Several interesting popular expressions in Brazil have animals as their theme. They can be tricky for those who are learning the Portuguese language, as they make no sense at all when literally translated. In fact, some of them don’t even make sense in Portuguese! Below are some of these popular phrases with an explanation of the meaning or use:
To Comb Monkeys
Don’t be surprised if someone tells you: “Vá pentear macacos! (Go and comb monkeys!)”. There’s no need to go to the zoo. Just look for someone else to annoy or bother. The phrase means that you’re annoying the person who told you to comb those cute animals. It is an adaptation of a Portuguese proverb. The original sentence was about combing donkeys. Combing or brushing those animals was not a noble task, but one of little importance. In Brazil, the donkey was replaced by apes. Other expressions with the same meaning are “Vá catar coquinhos! (Go and pick coconuts!)” and “Vá plantar batatas! (Go and plant potatoes!)”.
To Be a White Elephant
A white elephant is something fancy but useless that you get as a present. The story began with the King of Siam (now Thailand) who used to give white elephants as gifts. He gave the animals to the courtiers who had done something wrong. As the white elephant was a rare and sacred animal, it could not be refused, be put to work, be sold or given to someone else or be killed. The one who received this royal gift had to take good care of it without getting anything in return, which meant a lot of cost and work without payment.
The Color of a Fleeing Donkey
The color of a fleeing donkey appears green but it is not. It also seems brown, but it is not. Maybe brownish gray or greenish beige … Well, it is an undefined color; no one knows for sure what it is. The sentence has nothing to do with the color of the donkey. It is a misusage of the phrase ” corro de burro quando foge (I run when I see a fleeing donkey)”. Although it makes no sense at all, the phrase is commonly used to explain any undefined color.
To Take Your Horse out of The Rain
Horses were the main means of transportation in colonial times. When a visitor arrived on horseback, the owner of the house noticed his intention by observing the place where the animal was. A horse tied in front of the house meant a quick visit. Tied up in a place protected from rain or sun meant a long visit. If the visit was welcome, the owner of the house would asked him to take the horse out of the rain, which meant to stay longer, have a coffee and chat. Nowadays the phrase doesn’t have the same meaning. It has changed over time. “Pode tirar o cavalinho da chuva! (Take your horse out of the rain!)” now means “Give up!” or “Don’t even think about it!.