drawing of a zebra to illustrate the blog post Brazilian Expressions dar zebra and ter sangue de barata

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

Dar zebra and ter sangue de barata are two very common Brazilian Portuguese expressions.

Let’s have a look at what these expressions mean and how to use them in everyday conversation. dar zebra

ter sangue de barata


ter sangue de barata literally means to have cockroach blood. Brazilians usually use this expression 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. However,  depending on the context it just means 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’.

Dar Zebra


Dar Zebra literally means ‘to give zebra’ or ‘zebra happened’. The verb dar is not only ‘to give’ but people also use it 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, 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” originated from ‘jogo do bicho’, an illegal lottery, where numbers are 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. During the programme, a zebra cartoon character announced the weekly football lottery results.

When the result of a certain football match was really unexpected, or if there was a draw when one of the teams was considered the favourite to win, the zebra would say Deu zebra!


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