through a hole in the coffin and was tied to a bell. After the burial, someone was on duty next to the tomb for a few days. If the individual woke up, the movement of the arm would make the bell ring. In this way, he would be saved by the bell Today, the expression means escaping from getting into trouble for a fraction of a second.
– Pinged cats: This expression goes back to a torture from Japan that consisted of dripping boiling oil on people or animals, especially cats.
There are several environmental narratives in Asia that show people with their feet immersed in a cauldron of hot oil. As the torture had a reduced attendance, such was the cruelty, the expression “pinged cats” came to mean little assistance without enthusiasm, or curiosity, for any event.
– Maria goes with the others: Dona Maria I, mother of D. João VI (grandmother of D. Pedro I and great-grandmother of D. Pedro II), went crazy from one day to the next. Declared unable to rule, she was removed from the throne. She began to live in seclusion and was only seen when she went for a walk, escorted by numerous ladies-in-waiting.
When the people saw the queen taken by the ladies in this procession, she used to comment: “There goes D. Maria with the others”. Nowadays the expression applies to a person who has no opinion and who can be easily convinced.
– Where Judas lost his boots: As everyone knows, after betraying Jesus and receiving 30 moneys, Judas fell into depression and guilt, eventually killing himself by hanging himself from a tree.
It turns out that he killed himself without the boots. And the 30 moneys were not found with him. Soon the soldiers went in search of Judas’ boots, where the money would probably be.
We will never know whether or not they found the boots and the money. But the expression has spanned twenty centuries. Nowadays, the saying means a distant, inaccessible place.
– Andar a Toa (Walking aimlessly): Toa is the rope with which one vessel tows the other. A ship that is “aimlessly” (a toa) is the one that has neither rudder nor heading, going where the ship that tugs it determines. A woman a toa, for example, is one who is commanded by others. Today, the saying means walking aimlessly, carefree, passing the time.
– Like canned sardines: The word sardine comes from the Latin sardine. Designates the fish abundant in Sardinia, a well-known region in Italy. It is an appreciated and nutritious food, with a very peculiar flavour. The sardines, when canned in oil or in another sauce, are glued together. By analogy, the popular expression canned sardines is used to designate overcrowding of public transport vehicles.
– Friend of the jaguar: According to scholars of the Portuguese language, this term came from a curious story. It is said that a lying hunter, when caught, without weapons, by a jaguar, gave a cry so loud that the animal ran away in terror. As if the listener did not believe, saying that, if so, he would have been devoured. The hunter, indignant, asked if the interlocutor was, after all, his friend or friend of the jaguar. Currently, the expression means false friend, hypocritical.
-Cucumbers are twisted when they are small: Farmers who grow cucumbers need to give these plants the best shape. Remove some “eyes”for cucumbers to develop. If this small pruning is not done, the cucumbers do not grow in the best way because they create a worthless branch and acquire an unpleasant taste. Just as it is necessary to shape cucumbers in the best way, it is also necessary to shape the character of children as early as possible.
-Fava beans counted: In the past, they were voted with white and black beans, meaning yes or no. Each voter placed the vote, that is, the bean, in the ballot box. Then came the counting of the grains, and whoever had the largest number of white beans would be elected. Today, it means one thing, safe business.
-Resvés Campo de Ourique: Campo de Ourique is a Lisbon neighbourhood on the hill, a little away from the original historic center of the city. On November 1, 1755, when there was the famous and so terrible earthquake in Lisbon, people fled as much as they could to the highest areas of the city. The inhabitants of Campo de Ourique came to fear with the approaching waters of the tsunami that followed, but were lucky enough to stay on the edge of the neighbourhood, leaving everyone safe. The story remained in the memory of the Portuguese and most of the people of Lisbon and is still used today to describe situations that did not happen by chance, except for the luck that someone has.
-Many years turning into chicken: The origin of this expression is quite controversial but some Portuguese explained to me that it has to do with the fact that, in the families that worked in the restaurant, one of the first tasks to learn was to turn the chicken over the grill, so it took the time to become a real routine and people who did it get a lot of experience. Nowadays, the expression indicates having a lot of experience in a job or an activity.
-Stay in codfish waters. It means, “to be in nothing”, “not to be realized”. «One of the most established traditions among Portuguese fishermen concerns the work of bacalhaeiros in the seas of Terra Nova or Greenland. In addition to the successes and adventures of this type of fishing, many tragedies occurred, many loads and boats remained in these waters forever. If the meaning of the phrase is anything “to lose”, “to be without effect”, “not to come to fruition”, “to be frustrated”, it seems reasonable to assume its origin in the fishing activity of bacalhaeiros »
-Something XPTO: When we say that something is “XPTO” we usually mean that something is very good. This expression comes from medieval manuscript documents, where the acronym XPTO was used to designate Christ, who, in turn, was already a Greek spelling heritage very common in the Middle Ages (XPISTI). People did not realize that those symbols meant Christ in Greek and read “XPTO” when they wanted to designate something of excellent, divine or magnificent quality.