Category Archives: Language

Brazilian songs interpreted by Dietrich, Marx Brothers – and Josh Groban

Marlene Dietrich sings “Luar do Sertão” (by Catulo da Paixão Cearense and, maybe also, João Pernambuco) with a German twist. To die for.

“Mamãe eu Quero”, a classic marchinha de Carnaval, sang in indoor balls for decades, here interpreted by the histrionic Marx Brothers. This song full of innuendo, famous thanks to Carmen Miranda, says: “Mommy, I want to nurse. Give [me] the pacifier so the baby won’t cry”.

Finally, “Você Existe em Mim” (You exist in me), by Carlinhos Brown and Lester Mendez, sang by Josh Groban. Sorry for the introductory ads.

Continue reading Brazilian songs interpreted by Dietrich, Marx Brothers – and Josh Groban

30 words that separate Brazil from Portugal


Photo by JorgeBRAZIL/Flickr, taken in Rio

You spend a few years in Portugal and then disembark in Brazil – just to learn you cannot communicate with the locals.

England and America are two countries separated by a common language – said the oft quoted George Bernard Shaw. The same is true for Brazil and its colonizer, Portugal. Only, the gap gets worse in the Portuguese speaking world. Several European Portuguese versions of common words have sexual connotations in Brazil. In fact, as my American husband noted, most words have, in a way or another, a sexual connotation in Brazil. Go figure.
Anyway, here is a little commented dictionary of concepts that are named in different ways in both sides of the Atlantic. The first column refers to the meaning in English; the second offers a version in so-called “Português de Portugal”, while the third column is its “translation” into “Português do Brasil”. It begins, of course, with the spiciest ones, more prone to foment jokes and misunderstandings.


1 – little box / boceta / caixinha

OK, I never heard any Portuguese using this one – so it might be an urban legend. In Brazil, boceta is, as you may know, the street name for the feminine genitals.

2 – line, queue / bicha / fila

This is not a myth – I heard uncountable Portuguese friends say something like “peguei uma bicha“, which means “I stayed in line”, while  in Brazil it indicates that you had sex with a gay man. Even the most mature among us, Brazilians, burst into laughter when they hear this one.

3 – panties / cueca / calcinha

This is another wonderful difference. Cueca is female underwear in Portugal and male underwear in Brazil. Think of the many vaudevillian situations that can result.

4 – injection / pica / injeção

Once again, a perfectly innocent Portuguese word is corrupted by Brazilians. Pica, as you may know, is a pretty ugly name for the playground of the masculine body.

5 – boy / puto / menino

One more example of bizarre linguistic divergence. Puto in Brazil might refer to a male prostitute (although normally you would hear another word, michê). Or you might bump into the expression “estou puto da vida” (I am pissed).

Continue reading 30 words that separate Brazil from Portugal

Is “gringo” an insult?

Mural in NYC by rollingrck/ Flickr

One thing you should know before answering this question: Brazilians tend to call any foreigner gringo, not only Americans, especially if they have fair skin. Sometimes, even Indonesians or Thais are called that way, but generally gringoness is a package that includes blue eyes and blond hair.
Personally, I have always used the word freely without perceiving there any political incorrectness. I don’t think many Brazilians think of the word gringo as an insult – unless you are in some very specific niche that might use “Gringoes, go home!” as a call to arms.
Nevertheless, a couple of times, while abroad, I employed the word and the recipient end of the nickname seemed unconfortable. In one specific case, I called my then boyfriend, a blond Mexican born in Argentina, “mi gringuito”. He denied me his love for a few hours.

More recently, discussing Bebel Gilberto’s music with an American friend, I said that, despite its qualities, this is Brazilian music for export, produced for gringos and it didn’t work that well for me. She didn’t seem particularly pleased either.

Did I commit a faux-pas? What is your opinion? This question is particularly directed to those among you that are foreign expatriates in Brazil. Can I call you gringos?

My own conclusion – from now on, I will use it only while I am in Brazil. Just in case.

If you liked this post, you might also like 20 best tips if you are visiting or moving to Brazil and 5 faux-pas in the land of laissez-faire.

Brazilian Babel

Baré indians in the Cuieiras river, in the Amazon/photo by Daniel Zanini

by Sylvia Estrella*

You may be under the impression – like most people – that Portuguese is the only language spoken in Brazil. In fact, 0.5% of the population (around 750,000 people) are native speakers of 200 other languages, including the indigenous ones.
According to Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), a non-profit that has the best statistics on the country’s native population, the 225 remaining Brazilian ethnic groups speak 180 different languages. A few Native groups abandoned their original languages and embraced other languages, such as Portuguese and French Creole (spoken in neighboring French Guyana).
Some of the Native languages remain relatively strong and are spoken by over 20,000 people. On the other hand, some are vanishing and are used by less than a couple dozen individuals. Continue reading Brazilian Babel

So you think you understand Portuguese?

Check these two short videos.

The first shows an ice-cream salesman in Praia do Futuro, a beach of Fortaleza, one of the main cities of the Northeast region (seen before on Eyes on Brazil).

The second is a scene of a classic Brazilian movie – “Tristeza do Jeca“. Jeca, the character interpreted by Amácio Mazzaropi in several movies between the fifties and the eighties, is a caricature of the caipira, the illiterate guy from the countryside of São Paulo. In this scene, Jeca is visited by the sons of the landowner,  and we can see the contrast between two worlds and two expressions of the Portuguese language.

Continue reading So you think you understand Portuguese?