Understanding the Portuguese Idiom: "lobo em pele de cordeiro" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: Portuguese

Have you ever come across a person who appears to be innocent and harmless, but deep down, they have ulterior motives? This concept is beautifully captured by the Portuguese idiom lobo em pele de cordeiro, which translates to “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” This phrase encapsulates the idea of someone disguising their true intentions or nature behind a façade of innocence.

Throughout history, literature, and various cultures, this metaphorical expression has been used to describe individuals who possess cunning and deceitful qualities. It serves as a reminder that appearances can be deceiving and that we should not judge solely based on outward impressions. The idiom lobo em pele de cordeiro delves into the complex nature of human behavior and highlights the importance of discernment in our interactions with others.

Intriguingly, this phrase goes beyond its literal meaning and finds relevance in different contexts. Whether it is used to describe manipulative individuals in personal relationships or deceptive practices within politics or business, the essence remains consistent – people or situations that are not what they seem at first glance.

Usage and Contexts of the Portuguese Idiom “lobo em pele de cordeiro”: Exploring Variations

The idiom lobo em pele de cordeiro is a widely used expression in the Portuguese language, conveying a powerful metaphorical image. This phrase captures the idea of someone or something appearing harmless, innocent, or gentle on the surface, but concealing a hidden agenda or malicious intentions underneath.

Exploring variations of this idiom allows us to delve into its diverse usage and contexts across different situations. While the core meaning remains consistent, slight variations in wording and interpretation can provide nuanced insights into specific scenarios where this idiom finds relevance.

Variation 1: “Lobo com aparência de ovelha”

This variation emphasizes the deceptive nature of appearances by replacing pele (skin) with “aparência” (appearance). It highlights how individuals or entities may disguise their true nature through outwardly projecting an image that aligns with societal expectations or norms. By using this variation, speakers emphasize the importance of looking beyond superficial impressions to uncover hidden motives.

Variation 2: “Lobo vestido de cordeiro”

In this variation, the focus shifts from physical attributes to clothing as a symbol of disguise. The use of vestido (dressed) underscores how individuals may intentionally dress themselves in sheep’s clothing to blend in with their surroundings and gain trust. This variation often appears when discussing manipulative tactics employed by cunning individuals who exploit others’ vulnerability for personal gain.

By exploring these variations within the context of the Portuguese idiom lobo em pele de cordeiro, we gain a deeper understanding of its application across different situations. These nuances allow speakers to convey specific shades of meaning, emphasizing the importance of vigilance and critical thinking when assessing others’ intentions.

Origins of the Portuguese Idiom “lobo em pele de cordeiro”: A Historical Perspective

The phrase itself is believed to have originated from one of Aesop’s fables, specifically The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. Aesop was an ancient Greek storyteller who used animals as characters to convey moral lessons. The fable tells the story of a wolf who disguises himself by wearing a sheepskin and infiltrates a flock of sheep with malicious intent.

Ancient Origins

The concept of deception and hidden intentions portrayed in this fable resonated with people across different cultures and languages. Over time, variations of this idiom emerged in various languages, including Portuguese.

Portugal has a long history dating back to Roman times when it was known as Lusitania. Throughout its history, the country experienced invasions and conquests by different civilizations such as Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and eventually became an independent kingdom.

Cultural Significance

The idiom lobo em pele de cordeiro reflects not only Portugal’s historical background but also its cultural values. It serves as a cautionary reminder for individuals to be wary of those who may appear harmless or innocent on the surface but harbor ulterior motives beneath their facade.

This idiom finds relevance not only within Portugal but also within other countries where Portuguese is spoken or understood. Its universal message about vigilance against deceitful individuals transcends language barriers and continues to be passed down through generations.

Cultural Significance of the Portuguese Idiom “lobo em pele de cordeiro”

The cultural significance of the Portuguese idiom lobo em pele de cordeiro goes beyond its literal translation. This idiom, which can be translated as “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” carries a profound meaning that reflects the complexity of human nature and societal dynamics.

At its core, this idiom refers to someone who appears harmless or innocent on the surface but is actually deceitful or dangerous. It serves as a cautionary tale, reminding individuals to be wary of those who may hide their true intentions behind a facade of innocence.

Metaphorical Interpretation

The metaphorical interpretation of lobo em pele de cordeiro extends beyond individual interactions and delves into broader societal issues. It highlights the importance of discernment and critical thinking when navigating social relationships and power dynamics.

In many cultures, including Portuguese culture, trust plays a significant role in interpersonal relationships. The idiom serves as a reminder that appearances can be deceiving and encourages individuals to look beyond superficial traits to uncover hidden motives or agendas.

Social Implications

The use of this idiom also sheds light on power imbalances within society. It suggests that those who possess cunning abilities can manipulate others by presenting themselves as harmless or weak when they are, in fact, powerful or influential.

Avoiding Mistakes in Using the Portuguese Idiom “lobo em pele de cordeiro”: Common Errors and Advice

1. Misinterpretation of Meaning

One common mistake when using the idiom lobo em pele de cordeiro is misinterpreting its meaning. It is crucial to understand that this expression refers to someone who appears harmless or innocent but has malicious intentions. Avoid confusing it with other idioms or phrases that convey a different message.

2. Incorrect Usage in Context

An error often made while employing the idiom lobo em pele de cordeiro is using it incorrectly within a specific context. To ensure accurate usage, consider the situation carefully and assess whether this phrase appropriately describes someone’s deceptive behavior or hidden agenda.


  1. Familiarize yourself with examples: Take time to study various instances where this idiom has been used correctly in Portuguese literature, conversations, or media sources. This will help you grasp its proper application in different contexts.
  2. Consult native speakers: If unsure about how to use the idiom accurately, seek guidance from native Portuguese speakers who can provide insights into its correct usage and offer practical examples.
  3. Practice through dialogue: Engage in conversations or role-plays where you can incorporate the idiom “lobo em pele de cordeiro” appropriately. This will help you gain confidence and ensure its correct usage in real-life situations.

By avoiding these common mistakes and following the provided advice, you can effectively incorporate the Portuguese idiom lobo em pele de cordeiro into your language repertoire, enhancing your understanding of its meaning and application.

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