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In English there is a saying, to throw the baby out with the bath water. It is used to describe an action that goes too far, to the point that good things are taken away along with the bad. See Wikipedia.

For example, someone who wants to lose weight might not be eating enough, and a concerned friend might say:

You shouldn't eat a lot of unhealthy food, but don't throw the baby out with the bath water -- you still need to eat something.

What is an equivalent Portuguese expression for this?

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"to throw the baby out with the bath water" is used to suggest an avoidable error in which something good is eliminated when trying to get rid of something bad" - Wikipedia

I have two suggestions and, depending on context, either or both may fit.

If your friend is on a starvation diet, you should tell them

IN ENGLISH - "The difference between medicine and poison is in the dose."

e.g. "Ouça, a diferença entre o remédio e o veneno está na dose. Se você puser mais fermento na massa, vai estragar tudo."

Dosis sola facit venenum (Paracelsus, dritte defensio, 1538)

The second one...

IN ENGLISH (literally) - "to try to kill a fly with a cannon-ball."

Here it means "to use as a solution something much more destructive than the problem itself. The problem could be dealt with using something much smaller.

e.g. "Esse antibiótico é forte demais para a sua infecção e tem alguns efeitos colaterais indesejáveis. Seria tentar matar uma mosca com uma bala de canhão.

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The English idiom throw the baby out with the bathwater has no well-known equivalent or even near equivalent in Portuguese, and to my knowledge no little known equivalent either. This includes Centaurus’ suggestions, which do not work in typical, actual examples where the idiom is used.

Some passages using the idiom could be rewritten using “é pior a cura que a doença,” (the cure is worse than the disease), which is similar to a suggestion in a deleted answer, or “meter tudo no mesmo saco” (put all in the same bag). These are by no means equivalent to “throw the baby with the bath water, but in some cases the whole passage could be rewritten and preserve the overall meaning.

On the other hand, the literal translation is readily understood and sounds really good. And there is nothing wrong with translations. After all, the English idiom is itself a translation from the German “das Kind mit dem Bade ausschütten,” which entered the English language in 1849 only. The translation requires different verbs for Portugal and Brazil:

(ptPT) Não deites fora o bebé com a água do banho.

(ptBR) Não jogues fora o bebê com a água do banho.

You can say that a Portuguese expression is a good or passable equivalent to an English one only if you test it against actual usage. That's what I do next. The BBC has a short programme dedicated to the idiom:, in the form of a dialogue between Finn and Feifei:

Finn: Sorry! 'Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater' is an English idiom which means: 'don't lose something valuable while we're getting rid of something else that we don't want'. So I was talking about your job, Feifei. Just because you find it stressful – that's the thing you don't want – don't stop completely and lose what's valuable.
Fefei: Ah, I see. So you think my job gives me satisfaction, in spite of the long hours in the office… so I shouldn't give it up.

Finn: Peço desculpa ‘Não deites fora o bebé com a água do banho’ é (a tradução de) uma expressão idiomática inglesa que significa: ‘não percas algo valioso ao tentar livrar-te de algo que não desejas.’ Portanto eu estava a falar do teu trabalho, Feifei. Só porque o achas stressante — que é a coisa que não desejas — não desistas por completo, perdendo o que é valioso.
Feifei: Ah, estou a ver. Tu achas que o meu trabalho me dá satisfação, apesar do longo dia no escritório… portanto eu não deveria despedir-me.

In this case, forgetting the aim of explaining the English idiom, we could rewrite the passage with "the cure is worse than the disease” while sort of conveying the same idea:

Eu sei que achas o teu trabalho stressante. Mas se te despedires, será pior a cura que a doença, porque sentirás a falta de um trabalho que apesar de tudo te dá muita satisfação.

However the cure-and-disease does not convey by itself the ideal o losing something valuable. This has to be explained (se te despedires... porque sentirás a falta). So I do much prefer the straight translation.

In the example above it sounds as though Feifei cannot have the job without the stress, so the suggestion is to put up with the bathwater because the baby is worth it. In the following BBC examples there is a suggestion that you can get rid of the bathwater and keep the baby:

I know you don't like the dress, but I think if you make a few changes to it, it will look lovely. It's such beautiful material. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Sei que não gostas desse vestido, mas eu acho que se fizeres umas alterações, ele ficará lindo. É um tecido maravilhoso. Não deites fora o bebé com a água do banho.

Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. I know the wallpaper is ugly, but this is a lovely house. We can always redecorate.

Não deites fora o bebé com a água do banho. Eu sei que o papel de parede é feio, mas a casa é ótima. Nós podemos sempre redecorá-la.

Here the cure-and-disease idiom would not work at all. Foregoing a potentially nice dress or house can be seen as metaphorically throwing out a baby, but hardly as a cure for the ugly wallpaper or whatever she does not like in the dress. The examples above were crafted by the BBC for educational purposes. Real-life examples need a lot of context. This is an example from the Washington Post:

Despite the flaws of today’s tests, we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I don’t believe that the problems of assessing student growth are so unsolvable that we should take a pass on measuring growth (…) Standardized assessments are still a needed tool for transparency and accountability across the entire education system.

Apesar dos defeitos dos testes atuais, não podemos deitar fora o bebé com a água do banho. Não acredito que os problemas na avaliação do desenvolvimento dos estudantes sejam tão insolúveis que devamos abdicar da avaliação desse desenvolvimento (…) Avaliações padronizadas são apesar de tudo um instrumento necessário para a transparência e responsabilização no sistema educativo.

Here the cure-and-disease might just work, but again I prefer the translation:

Os testes atuais têm defeitos. Mas se abolirmos os testes, será pior a cura que a doença. Avaliações padronizadas são apesar de tudo um instrumento necessário para a transparência e responsabilização no sistema educativo.

The following example is about British retailer John Lewis’ TV advert trying to raise awareness of loneliness in old age by portraying an old man as a lonely man on the moon:

So yes, while I agree that not all older people are like the ‘man in the moon’, to dismiss John Lewis’ advert on those terms feels like throwing the baby out with the bathwater: loneliness in later life is the reality and a significant concern for many older people, and for that reason, one small step from a retailer to raise awareness could become a giant leap for humankind.

Sim, eu concordo que nem todos os idosos são como o ‘homem na lua’, mas ignorar o anúncio do John Lewis por esse motivo é como deitar fora o bebé com a água do banho: solidão na velhice é uma realidade e uma preocupação significativa para muitos idosos, e por essa razão um pequeno passo dum retalhista para nos consciencializar poderá tornar-se num salto gigantesco para a humanidade.

I don’t think the cure-and-disease works here, so I won’t even try. The following example is about workplace wellness programmes:

We agree that there are unscrupulous wellness vendors who claim very large and often implausible savings from worksite health promotion programs. (…) At the same time, I believe it would be wrong to “throw out the baby with the bath water.” In this case, the “baby” refers to well-designed, evidence-based (…) and well-executed worksite health promotion programs.

Concordamos que existem vendedores sem escrúpulos de wellness que afirmam que os programas de saúde no local de trabalho oferecem ganhos enormes, frequentemente implausíveis. (…) No entanto, estou convicto que seria um erro “deitar fora o bebé com a água do banho.” Neste caso, o bebé refere-se a programas de saúde bem concebidos, cientificamente comprovados (…) e bem implementados.

In this case the all-in-a-bag idiom works:

Concordamos que existem vendedores sem escrúpulos de wellness que afirmam que os programas de saúde no local de trabalho oferecem ganhos enormes, frequentemente implausíveis. (…) No entanto, estou convicto que seria um erro pôr todos os programas no mesmo saco, porque se perderiam os programas de saúde bem concebidos, cientificamente comprovados (…) e bem implementados.

In this case we have good programmes and bad programmes, so it is a matter of discriminating between the good and the bad, i.e. refraining from putting them all in the same bag. In all the other examples there was a single thing with good and bad features, and it was difficult or impossible to have the good without the bad. That is why the all-in-a-bag would not work.

Lastly, there is a Portuguese idiom that works very well in the OP’s example, but only because this is not typical usage of the baby-and-bathwater idiom. Despite the reference to unhealthy food, the example suggests someone going from eating too much to eating too little. Then the Portuguese expression “nem oito nem oitenta,” fits like a glove:

You shouldn't eat a lot of unhealthy food, but don't throw the baby out with the bath water – you still need to eat something.

Não devias comer tanta coisa pouco saudável, mas nem oito nem oitenta — tens que comer alguma coisa.

Of course, nem oito nem oitenta (neither eight nor eighty, with the implicit implication that this is to be avoided) is only about a happy middle between the extremes. The baby-and-bathwater idiom applies typically not to avoiding extremes but about a difficulty of separating good and bad. So the 8-or-80 does not work at all in typical usage to the baby-and-bathwater idiom.

  • to throw the baby out with the bathwater actually means: acabar com tudo. – Lambie Nov 19 '18 at 20:22
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neither of those work well, unfortunately. it's a tough one, I would still say "não coloques tudo a perder"

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    When you write "neither of those work well", what two things are you referring to? – ANeves Nov 16 '18 at 11:27
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    Also, I would explain in your answer the meaning of the expression you suggest, or if it means the same as "to throw the baby out with the bath water" then why it does mean the same. Take a look at the answer from Centaurus, that one is a good example of what I mean. Your answer would be better, more solid, if you included that explanation. :) – ANeves Nov 16 '18 at 11:30
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agir precipitadamente, não pensar nas consequências de uma ação

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    Seja bem-vindo Francisco! Este site, apesar de dedicado ao idioma português, atrai também pessoas que não tem fluência nele. Por uma questao de etiqueta, se a pergunta foi feita em inglês, pede-se que a resposta também o seja, de maneira que o questionador possa entender sua contribuição. Podes versar sua resposta para a língua inglesa? – gmauch Mar 24 '17 at 10:27
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    Benvindo à comunidade, Francisco! :) Paralelamente à sugestão do gmauch eu sugeria também que explicasses, na tua resposta: de que maneira é que as expressões que sugeres são equivalentes ou parecidas à do perguntador; e exemplos de uso. Aí a tua resposta ficaria bem mais sólida e valiosa. – ANeves Nov 16 '18 at 11:35

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