Portuguese Language Blog

Learn some idioms with the word ‘hand’ in Portuguese Posted by on Nov 12, 2020 in Brazilian Profile, Culture, Customs, Learning, Vocabulary

Olá amigos leitores! Hello dear readers! Ready for another adventure on our language? If you have already been to Brazil, you probably noticed that our people have a very frequent habit of gesturing with their mãos (hands) whenever we speak. For us, these gestures are a way to complement our words, to amplify their meaning. As a result, our language has incorporated many idioms with the word “hand”. Some of them might be easy to understand from context, while others require further explanation. That is why our text today, which will be split into two sections, is going to explore the many possibilities of using the word mão in Portuguese. Vamos colocar a “mão na massa”? Shall we get down to it?

Mão na massa | “Hands in the dough”, to get your hands dirty

Expressões com mão em português (Photo from Pikist)

This expression simply means “working”, as a call to action or to indicate the beginning of an activity. It can also be used to describe someone is caught in the act, red-handed.

  • Hoje temos muito trabalho pela frente, então temos que colocar a mão na massa logo cedo | We have a lot of work ahead of us today , so let’s get our hands dirty as soon as possible
  • Eu disse para João não pegar nenhum doce, mas assim que cheguei em casa, peguei ele com a mão na massa | I told João not to get any candy, but as soon as I got home, I caught him red-handed

Mão de vaca ou Mão fechada | “Cow’s hand” or “closed hands”, cheapskate, stingy, cheap

Both mean the same thing, usually referring to a person who does not like to spend money. Another popular expression would be “pão duro”.

  • Você viu como ele é mão de vaca? Não quis pagar um lanche para o filho na rua | Did you see how much of a cheapskate he is? He refused to buy his son a snack.
  • Tentei negociar um preço melhor no carro, mas o comprador era muito mão fechada e não aceitou | I tried to get a better price for the car, but the buyer was too stingy and didn’t take the deal

Mão aberta | “Open hand”, spender

Vamos botar a mão na massa! (Photo from Pikist)

As the opposite of the previous item, it refers to someone who does not mind squandering money, who spends in excess and it also describez a generous person.

  • Ela é muito mão aberta, me emprestou dinheiro quando mais precisava | She is very generous, she lent me money when I needed it most.
  • Por ser muito mão aberta, Paulo não conseguiu fazer nenhuma economia e hoje não tem dinheiro algum | Since he was too much of a spender, Paulo was was never able to have any savings and nowadays he is broke

Mão na roda | “Hand on the wheel”, to be handy

When something is of great help or serves to smooth out the complications of a problem

  • Estudar aquele livro foi uma mão na roda, tirei uma nota boa! | Reading that book came in handy, I got a good grade!
  • Nesses tempos de pandemia, é uma mão na roda ter um médico na família | In these pandemic times, having a doctor in the family comes in handy

Mãos atadas | “Hands tied”

De mãos atadas (Photo by Pikrepo)

This one is quite simple, and its meaning is quite literal. This means that that person is not able to do much, that he is being prevented from acting or taking any initiative.

  • Como minha filha estava doente, fiquei de mãos atadas e não pude ir ao casamento de Maria| Since my daughter was ill, my hands were tied and I couldn’t attend Maria’s wedding.
  • Estamos de mãos atadas, agora o que resta é esperar o veredito do juiz | Our hands are tied, now all we can do is wait for the judge’s verdict.

De mãos abanando | “Waving hands”, empty-handed

It is the same as saying that there is nothing in your hands but wind. It means that someone has arrived empty-handed.

  • Era para cada um trazer sua comida para a festa, mas ele chegou de mãos abanando | Everyone was supposed to bring food to the party, but he came empty-handed
  • É a primeira vez que vou conhecer a família de minha namorada, então não posso chegar de mãos abanando | It is the first time that I am going to meet my girlfriend’s family, so I can’t arrive empty-handed

I hope you guys enjoyed this post and I’ll see you soon with more idioms with the word hand in Portuguese. But before we say goodbye, I would like to know if there are expressions in your language similar to those we covered here. Make sure to comment below! Tenham uma linda semana! Have a lovely week!

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  1. stu nichols:

    Muito obrigado gosto de saber!

    • carol:

      @stu nichols Que bom que você gostou, Stu! Obrigada por ler nosso blog 🙂