Deu zebra! I want to tell you the colloquial meaning of zebra in Brazil. The Brazilian colloquial expression “deu zebra” is used frequently in everyday life in Brazil, so it is worth knowing it.
Using idiomatic expressions will help your Portuguese sound more natural and will allow you to connect deeper with the Brazilian culture and people.
For example, the other day I asked my mom how her medical appointment went. She said: “Ah, deu a maior zebra”.
Literally she said: “Ah, it was the biggest zebra.”
Let me tell you what it means.
The colloquial meaning of Zebra in Brazil
Yes, zebra in Portuguese is the animal and we spell it just like in English. But you need to pay attention to the pronunciation because the Brazilian E sounds very different from the English E.
There is a popular Brazilian colloquial expression with the word zebra. In Brazil, we say that something is a zebra when:
- We have an unexpected result in sports with the weaker team unexpectedly winning the game. The expression is common especially in soccer.
- Things go unexpectedly wrong or unexpected problems show up
- When something unpredictable or unexpected happens, but not in a positive way
Origin of the colloquial meaning of zebra in Brazil
There is an illegal gambling game in Brazil called Jogo do Bicho (the animal game). Although it is illegal, it is a popular game.
Jogo do Bicho is like a lottery, and the numbers are associated with animals. There are 25 animals in the game.
The zebra is not a part of Jogo do Bicho. So imagine how unexpected the results would be if the zebra showed up in a drawing. It is said that this is the origin of the expression: the zebra is an impossible or extremely unlikely result.
Over the years, the use of the expression was expanded to include the other situations that I mentioned above.
We use this expression with the verbs Dar and Ser
The verbs can come in any tense. I show you examples below.
Corinthians is one of the best soccer teams in Brazil. Imagine that it is going to play against an extremely weak team. Everyone feels confident that Corinthians will win without any trouble. But they unexpectedly lose the game.
This is a common situation in which we use the zebra expression. It may come in different ways. I am showing the most common phrases below. The verbs are in the past tense because I am talking about the game after it has finished.
- Deu zebra. = It was an upset.
- Foi a maior zebra. = It was the biggest upset.
My mom had a medical appointment on Monday to get some test results. I knew that she had been waiting for the appointment, so I called her in the evening to ask how it went. Here is our conversation:
Eu: Oi, mãe! E aí, como foi a consulta?
Mãe: Ah, deu a maior zebra e eu não pude ir ao médico. Meu carro quebrou.
Me: Hi, mom! So, how was the doctor appointment?
Mom: Ah, an unexpected problem happened and I could not go to the doctor. My car broke down.
Your coworker Felipe stood up an important client. Felipe is hoping that he can still close the deal, but you are not very optimistic about it. You say:
- Eu acho que vai dar a maior zebra. = I think this is going to be a big problem.
The best way to use new expressions with confidence is by practicing them. Street Smart Brazil offers Brazilian Portuguese lessons via video meetings. We have been teaching Portuguese online since 2008, helping learners around the globe speak Portuguese with ease.