And I say this with love.
Because I work not only in a foreign country but in an international office, I find myself using my Portuguese less and less by the minute — which it’s understandable. But now I’ve actually come to appreciate my native language more, and I’ve realised that there are a lot of little Portuguese expressions and sayings that I really miss in my vocabulary. More specifically, there is one particular Portuguese expression that I really miss saying it.
If you are in Portugal, at a coffee shop, for example, and see two friends having a heated conversation, you’ll likely hear one of them saying something like “Pah olha, desenmerda-te”. This is actually a very common Portuguese expression that it’s used almost daily — at least it was for me. Now, I’m sure that other countries have something close or similar to this expression, but this is not about me showing off my lack of linguist skills or cultural knowledge. This is me dedicating a whole blogpost to just one fascinating Portuguese expression that needs to be in everyone’s repertoire.
If I’m being honest, there isn’t a proper English translation for the “Desenmerda-te” expression. The literal translation doesn’t do a great job since the closest thing is “Unshit Yourself”. Though I really don’t want to go into detail of what exactly might mean for someone to “unshit” themselves. Let’s just say it’s a hell of a visual image and I’d instead just leave it at that. And yes, our people have indeed a beautiful way to express feelings when we talk. So it’s safe to conclude that the literal translation really doesn’t do the Portuguese expression justice.
On the other hand, by the context you tent to use it, we can translate it into “getting your shit together” or “figuring your shit out”. Although if I’m being honest, compared to these, I think just saying “unshit yourself” is funnier. But still, none of these truly represents or expresses what a Portuguese person means when they say, or most of the time yell, “Desenmerda-te”.
Even though it’s a very vulgar expression (to say the least), it’s not an insult, and you shouldn’t be offended if someone says it to you. If indeed a Portuguese person screams “Desenmerda-te” at you, that simply means they are telling you to somehow un-do your own mess. The expression is used when they want to tell someone that is stuck in the figuratively “shit” that they need to sort out the problem by themselves. They are suggesting for you to figure out a way to solve your own problems, mainly because they don’t want to be involved in it for one reason or another. At the end of the day, it’s just a piece of advice that uses very strong wording.
So why do I like this expression so much? Well, the Portuguese people are efficient in general, and we want to simplify things in a way that we can get them done easily and quickly. This expression is an excellent example of this because, regardless of the context of the conversation, it puts you in the mindset to try to fix your own problems before going to someone for help — since it’s assumed that asking for help it will take longer. If for some reason, you put yourself in an unfortunate situation, it’s up to you to figure out how to get out of it. It’s probably about time for you to figure it out for yourself, to take charge of the situation before it takes you. It’s a call to action that praises independence. And regarding the strong choice of words, honestly, I believe it just gives the person that nice kick, almost like a wake-up call. It might sound slightly aggressive, but let’s face it, sometimes you need to be aggressive when advising a friend on what to do.
So the next time you find yourself at a coffee shop with a friend, and they feel stuck for whatever reason, maybe, instead of a long and delicate piece of advice, it will be better to just scream for them to unshit themselves instead.