February 15, 2010

Portuguese Expression: "Cair a Ficha"

1965 duas tribos Originally uploaded by cavern club
Used with permission by photographer

Caiu a ficha
is a very common slang which literally means for a 'the token dropped'. It means something like 'it dawned on me/someone', 'it clicked', 'I/someone got it' to start understanding something that may have taken a while to understand:

O professor explicou várias vezes o problema eu não entendia. Quando ele finalmente mostrou um exemplo, caiu a ficha.
The teacher explained the problem several times and I didn't understand. When he finally showed an example, it clicked/ I got it.

It is often used in the sense of 'taking a hint':

Eu sempre digo que estou ocupada quando ele me convida para sair, mas mesmo assim não caiu a ficha que eu não quero sair com ele!
I always say that I am busy when he asks me out, but even then, he hasn't gotten it yet!

The source of the expression becomes a little clearer if you know a little bit about Brazilian public phones. These are known as orelhão, litererally 'big ear' because of their shape (see the picture above by cavern club... can you see how it is kind of shaped like an ear?).

Back in the day, to make a call on a public phone, you needed to buy a phone token (we didn't get to use quarters like here... maybe because of the inflation, they would probably have had to change the phones too often to accept different shaped coins!). When you placed a call the token would stay up towards the top of the phone until someone picked up on the receiving end. When they picked up, the token would drop into the phone (at that point you could not get it back).

Caiu a ficha?

P.s.: I just got told that they have the same expression in hebrew! Something like "the token fell" (nafal ha asimon).


  1. Fun! Thanks, Mitchell! So it seems to be a pretty common expression (so far in English, Hebrew and Portuguese).

  2. in spanish we have the exact expression, and with the same meaning... "cayó la ficha".


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