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Let’s Speak Atlantian


There are a couple of interesting bits in this little “quadrinho” from the graphic novel I’m currently ploughing through. Both the speakers are members of lost races. The chap who looks like a monk is actually a villain and some sort of Prince in the lost continent of Atlantis, while the fella who looks like some sort of inca is a member of some sort of barbarian tribe on the border of Atlantis, but still under the ocean.

Monk-looking guy: Let’s go. Let’s walk on, but woe betide you if you betray is.

Inca-looking dude: Our tongue isn’t poisonous, big chief.

“Aí de você” is obviously some sort of set expression. The main place I can find it is in the gospel of Matthew chapter 11, verse 21, where it’s used in place of the English “woe to you” (that’s a pretty universal translation in the ESV, KJV and NIV). I’ve translated it as “Woe betide you” which is even more archaic but I had a primary school teacher called Mrs Watson who used to say “woe betide you if…” (insert misdemeanor here).

And given the general missionary/indian vibe of the costumes (even though that’s not who they are meant to be) I thought “Língua Peçonhenta” would be something stereotypical like “forked tongue” and I wasn’t far off, but it’s “poisonous tongue”. I would have expected “língua venenosa”, since that’s the usual adjective you’d expect. Good word though!

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Ouvidos de Mercador

I never remember to use idiomatic expressions in the real world but I pulled out “Fazer Ouvidos de Mercador” the other day, while simultaneously making a pun, and I felt like a black belt

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Ceca e Meca

já vi muita coisa, não andei a comer palha, corri Ceca e Meca e aprendi com a vida.  É no lombo que elas nos doem
Ceca e Meca?

I was intrigued by this sentence. Ceca e Meca? What the heca… um… I mean what the heck’re those?

Meca is easy – it’s just what we would call Mecca. Ceca needs a little more digging: it’s an arab word that means treasure-house, but it was the popular name of the great mosque in Córdova during the muslim occupation of the iberian peninsula. So according to Ciberdúvidas, the expression “correr Ceca e Meca” recalls the pilgrimages made by arabs between the holy places in southern europe and in the middle east itself. In other words, it means you’ve been all over, you’re well-traveled.

What about the rest though? Já vi muita coisa – I’ve seen a lot. Não andei a comer palha – I haven’t just been eating hay (this seems to be related to the expression “todo o burro come palha” – she just means she doesn’t just believe what she’s told). Corri Ceca e Meca e aprendi com a vida – I’ve been all round the world and I’ve learned about life.

I’m not really sure about “É no lombo que elas nos doem”. Lombo is sometimes translated as loin, but it’s really about the area in the upper back, below the shoulder blades, either as a cut of meat or on the human body. So… i think she’s saying something like “They stab you in the back”. Not sure though. Doer means hurt, not stab. Maybe she just means things wear you out and make your back ache…? Hm, I think I might askabout that one. I’ll keep you posted.

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É Uma Expressão Portuguesa Com Certeza

This beautiful gift was sent to me on Reddit and I went in search of the original. Its a blog post from a few years ago. As I have probably mentioned before, people who mark language exams live a good idiomatic expression, and the author of this piece has constructed an entire blog post out of nothing but expressions. There’s hardly a single word that isn’t part of one. It’s a magnificent achievement and certainly a lot more fun than the C1/C2 workbook I am ploughing through, where fully one third of the book is about expressions.

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Roupa Dope

Some examples from the book I’m using, with idiomatic expressions relating to clothing. (Roupa). Example sentences are difficult if you’re working on your own because of course there is no model answer to check so I am just shamelessly posting them as my daily text on writestreakpt

Diz-se que o ex-ministro dos Negócios Estrangeiros recebeu luvas com origem na Rússia. (Receber luvas = take a bribe)

A crise financeira provocou desemprego no Sul da Europa portanto os cidadãos tiveram de apertar os cintos. (apertar o cinto = tighten one’s belt)

A Rebeca é uma verdadeira mexeriqueira que corta sempre na casaca de alguém de que não gosta. (cortar o casaco = talk smack about someone)

Os meus amigos trabalham na Televisão Estatal e quanto à realização de programas, sabem as linhas com que se cosem. (saber as linhas com que se cose = to be expert in some skill)

À beira do Douro, em Vila Nova de Gaia, estão localizadas as famosas caves do vinho do Porto onde se encontram garrafas de se lhes tirar o chapéu. (ser de se lhe tirar o chapeu = to be worthy of taking one’s hat off to)

Estou num beco sem saída. Preciso de descalçar esta bota (mistura de metáforas!) (descalcar a bota = resolve a problem)

O bisavô dela foi fazendeiro em Minas Gerais. Era trabalhador e gastava pouco pelo que conseguiu juntar um belo pé-de-meia. (juntar um pé de meia = save)

Não gosto de amigas com língua-de-trapos. (língua de trapas – a malicious gossip – someone who might cortar o casaco de alguém, in fact!)

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Another batch of expressions from the C1/2 Textbook I’m using

Passar pelas brasas (pass through the coals) =have a little sleep

Dar barraca (give a shed) = provoke a scandal

Surdo como uma porta (deaf as a door) =deaf as a post

É outra loiça (It’s different crockery) =much better (food)

Estar em maus lençóis (be on bad sheets) = be in a sticky situation

Falar de poleiro (speak from a perch) = Speak arrogantly, get on your high horse

Ser um bom garfo (be a good fork) = be a lover of good food


Sem eira nem beira (without a floor or a roof*) = very poor

Estúpido como uma porta (stupid as a door) =daft as a brush

Atirar o barro à parede (throw the clay at the wall) = test the waters to see if someone might be receptive to your idea

De cortar à faca (you could cut it with a knife) =same as the English expression – when the atmosphere is so tense or oppressive that you feel like you could cut it with a knife

Cascos de rolha (corked casks) = a long way off.

De fio a pavio (from string to wick) =from beginning to end. (I think we’re supposed to think of a candle burning all the way down)

Entrar em parafuso (go into a screw) = go into a tailspin, panic

*=There was a bit of debate over this one. Eira is a kind of floor or patch of ground in a village, where harvested grain is threshed and sieved ready for storage. Beira is a word we usually hear when talking about the seaside (“beira mar”) but it can be the eaves of a roof. The phrase is sometimes expanded to “Sem eira nem beira nem ramo de figueira”, adding that the poor bugger doesn’t even have the branch of a fig tree.

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Freudian Slip

The exercises in the book I’m working through have themes to them. The last few have all been expressions involving body parts. The other day included one that said “Fugir a boca para a verdade” (The mouth runs rowards the truth) meaning if you don’t keep it under control, your mouth just blurts out what’s really on your mind. The very same day, I saw someone using it because George W Bush had given a speech and, as this tweeter commented, his big stupid mouth had done exactly that.

Here are a few of my favourites from the same exercise

Sete cães a um osso – lots of people are trying to lay claim to one thing, or the attention of one person

Estar debaixo da língua – equivalent to “on the tip of my tongue”

Ficar com um nó na garganta – equivalent to “have a lump in one’s throat”

Ter as costas largas – to be able to cope with a lot of responsibility

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O Dialecto Madeirense

This video was published on Twitter on Thursday (O Dia Mundial Da Língua Portuguesa). The first speaker is Francisco Louçã, an MP (“Deputado”) from the Bloco Esquerda and he’s introducing a PSD colleague named Carlos Rodrigues, saying he will now address the chamber in his “Madeiran Dialect”. Rodrigues then replies in a way everyone thinks is hilarious…

I can’t understand what he’s saying so I cheated and looked at the parliamentary transcript which is here, and you can read the surrounding context about the dialect (it’s not a dialect really, it’s an accent – mainlanders can be a bit snobbish about it though). Anyway, after reading the transcript… I was none the wiser!

Louçã: – Sr. Presidente, para surpresa da minha bancada, acaba de ser-nos comunicado que um Sr. Deputado passará a dirigir-se ao Plenário no “dialecto” madeirense. (…)

Rodrigues: – Quanto a dialecto, só tenho uma coisa a dizer-lhe, Sr. Deputado Francisco Louçã – e agora, mesmo em jeito de brincadeira: “o grado azoigou e foi atupido na manta das tanarifas”!

Grado exists in Priberam but none of the meanings seem to fit. Azoigar is in there too (although the spelling is “azougar”, because it’s one of those words that can be written with an ou or an oi) and now we’re starting to see the pattern because the definition is

[Portugal: Madeira]  Morrer (falando-se de animais).

Ah, if course – he’s replying using a madeiran expression, full of madeiran words. So, turning to a specialist madeiran page… We get the following

The dog (grado) died (azoigou) and was buried (atupido) on the pumpkin (tanarifa) terrace (manta).

Tanarifa is the sketchiest word there. The meaning is given as “boganga”, which, if you follow it, actually refers to a kind of squash/pumpkin. I’ve also seen people translating it as “alface” (lettuce) but most people seem to translate it as banana. So… I dunno… Conjure up whatever mental image you like on that one! I’ve translated manta (which normally means “shawl” or “blanket”) as terrace because in madeiran agriculture, a manta is a terrace on the side of a mountain where you can grow crops.

So… That’s all very well but what does it actually mean? Not sure. I thought maybe it was like “Os cães ladram e a caravana passa”. In other words, your yapping doesn’t really count for much. My wife, who is madeiran but hasn’t lived there for ages, didn’t recognise it either but thought it was more likely that the speaker is comparing his opponent’s argument to a dog in a race which he’s very proud of and thinks will win the race but it won’t because it’s dead and buried in the vegetable patch.

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Expressions with Bodyparts

Birthday cake

Scheduling this post for my birthday

Here are some expressions from the exercise book. I’m really trying to do these exercises every day now because I have been slacking.

Falar nas costas = talk behind someone’s back

Ter dedo = to have a knack for something

Puxar pela cabeça = think really hard

Queimar as pestanas = read a lot

Bater com o nariz na porta = be unable to achieve a goal because the shop/house/office/whatever was shut

With that last one, when I researched it, I found that there was one page that claimed it could be used in a more figurative sense – in other words you could use it when you were denied or rebuffed in some request, or met with some sort of bureaucratic denial, maybe, but the majority said it was strictly literal: you turn up at the library hoping to find a PG Wodehouse book you’ve never read but you bang your nose on the door because it’s shut. So I asked…

Há uma expressão no meu livro “bater com o nariz na porta”. Entendo o significado mas não tenho a certeza de como se usa. Será que pode ter um significado menos literal – por exemplo “Convidei a Mafalda para jantar comigo mas bati com o nariz na porta quando ela respondeu* que já tinha combinado um jantar com o Joaquim, um halterofilista com dois metros de altura” ou só numa situação concreta** como “Eu e a Janet fomos para o restaurante às seis e meia mas batemos com os narizes na porta porque os portugueses costumam jantar mais tarde

The verdict? No, only the literal sense works. If I go to the restaurant too early and its shut, I can say we banged on the door with our nose, but if I get spurned by Mafalda in favour of her hot date with the bodybuilder, I can’t use it.

* I cleaned up the grammar a little bit following some feedback from Dani. I had tried to use a different word here – ripostar – because I found it in the novel I’m reading and thought it would be more interesting but it turned out to be too interesting for this context!

** I used “específica” but that wasn’t the best choice.

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Shake It Baby

Today’s book exercise includes the phrase “de mãos a abanar”. Checking what ciberdúvidas has to say in the subject, it seems there are two possible variants, one more literal than the other

Ficar/Ir COM mãos a abanar usually means your hands really physically shake (but note, not shaking hands with someone else that’s “apertar as mãos” – you squeeze hands with someone.

Vir/Ficar/Ir DE mãos a abanar means to end up empty handed. Just like in English you can come away empty handed, without being able to gain from a situation, or you can turn up empty handed, with nothing to offer in a situation. The actual example in the book uses vir as the verb, but of course it depends on the situation you’re describing – whether they are setting off with nothing, coming away empty handed or whatever. I’ve also seen a Brazilian page describing “chegar de mãos abanando” which is obviously related. They use it to describe a situation where someone arrives at a party without a present or a bottle of wine or whatever. According to the writer this is related to immigrants to Brazil in the 19th century. If they were unskilled their hands would shake due to inability to use the tools of the trade. Pardon my skepticism but this sounds like bollocks to me.