Another feature of English that often is a puzzle
to speakers of other languagesparticularly
Romance languagesis that in English a noun
may be used as an adjective
without any change in its spelling.
Like in most languages, in English the "tone" of a sentence indicates what it really means. The tone is a combination
of the volume and pitch of the voice, and emphasis on different parts of a sentence. Thus, in a sentence like the one in the
title, stress on get and much less stress on
out and here may indicate a friendly joke meaning approximately "Let me do it,
you can’t do it". It may also be a round-about way of saying "You don’t know what you are talking about" or "that just
cannot be!" In other words, it is not a hard expulsion.
The idea is to convey a meaning without risking offending the other person. Of course, much of it depends on the
degree of closeness between the two persons talking. A father, for instance, may say "Get the hell out of here!" to his son and
the son understands that it just a matter of emphasis. So in this sentence,
hell, instead of a curse, a really bad word, means
only now, right away.
Even a phrase like "son of bitch" can be used in a friendly, intimate way, and even as a term of endearment and
admiration. Once, Fortune magazine printed a story
(artigo) on a famous businessman then highly admired for his ability to
negotiate. It began with a big decorated A at the top of the page, opening the following line: " Son of a Bitch is what those
closest to him call Mr. X."
(Actually, in the São Paulo of the 30’s, among young reporters, newsmen, etc,
"filho da puta" was equally a term of
affection, reserved only to a few well-beloved friends. And that, 70 years ago, was nothing like the
"computerese" English invasion of today. It was sheer coincidence.)
English is also the champion language of the double meaning, thanks to its abundance of phonemessounds used
in wordsthat can be written in several different ways. Some are quite ancient, such as
cavalier, which means "a gallant,
refined fellow" but also "haughty"
(altivo), "full of himself" (cheio de
titica), and "contemptuous"
(desdenhoso). In the two meanings the word is the same, derived from
French cavalier, a well-dressed man of good taste and manners and "an armed
warrior", a "combatant," who by definition must be a rough individual.
But what is one to do when there are two
wordswritten exactly the same way but pronounced differentlywith
two extremely different meanings? If you think there is no such a thing, think again.
One such word is primer pronounced with a long A (praimer) meaning "a cap or fuse that triggers an explosion" and
"a first coat of painting, applied before the definitive coat." And
primer, pronounced with a short i, almost an EE, meaning
an elementary textbook (cartilha). And it is
cartilha in all its meanings, that is, a basic text on any subject of learning. Incidentally, primer in the first case is called
estopim in Portuguese.
Another feature of English that often is a puzzle to speakers of other languagesparticularly the Romance
languagesis that in English a noun may be used as an adjective
without any change in its spelling.
This causes a lot of confusion even among those who know English fairly well. Take the expression
public relations for instance. It means "relations with the public, with the costumer, with the user, the client, the patient, etc". Translating it
públicas" is a very common error in Brazil.
Among other things, public relations or PR may be a very discreet, very hush-hush activity, nothing
público about it. In some cases, the phrase may be used in "secret public relations" which is perfectly possible. How could it be
Relações Públicas secretas?
It may take the shape of a spokesman for a company to seek a private meeting with somebody who feels (justifiably)
a certain amount the anger against the company, may even consider taking the company to court
(processar a companhia). Since there is no interest on either party in advertising the misdeed or action that caused disgust, or the terms of a
negotiated accommodation (an acceptable although delicate explanation, a fair compensation, a non-pecuniary advantage, etc.) it
develops in a private place, out of sight, out of sound. Everybody isor should behappy and the public may never
learn of the incident.
A more trivial use of a noun, or even a name, as an adjective, may be the title of an organization, a newspaper, a
periodical publication. But a great number of Latin Americans don’t know that, so they can construct phrases like this:
"Sorry, but the Los Angeles is late today." They mean the newspaper
Los Angeles Times. This may create confusion
because there are several publications whose title begins with Los Angeles, or Chicago, or Miami, or Boston. In Portuguese, the
title would be something like O Estado de Minas, O Estado de S. Paulo
and it would be perfectly acceptable to omit the
name of the town. "O Estado está atrasado
In parenthesis, I wish to thank a reader for pointing out a geographical and political error of mine in the first
English for Brazucas published. I refer to Aachen or Aix-la-Chapelle or Aquisgrán which is in Germany, not in Switzerland. The
linguistic aspect is correct but did my memory fail as to location! Old age is the only explanation for my slip.
Aachen is a very important city in Europe. There, Charles, king of the Franks (a Germanic people) was crowned as
first Emperor of the Holy Roman EmpireCharlemagne (Carlos Magno). It became famous for being the place where
emperors and kings were crowned from then on.
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 email@example.com
Wilson Velloso © 2001