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English for Brazucas


English for Brazucas

Of the kitchen appliances, one is—or used
to be—more popular in Brazil than in America,
the
blender. Why does it have such horrible long
name in
Portuguese—liquidificador?
By Wilson Velloso

My son Daniel was born in Washington, D.C., but his first language was Portuguese. A very special Portuguese,
taught by his Hungarian mother, who never fully learned Portuguese: she just picked it up at the grocery stores, at the open
street markets (feiras), with our building janitor, Severino, and Brazilian friends and neighbors.

Up to 4 years of age, Dan showed an uncanny ability to make himself understood to speakers of French, German,
and Spanish. He engaged anybody with his babyish and tongue-twisting Portuguese, helped by graphic gestures and any
noise that seemed helpful to him. And when asked which language he was talking with new found kid friends, he would
answer categorically: "German, of course". Or French or Spanish.

In Brazil, France, Germany, and Peru he didn’t have the slightest difficulty conversing with boys and girls of his age
or a little older. His first problem came when he was enrolled in an American pre-kindergarten school patronized by a
number of diplomatic families. It was a veritable Babel but Dan tried making friends left and right.

One day, however, he came home and made a formal statement to his parents: "My father is Brazilian, my mother
is Hungarian, but I am an American—and don’t you forget it! Americans speak American! Let’s stop this foolishness of
speaking Portuguese." We agreed: it was time to change to his own country’s language.

He had to learn it the hard way, at school, both in class and in playtime. His mother didn’t help him much and I had
a time-consuming job, couldn’t teach him English. But Dan was clever enough to pass from one language to another,
although of course he made mistakes. And sometimes his schoolmates laughed at him.

Instead of being offended and hurt, he learned. Pretty soon he was teaching school terms to his parents. Here was a
guy with a great sense of humor and invention. And we had to put it up when he mocked
our accents. Obviously we had to imitate his attitude and laugh at ourselves too.

Although my family in Brazil had our own code word for human excrement, during a stay in Brazil Dan added
cocô to his vocabulary. In his school he quickly heard
poop and it became his term of choice. Don’t ask me why Americans use
this word, which originally means a popa, a superstructure at the stern of a ship, both as a verb and noun to describe waste.

Pipi was easy to transpose. Instead of saying the syllable twice, the kids—and almost everybody else—said
pee. At the time, Dan had no worries about spelling either in English, Portuguese or any other language. He just didn’t spell.

Baby talk (linguagem infantil) is full of mysteries. Children call stomach
(estômago) the entire region of the human
body from the neck down to the legs. More or less what a Brazilian would call
barriga (tummy). It has an imprecise sense and
a nice sound. But stomach, for heaven’s sake! Specially when a mother says: "When my baby was in my stomach…"
(What, did you devour your own child?)

Of course, it is silly to expect logic from language, specially from English, a true
mixórdia, or mishmosh, of Saxon,
Celt (pronounced kelt…), Latin, Greek, French, German, Italian, Venetian, Russian, Spanish… Even Portuguese is present
in the English dictionary with words like commando, mandarin, fetish
(from feitiço), ayah and others that the Portuguese
left in India and other parts of the Orient. More recent acquisitions are
pau d’arco and favela—identified as "a shantytown
close to a city."

In the everyday language, we sometimes encounter odd English terms, such as
St. John’s wort. Neither wart nor worth: just a somewhat archaic term for plant, herb. It translates as
erva de São João in Portuguese. Still in the vegetable
garden we find egg-plant that has nothing to do with birds. Brazilians call it
berinjela. In the UK the English say it in French,
aubergine. The rúcula, a vegetable introduced in Brazil by Italians, is called
arugula in English. And the pea that has nothing to
do with pee, but sounds the same, is
ervilha. Always ervilha both fresh and from a can or frozen. "Petits-poids" is a
completely unnecessary Gallicism, from the time we aped French, not English as today.

Range, a word of many meanings—serra
(mountains), the extent of ability or knowldege
(alcance do saber), the distance that a missile may reach
(alcance de fogo), a greographical region, a place for shooting at targets
(pista de tiro ao alvo)—in Brazilian is
fogão, big fire. A pot is an elastic term to describe a variety of
panelas, caçarolas, caldeiros, caldeirões.
It may also be a pote or vaso, made of clay, glass, or plastic. When used in the kitchen it becomes a
jar. Another common word for fogão
is stove.

Another kitchen utensil with many uses and sizes is the
pan, which also translates as panela,
etc. On a special type of pan, the frying
pan
, we make pancakes which Brazilians call
panquecas—a good adaptation and welcome enrichment
of the culinary arts idioms.

Of the kitchen appliances, one is—or used to be—more popular in Brazil than in America, the
blender. Why does it have such horrible long name in
Portuguese—liquidificador? Whoever invented the term had no idea of what a blender does.
It mixes and transforms fruit and vegetables in purées, not liquids. Besides, Portuguese has a perfect word to say "make
liquid"—liquar. If the people who invent new words in Brazil knew Portuguese better they would have chosen
liquador, pronounced licuador.

Why do Brazilians—who so love short English terms such as
cash, top, stop, run—accept such long words, which
often demonstrate ignorance and lack of imagination? They should stop screwing up their language and using common and
well-known words, like curtir, in the silly sense of
enjoy, perhaps only because it is short? They should run wide contests to
create new terms that describe new objects, techniques, methods.

Let’s take the American term gizmo.
Somebody came up with a hilarious parafuseta da
rebimboca. Funny, but much too long. Treco
is much better, is short, and may pack a lot of punch.

Wilson Velloso is a veteran Brazilian journalist who
describes himself as a jack of all trades, master of none. Having
begun to work as a boy (vending flowers and candles at a cemetery gate in
his hometown of São Paulo), he became a journalist and writer, earned
a living in Brazil, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Canada. He immigrated
to the U.S. in 1955, is an American citizen by choice, and often collaborates
with Brazzil. He can be reached, sometimes, at vewilson@3oaks.com

 

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