Category Archives: Language

Pearls of Brazilian humor

MillorBrazil has its own share of great aphorisms, those witty, funny, sometimes mean little phrases that prove human nature is not kind, but still quite ingenious.

Here is a small selection for your delight. Please, feel free to suggest better translations.

Vinícius de Moraes (poet, Bossa Nova composer, diplomat) – Whisky is the man’s best friend. It’s a bottled dog / O uísque é o melhor amigo do homem. É o cachorro engarrafado.

Stanislaw Ponte Preta –  Among the three best things in life, the second is eating and the first is sleeping / Das três melhores coisas da vida, a segunda é comer, a primeira é dormir.

The prosperity of some Brazilian public men is evident proof that they fight for the progress of our under development / A prosperidade de alguns homens públicos brasileiros é uma prova evidente de que eles vêm lutando pelo progresso de nosso subdesenvolvimento.

Esperanto is a universal language that is spoken nowhere / Esperanto é a língua universal que não se fala em lugar nenhum.

The Sun raises for everybody. Shade only for the smart. / O Sol nasce para todos. A sombra para quem é mais esperto.

Max Nunes – Men would lie way less if women asked less questions. / Os homens mentiriam muito menos se as mulheres fizessem menos perguntas.

Carlito Maia – Brazil? Fraud explains. / Brasil? Fraude explica.

Jô Soares (humorist, stand up pioneer, writer and TV show host) – A medical committee is a meeting organized by  doctors in the last moments of our lives to decide on how do share the blame. / Junta médica é uma reunião que os médicos fazem nos últimos momentos da nossa vida para dividir a culpa.

He was such an evil boy that he only became a radiologist because he wanted to see other people’s skulls. / Era um menino tão mau que só se tornou radiologista para ver a caveira dos outros.

Barão de Itararé – A poor man only eat chicken when one of them is sick. / Pobre só come galinha quando um dos dois está doente.

It is not sad to change ones mind. What is sad it’not having a mind to change. / Não  é triste mudar de idéia. Triste é não ter idéias para mudar.

Millôr Fernandes – Quem se mata de trabalhar merece mesmo morrer.

Democracia é quando eu mando em você. Ditadura é quando você manda em mim.

Quem mata o tempo não é assassino, é suicida.

Tim Maia – Comecei uma dieta: cortei a bebida e as comidas pesadas e em quatorze dias perdi duas semanas.

Carlos Drummond de Andrade – A minha vontade é forte, mas a minha disposição de obedecer-lhe é fraca.

Nelson Rodrigues – O marido não deve ser o último a saber. Ele não deve saber nunca.

Tragicomic film translations

a mulher que morreu duas vezes“Vertigo”, the Hitchcock masterpiece with James Stuart and Kim Novak, had its title translated as “A Mulher que Viveu Duas Vezes” (The Woman that Lived Twice) in Portugal – a massive, humongous spoiler. Also, I heard more than once that Portuguese christened “Psycho”, another Hitchcock’s, as “O Assassino era a Mãe” (The Killer was the Mother), an even worse spoiler, but I suspect this one is pure urban legend.

Ah, the bizarre mistranslations cinephiles have to endure!  These are my two favorites:

  • At some point, in the Spanish version o “Pixote”, the 1980s Brazilian classic about homeless kids, someone says that one of the children’s mom lives “en la sombrereria” (a literal translation of “na casa do chapéu“, an expression that means “really, really far away” in Portuguese). So, the translator understood that the lady lived in a hat shop. Later, in the same movie, a transvestite boy asks the main character if he thinks they might have a better future. In the original, Pixote says, no, we are doomed, while in the subtitles he says something like: “sure, Lilica, I am sure we will have a bright future”. This one was certainly a volontary mistranslation that intended to give the scene a more cheerful tone.
  • In the Brazilian translation of “Au Revoir les Enfants”, by Louis Malle, a war story where a Jewish boy hides in a French boarding school, another kid offers him a ham sandwich which the Jewish boy refuses. “Jambon” (ham in French) was translated as “geléia” (jam), destroying the logic of the scene. Continue reading Tragicomic film translations

Brazilian tongue twisters

In the Brazilian version of the movie My Fair Lady, when Eliza Doolittle is obliged to recite torturing tongue twisters to improve her accent, she repeats: “O rei de Roma ruma a Madrid” (The king of Rome goes to Madrid, while, in the original, she says that the rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain).

Tongue twisters – trava línguas, in Portuguese – are the ultimate test for those trying to perfect their pronunciation in any language.

Can you win these challenges?

  • Olha o sapo dentro do saco/ O saco com o sapo dentro,/ O sapo batendo papo/ E o papo soltando o vento.
  • O peito do pé de Pedro é preto.
  • Um tigre, três tigres, três tigres.
  • Em um ninho de mafagafos havia sete mafagafinhos;/ quem desmafagafar mais mafagafinhos, bom desmagafanhador será.
  • A aranha arranha a rã./ A rã arranha a aranha./ Nem a aranha arranha a rã./ Nem a rã arranha a aranha.
  • Debaixo da pia tem um pinto,/ enquanto a pia pinga, o pinto pia,/ quanto mais a pia pinga,/ mais o pinto pia.
  • Alô, o tatu tá aí?/ Não, o tatu não tá, mas a mulher do tatu tando, é a mesma coisa que o tatu tá!

Here, the characters of Cocoricó, a great children’s TV program, sing a bunch of tongue twisters. Try to follow them:


Read also these posts: Learn Portuguese for free online, 30 words that separate Brazil from Portugal, The best Brazilian insults and So you think you understand Portuguese.

Brazil, Indiana

Brazil Indiana
Old postcard found by Postcardy blog

Jimmy Hoffa, the trade union leader that mysteriously disappeared in the mid-seventies, was born in Brazil – which has less than 8,000 inhabitants, 97% White. Brazil is ruled by Emperor Brad Gates, despite his name, a Democrat. Local families are quite rich, have a median income of $37,569, thanks to a bunch of small mechanical industries.

This is not a parallel universe – Hoffa was really born in Brazil, a tiny town in the state of Indiana, in the American Midwest. In the 1840s, the owners of the farm that originated the city decided to adopt the name of a country that was frequently mentioned by local newspapers (God knows why).

One of the few things in Brazil, Indiana that might remind you of the South American country is Chafariz dos Contos, a fountain donated by the Brazilian government as a token of friendship in 1956. It is a replica of a baroque fountain of same name, built in Ouro Preto in 1745.

The best Brazilian insults


Time for some political incorrectness, folks.

Is there a way of cursing, of insulting someone in Brazil without losing your elegance? If you are a classy fellow, why don’t you promote one of these fine, vaguely obscure traditional bad words? There is a good chance the audience and maybe even your victim will enjoy your creative  insult repertoire.

My personal favorites:

1) Maracujá de gaveta – used against someone old (that also looks old). Literally it means “passion fruit in a drawer”. This tropical fruit gets really wrinkled after its due date – or if forgotten in some kitchen drawer. Ok, it is ageist. But it is oh-so-delicious.  Continue reading The best Brazilian insults

Brazil national bird, flower, holiday, anthem…

Sabiá-laranjeira photographed by the great Bart van Dorp/Flickr
Sabiá-laranjeira photographed by the great Bart van Dorp/Flickr

Ever wonder what’s Brazil national…


You might think it is the blue macaw or the toucan. In fact, sabiá-laranjeira (Turdus rufiventris or, in English, rufous-bellied thrush) became the official national bird in 2002 thanks to a presidential decree.

It was probably chosen because of a famous 19th century chauvinist poem by Gonçalves Dias, Canção do Exílio (The Exile Song), that says: “Minha terra tem palmeiras/Onde canta o sabiá/As aves que aqui gorgeiam/Não gorgeiam como lá” (My homeland has palm trees/ Where the thrush sings/ The birds that sing in here/ Do not sing as they do there). It was written when Dias was in Law school in Portugal.

Pay attention to his music – it may have different “accents” depending on the region where they live. In fact, sabiás can also imitate the voice of other bird species. Continue reading Brazil national bird, flower, holiday, anthem…

Durex is not a condom


Durex tape, a Brazilian classic

Once the consul of India told me that, when he first arrived in São Paulo, he was impressed by the popularity of Brahma, the Hindu god. It was everywhere – in outdoors, restaurants, supermarkets. People would ask him if he liked Brahma. Till he realized what it was about – just a beer brand whose name is also used to refer to any beer. Vicente Matheus, former president of Corinthians soccer team, known for his folkloric comments once thanked Antártica (another beer producer) for the brahminhas the industry offered the club to celebrate its victory.

Brahma’s example is not isolated. In Brazil, several products are named after popular commercial brands. A few days ago, Adam, from Eyes on Brazil blog, published the fun post Keep Calm and Stay Brazilian, where he describes an episode where he couldn’t remember how to ask for razor blades – gilete, said the supermarket cashier, after he sweated doing mimics and figuring possible names.

Now, ask an elder lady leaving the church on Sunday if she has some durex. Don’t worry, she won’t faint or call the cops. In many countries, this is a famous condom brand, but not in Brazil, where it is synonym of adhesive tape.

You could name many others:

  • modess – sanitary pads (a brand that, I understand, was abandoned by Johnson & Johnson’s)
  • xerox – photocopy
  • insulfilm – the film for car windshield
  • leite moça – condensed milk
  • nescau or toddy – chocolate milk
  • bombril – steel sponge
  • cândida – bleach (and also a nasty venereal disease)
  • maizena – corn flour
  • catupiry – a type of cheese used in pizzas and in  fried delicacies filling
  • knorr – industrialized broth
  • pó royal – baking powder
  • danone or danoninho – yogurt
  • bic – pen
  • miojo – instant lamen
  • lambreta – scooter
  • cotonete – cotton swab…

Do you remember others?



When famous people try to speak Portuguese

Sometimes I am so sorry for what stars have to do to please their crowds.

First, teen starlet Miley Cirus trying to sing in Portuguese.

Here, Daniel Radcliff (from Harry Potter fame), Britney Spears, Jennifer Aniston and many other artists are obliged to speak Portuguese by Brazilian reporters.

Learn Portuguese for free online

Text of "Grande Sertão, Veredas", by João Guimarães Rosa, one of the essential Brazilian literary masterpieces. Photo by Anderson Sutherland/Flickr

There are some 250 million Portuguese native speakers out there – can you communicate with them?

It is is, indeed, a crowd: 190 million in Brazil, 11 million in Portugal, 22.9 million in Mozambique and 18.5 million in Angola. It is also the main language of Cape Verde, Guiné-Bissau, São Tomé e Príncipe and East Timor. Plus, you can find big communities of Portuguese speakers in the US, Canada, Japan and several European countries. Finally, you might hear it, occasionally, in other former Portuguese colonies, such as Goa, in India, and Macao, in China.

You do the math. Well, I did it already for you:  one in every 28 people speaks the language.

Do you want to communicate with this slice of the world, learn about their lives and culture? If you have discipline and some spare time, you might want to check on the web. It offers some interesting free resources for those among you that want to learn or perfect your Portuguese.

I made a list of a few e-resources available: Continue reading Learn Portuguese for free online

“English as she is spoke” – the best Portuguese/English translation ever

“What news tell me? All hairs dresser are newsmonger” – a phrase that you could use to insult a barber.

“It is a noise which to cleve the head” – useful if you have to complain against the orchestra.

“Let aim it! Let make fire him” – good for hunters.

These pearls are part of the phrase-book “English as she is spoke”, written in 1855 by two Portuguese authors, José da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino. They (obviously) didn’t know any English and used Portuguese-to-French and French-to-English dictionaries to build their book. The unintentional humor was praised by (sarcastic) American writer Mark Twain, that wrote in the introduction of the 1883 edition: “it is perfect, it must and will stand alone: its immortality is secure. This celebrated little phrase-book will never die while the English language lasts”.

See some of its pages here:

Continue reading “English as she is spoke” – the best Portuguese/English translation ever