Pois há menos peixinhos a nadar no mar
Do que os beijinhos que eu darei na sua boca
Dentro dos meus braços os abraços
hão de ser milhões de abraços
Apertado assim, colado assim, calado assim,
Abraços e beijinhos e carinhos sem ter fim
de saudade, Vinicius de Moraes
Quot linguas calles, tot
V, Holy Roman Emperor
Cada lingua é
um mundo diferente, cada lingua é o mundo inteiro
Flusser, Língua e realidade
Every nation constructs
its identity around certain shared values, creates itself by acknowledging
what its peculiar vices and virtues are, by the belief that those vices and
virtues are not present (or at least not to such a degree) in other countries.
This superlativist view of things finds its perfect poetic expression in the
famous "Song of Exile" by the Brazilian poet Gonçalves Dias
(1823-1864), the second strophe of which sings
Nosso céu tem
Nossas várzeas têm mais flores,
Nossos bosques têm mais vida,
Nossa vida mais amores.
Our sky has more stars,
Our meadows more flowers
Our woods have more life,
Our life has more loves.
It is worth noting that
the culmination here is mais amores, because fundamental to the Brazilians
view of themselves is the idea that Brazilians are warmer, more loving, more
friendly, more simpatico, more passionate in love-making, more connected to
(And the necessary correlate
of this is that other nations, particularly the United States, are lacking
in precisely these areas.)
as it is used in Rio de Janeiro, is notably full of expressions of intimacy,
of relatedness, and even the way that Cariocas use personal pronouns
tends to blur personal boundaries. The Brazilian way of being has shaped the
language that is used to express that being, and the language in turn enables
expressions of intimacy to be shared in Brazilians' interpersonal space.
Simply the act of speaking
this language for a non-native makes possible the performance of a new personality,
a new person with new possibilities, in the same way that even the sound of
a speaker's voice alters in shaping vowels and combinations that are not present
in another tongue.
This notion is found in
proverbs and dicta from many countries, dating back at least as far as the
saying attributed to the multi-lingual Charles V. Different languages have
different expressive possibilities, and the romance languages seem to have
a particular gift for romance.
Greetings and Farewells
(Encontros e Despedidas)
In the physical sphere,
these points of transition for Brazilians are almost always marked by touch,
whether handshakes, pats, embraces, kisses. Verbally the Brazilian is also
creating and renewing intimacy here as well.
Some styles of greeting:
E aí, mermão,
beleza? Tudo bem? Tudo jóia?1
is Carioca for meu irmão, my brother. This may be used
for one who is an acquaintance, a friend whose name you can't recall at the
moment, or simply a stranger on the street. Cris Dias (in her blog at www.crisdias.com)
tells us that alternatives here are maluco, or figura for a
male; cara (lit. face, fig. guy), is also possible.
Two women greeting each
other may use "querida", "linda", "menina"
(dear, pretty, little girl). The feminine form of mermão does
exist (mermã), but it is much less commonly used. A child or
adolescent who addresses a person of their parent's generation who is a stranger
will most likely greet them as tio, tia (uncle, aunt). The assumption
in Rio is that life is beautiful (beleza), that things are going well
(bem), that life is joy (jóia) (though it is possible
to greet someone with the neutral como vai? (how's it going?)
Some Styles of Leave-Taking
A farewell, if not in
person (i.e. on the phone, by instant messaging, by mail or email) will almost
always include an expression of intention to see the friend again soon (até
mais, até já, até logo, see you soon, see you again
right away, see you soon), an expression of the corporal affection that would
be non-verbal in person (um beijo, beijos, beijinhos, mil beijos, um abraço,
abração, a kiss, kisses, little kisses, a thousand kisses,
a hug, a big hug), and finally tchau (borrowed from the Italian, and
unlike the practice in Italy, used only in farewell, not in greeting). The
verbal expression is gender-marked in the same way as the physical affection,
so that men will hug men (abração), but not kiss, women
will kiss women, and men will kiss women.
Terms of Endearment
The Carioca has
a wide range of possibilities in choosing to express relationship with another
Carioca. In addition to the uncles, aunts, and brothers mentioned above,
the city is full of potential children, as it is common for a friend, or even
a stranger, to address another as "minha filha", "meu filho"
(my daughter, my son).
This is independent of
age as well: it is quite possible for a daughter to address her mother this
way. It is usually used in the context of giving advice, talking seriously
about something, admonishing (olha, vou te contar, quero
lhe dizer, look, let me tell you, I want to tell you2).
Another very common endearment
is nega, nego, neguinha, neguinho (black, blackie), which, perhaps
surprisingly to United States ears, is independent of skin color. It is most
commonly used with the possessive (e.g. minha nega), as it is found
in the title of the famous samba by Paulinho da Viola ("Coisas do mundo,
minha nega" - The world is like that, honey). Here the force of
the endearment is something like "honey, sweetie" in English, and
unlike the previous endearment, is never used in a scolding or reproving way.
The range of expressions
used to express affection for the opposite sex, whether in the context of
a love relationship or not, is almost infinite, and almost always focusing
on the attractiveness and desirability of the person being addressed.
Here, of course, there
is the possibility of overstepping the line, expressing too much intimacy,
but that line is at a different place than in American culture. The most commonly
used expression is gata, gato, gatinha, gatinho, gatão (all
forms of "cat"), used to mean someone who is attractive (in English,
a "babe' (women) or a "hunk" (men)).
Gata, gato are
unmarked as far as age is concerned; gatinha (the diminutive form)
is generally used for adolescent girls in the third person, but as term of
endearment it can be used for older women as well. Gatinho seems to
be almost as common as the feminine form. Gatão is fairly common
(there is a famous comic strip called Gatão de meia-idade, "Middle-aged
Also frequent are the
various forms of lindo/a, bonito/a (handsome, pretty), and also
gostoso/a (literally, tasty, but in its figurative use so sexual that
it can only be used with great care; in other words, something that might
lead to a slap in the face for the male who used it unwisely).
Diminutives and Augmentatives
The use of the diminutive
forms (inho, inha) is pervasive in Brazilian Portuguese, almost always with
an affectionate and familiar tone. They can be used to modify seemingly unexpected
(to American ears) nouns and adjectives, to give the conversation a more homey,
intimate feeling (e.g. leve, levinha "light, nice and light",
cheirosinha "nice and fragrant".
They are ubiquitous with
names (not so different from what obtains in the US, of course) as a way to
create intimacy. One notable difference in names, in addition to this, is
in fact the use of the first name of the addressee even in situations demanding
respect (e.g. the President of Brazil is Fernando Henrique or Lula in public
discourse, not Cardoso or Silva), in addition to the perhaps more understandable
use of the first name for musical figures or sports icons (Caetano, Chico,
Ronaldinho, Ronaldinho Gaúcho).
Almost anything can receive
the diminutive treatment (um chopp, um choppinho, a draft beer,
the latter not being a small draft, but a "nice beer"), and for
many things in Brazilian life, the diminutive form has become the standard
(um cafezinho, a little coffee, though here the cup really is
small; uma caipirinha, a potent drink of cachaça and
lime juice, named for the caipira or backwoodsman, here the diminutive
not for it size but the "friendly" quality of the potion; um
chorinho, a frequent version of the name of the choro, a form of
Brazilian popular music.)
The use of the augmentative
can also express intimacy, though here sometimes mixed with a certain respect.
The musician who plays chorinho, if he is a master of his trade, is
a chorão (though literally this would be a "big crybaby").
A man can be lindão, gatão, even gostosão,
and as one might expect, these augmentatives are more frequent in for the
male than for the female.
In Brazil the Godfather
from the movie series did not become padrinho (a diminutive form for
the relationship denoted by godfather in English, and hence connoting familiarity,
friendliness) but rather O Poderoso Chefão ("the Powerful
Membership and Belonging
The cordial Brazilian
is far more likely to define himself in terms of relationship to a social
group or groups than the individualistic and often isolated American. A Carioca
can be a member of a torcida (a group of fans for a particular team;
for someone to be part of the torcida do Flamengo means that they share
some trait with the multitude); root for or march with a samba school or bloco;
and almost every Carioca has a turma, a "gang" of
fellow students or just colleagues or friends.
tends to use an impersonal third person form in which the referent can be
vague. This is a gente (lit. "the people"), where the implicit
meaning is something between "me", "we", "the gang".
For example, a website may say fale com a gente "talk with us",
or a common phrase refers to gente como a gente "people like us".
It is certainly true that
who "we" is can be open to interpretation and negotiation. But for
a gente this seems to be even more the case. The third person equivalent
is as pessoas, literally "the people," but colloquially "they",
and again the referent is not quite as demonstrative as eles or elas
(which, etymologically speaking, come from the forms pointing out "those
over there" in Latin.
The whole effect is blur
who is in and who is out, so that the boundaries are more permeable, with
less of a clear distinction between "me" and "you" or
"us" and "them". Perhaps it is not so surprising that
the motto on the website for the Brazilian federal government is um país
para todos, "a country for all".
Finally, and perhaps entering
on treacherous ground here, the level and nature of sexual and sexualized
banter among homosocial and heterosocial groups is notably higher than is
usually the case in North American culture, another facet of Carioca
society and language that tends to create and express a greater level of intimacy.
Sexual metaphors are quite
common in normal (if not in formal) discourse. Tesão is properly
used for sexual tension (me da tesão, "it turns me on"),
but can be used by extension for almost anything that is excitingmusic,
clothes, and so forth.
illicit or non-standard sexual behavior) was, until fairly recent, sexual
enough that it was shocking for polite conversation; now the metaphorical
meaning (something that is offensive, immoral and so forth has come to dominate).
Sacanear is to
do something especially to irritate someone. Some one who is safado/a
is lewd; but the addition of the diminutive can make this a positive quality
("she's lewd, but I mean that in the good sense of the word
A well-known song lists
the qualities of the girlfriend the singer is looking for: bonitinha, cheirosinha,
bem safadinha "pretty, smells nice, very nice and lewd"the
last is almost impossible to translate into English.
For the same reason the
various parts of the body which are unmentionable in polite conversation are
often softened by diminutives, losing some of their taboo quality and power,
and gaining intimacy.
To paraphrase Paulo Rónai,
the translator is one who interprets one culture to another; and to follow
Vilem Flusser, quoted at the top, each language is a different world, an entire
world. I hope that the observations above give a small window into an aspect
of the different world that is Brazilian Portuguese.
"Se é um papo entre dois homens os velhos truques
de chamar o outro de "maluco", "mermão", "figura"
e outros adjetivos do tipo sempre cai bem". http://www.crisdias.com/weblog/,
entry of April 14, 2004. Accessed April 16, 2004.
2 An example
where an actual daughter is reporting her father's speech, using several of
these in combination with minha filha (Olha minha filha, eu só
quero te dizer
)can be found in the interview with Miss Brazil 2002,
Michelle Siqueira at http://www.acheiusa.com/arquivo/0045/achei-colunistas-nmartinez.html.
Accessed April 16, 2004.
Tom Moore has been fascinated by the language and culture of Brazil
since 1994. He translates from Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and
German, and is also active as a musician. He is the librarian for music,
modern languages and media at The College of New Jersey. Comments welcome