Brazil Cleans the Dictionary with a PC Brush

Brazilian dictionary of the Portuguese LanguagueIn Plato’s Dialogues, Cratylus considers that the names of things are naturally related to those same things. Things are born – or they are created, discovered or invented – and since their origin the inadequate name that marks and distinguishes them from all other things inhabits their being.

Hermogenes, on the other hand, thinks that words are nothing more than conventions people use with the purpose of understanding each other. Things appear or introduce themselves to people and they when confronting the newborn object, baptizes it.

The Workers’ Party (PT) doesn’t think so. For this party with Stalinist DNA men don’t have the right to name things anymore. Presently, a primer called “Politically Correct and Human Rights” (Politicamente Correto & Direitos Humanos) has been causing a furor.

The PC booklet was published last year by the Brazilian National Secretariat for Human Rights, whose chief is Nilmário Miranda, from the state of Minas Gerais.

Written by a veteran militant communist, journalist Antonio Carlos Queiroz, the primer banishes from the vocabulary more than 90 words, which are considered improper.

The document is the fruit of an accord between the Secretariat and Brasília’s University Foundation, which decided to outsource the service and hired the journalist. He who names things now are not the people anymore, but the PT. As for dictionaries and lexicographers, who cares about them.

This habit of censoring dictionaries is nothing new in the PT. One of their deputies, Lúcia Carvalho, had no qualms about presenting to the House of Representatives a bill that removed from dictionaries, class books and literary works, all the expressions she considered machista. For starters, “paraíba mulher-macho” (macho woman from Paraíba state), which for ages has been part of the national songbook.

The unheard-of in all this is that an ideological cacoethes, born in the American universities in the 80s, is being endorsed by Moscow’s old hands.

I use to say that Brazilians love to copy First World inventions. But they copy them with ten or more years of delay, and always copy the worst. In this case, the most authentic representatives of the Brazilian Left, graced with tenacious anti-Americanism, went to look in the same United States for their authoritarian propensity.

Because the PC – politically correct – language is Stalinism applied to the language. Stalinism, which curiously comes from a nation that boasts of defending freedom.

The Neostalinists not satisfied with censoring books, want also to censor dictionaries. Words that always were in the mouth of the people – after all, they were born there – suddenly become something illicit, or at least inconvenient, when spoken out loud.

Nilmário’s primer is not that original. It wants, for example, to ban words as black (including the expression “a coisa ficou preta” (things became black, meaning, things got worse), “baianada” (something a Bahia native would do), “aidético” (someone with AIDS), “cabeça chata” (flat-head, in reference to people from the Northeast)and “sapatão” (big shoe, meaning butch).

The word “negro” (black) also has its restrictions: “most of the black activists prefer the word “negro” instead of “preto.” But in some occasions both expressions can be offensive.”

In other circumstances, terms like the diminutive “neguinho” or “minha preta” (my blackie girl) can denote fondness. In short, if you say “negro” accompanied by a smile, it might pass. Give us some time and the PT will also regulate the smile.

Well now, the Brazilian newspapers have been avoiding these words for a long time. The PC language has infiltrated even our legislation. To call someone black, even though he is black, today has become a crime.

A few years ago, a black man was arrested in Brasília for calling a black… black. In a servile copy of the Yankee press, it is more and more frequent to use afrodescendents for blacks.

If you, reader, belong to those who love to be fashionable when talking, whenever you meet a black friend, do not call him “negrão” any more. Instead use the expression “my dear afrodescendentão”. If he is small you might say, “my dear afrodescendentinho”.

Do not even think about using black with a white soul. It is “one of the most terrible slogans of the country’s whitening ideology, which ascribes maximum value to the white race and minimum to blacks. This is a highly racist and segregating sentence”.

By analogy, the old popular expression “serviço de negro” (work of a black) should be used even more rarely. But to say “serviço de branco” (work of a white) when you want to praise a job well done, is not forbidden yet. A Queiroz lapse.

If we want to take the renowned primer real seriously, even the Bible will have to be rewritten. Because Sulamite is black. Worse yet: black, but beautiful. That “but” has been until today a fishbone in the throats of black activists.

As for “baianada” this is a little more complex. Those Paulistanos (people from São Paulo city) who are more bashful and who already hesitate calling someone a “nordestino” (northeastern) when referring to “nordestinos”, call them Baianos.

For those in São Paulo, everyone north of Rio de Janeiro is a “Baiano.” The use of the hometown designation, in this case, is not a pejorative for “Baiano,” but an euphemism for “nordestino.”

You can say “the Baiano ACM”. After all, senator Antônio Carlos Magalhães (ACM) from Bahia is a bad boy. But no journalist should dare writing “o baiano Jorge Amado”. He will be risking his job, because Amado is a good boy. In Rio Grande do Sul, at the border, curiously, “baianada” meant trying to mount a horse from the wrong side.

As for “cabeça chata”, it is not by chance that “nordestinos” get this name. They have a flat head – what can we do? – and I have already seen academic studies that try to explain the phenomenon.

The fact is that no newspaper would dare today to call a nordestino “cabeça chata.” And much less Baiano. In other words, Queiroz is carrying coals to Newcastle.

The press, which is making fun of the primer today, has been using the PC language for a long time. Journalists are pretending indignation in face of Nilmário’s excess of zeal, but they have been practicing censorship of the language themselves for a long time.

Indian, suddenly, became a four-letter word. As I do not have the rare primer in hand, I do not know if the author suggests any substitutive. In any case, for starters, we would need to find a new denomination for April 19, Day of the Indian.

That, without mentioning the censorship to all Indianist poetry and historical and sociological studies. Better to call them savages? Or savage – the one who lives in the jungles – has also become an insulting word?

“Baitola,” “bicha,” “boiola” and “veado” (all words to refer to gay men), even less. Not even homosexualism is recommendable, “it has a pejorative charge linked to the belief that the homosexual orientation would be a disease, an ideology or a political action”. Better homosexuality, as if the sufix change would change anything in the preference of homosexuals.

Regarding the word “veado,” first and only paragraph: for special deference, it is for the private use of the President of the Republic, when he wants to refer to Pelotenses (native from Pelotas, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul).

Even innocent expressions like “farinha do mesmo saco” (flour of the same bag, meaning birds of a feather) were hit. And they don’t have any racial or ideological connotation.

“Together with expressions like all politicians are thieves, all journalists are liars, Muslims are terrorists, it illustrates the falsehood and levity of hasty generalizations, base of all prejudices. The fact that there are corrupt politicians, imprecise journalists and extremist Muslims does not mean that the totality of these segments deserves those respective accusations”.

The truth is that this expression took shape in these last two years, when petistas got to power.

It happens that the author was more kingly than the king. In his haste for banning words, he compiled several terms that are very much appreciated by the Supreme Ignoramus. Lula, perhaps as a precaution, ordered that the distribution of the primer be suspended.

With just a few months of existence it had already turned into a bibliographic rarity. People demoralize the words and then they feel the need to ban them.

Intellectuals and communicators are unanimous in their repudiation of the primer. Without any claim to originality, I see in it a virtue: the author placed the word “communist” among those politically incorrect.

Perhaps he didn’t stop to think that the PT has its origins, among other places, in the PCB (Brazilian Communist Party) and in the PC do B (Communist Party of Brazil), parties that today are legalized and active.

This is the great novelty of the primer. Cheers: the author felt that communist has become a four-letter word. But how to define, from now on, nullities like Luiz Carlos Prestes or Oscar Niemeyer? It will not be easy to find a new adjective.

During decades, the communists – particularly the Brazilian communists – filled their mouths with the little word, as if it designated the chosen by the god of History. To be communist meant to understand the universe, to have an exact idea where humankind was heading.

And woe were those who were not communists. He was looked with a mix of contempt and pity, as someone who didn’t know a thing about the world and much less about himself. During all last century, these gentlemen had the monopoly on arrogance and always considered themselves redeemers of humankind.

Then there was the Berlin Wall’s fall. The Soviet Union collapsed. Russia was reduced to its insignificance. The financing source of propaganda, guerrilla and assaults against the power dried up.

Even Cuba became orphan. The arrogance of the world’s saviors started to wane. The communist parties throughout the world started to change their names.

The word that was a banner became an insult. Here’s where, in my opinion, the great merit of the primer comes into play: the recognition, by an old apparatchik, that communist is not a dignifying title any more, but a stinging insult. Long is the comrades’ journey toward understanding. Hallelujah, mate!

But stupidity knows no borders and this is the first lesson people who travel learn. The reader shouldn’t fall into the mistake of thinking that the Brazilian PT is the only ridiculous institution in the world.

In solidarity to the PT’s obscurantism two attorneys from Treviso surfaced in Italy and seized an article of the Penal Code to denounce the newspaper “Manifesto”, for having referred to the new Pope, Benedictus XVI, as “pastore tedesco”.

In other words, German shepherd. But isn’t the Pope the Church’s shepherd? And in this case, isn’t German the shepherd?

We need to consult the PT’s words police.

Janer Cristaldo – he holds a PhD from University of Paris, Sorbonne – is an author, translator, lawyer, philosopher and journalist and lives in São Paulo. His e-mail address is

Translated from the Portuguese by Arlindo Silva.


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