Common Brazilian Portuguese Expressions: ‘dar zebra’ e ‘ter sangue de barata’

Here’s a preview of two entries on my forthcoming book on Brazilian Portuguese Common Expressions, with brilliant illustrations by Morné Lippiatt:

BloodoftheCockroach2ter sangue de barata literally means to have cockroach blood. It is usually used in relation to someone who doesn’t react to negative and offensive situations, or when someone provokes them. It normally implies the person is a coward, but depending on the context it just mean that they keep their cool in a situation when most people would react.


– É claro que eu discuti com ele, eu não tenho sangue de barata! Ele estava sendo muito mal-educado!

                 – Of course I argued with him, I don’t have cockroach blood (I’m not a coward!). He was being very rude!

– O Carlos tem sangue de barata! Pegou a mulher o traindo e não fez nada. 

                 – Carlos has cockroach blood! He caught his wife cheating on him and didn’t do anything.

Note that here it could either mean that the person who says the sentence thinks Carlos is a coward, or simply that he ‘kept his cool’.



GiveaZebra2Dar Zebra literally means ‘to give zebra’ or ‘zebra happened’ (the verb dar is not only ‘to give’ but it’s also used in the sense of ‘result’ or ‘amount to’, as in the expressions deu certo = it worked out or não deu certo = it didn’t work out). When someone says that something deu zebra (the verb dar here used in the past tense) it means something unexpected, surprising or unusual took place (normally with a negative connotation).

Let’s see an example:

– Eu estava preparado para a prova, mas deu zebra… tirei uma nota baixa!

                – I was prepared for the test, but unexpectedly I got a low mark.

The expression “dar zebra” is supposed to have originated from ‘jogo do bicho’ (an illegal lottery, with numbers linked to animals, but not a zebra, so its image became associated with an ‘unlikely result’). The expression became popular with TV Globo’s Sunday night programme Fantástico in the 70s and 80s when the weekly football lottery results used to be announced by a zebra cartoon character. When the result of a certain football match was really unexpected (with the weaker team winning, or if there was a draw when one of the teams was considered the favorite to win) the zebra character would say Deu zebra!

Here’s the zebra in action!

The presenter calls out the results and the zebra says either coluna um, coluna dois or coluna do meio (column one, two or middle column)





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