Machismo in the Portuguese language

On the Portuguese forum at WordReference, user Kynnjo recently made the following statement (the bulk of which I posted just below) in regards to using the verb arrepiar (to get goosebumps or to be frightened) and how machismo might interfere.

“It’s getting to be carnaval time, and I’ve been listening to a lot of the new official 2010 enredos in YouTube… I’ve been struck by how often the comments from appreciative Brazilians include variations of “arrepiar” (=get goosebumps). It’s not that the notion is hyperbolic, not at all (I too get goosebumps sometimes listening to this music, especially when one of those armies of sambistas goes off a cappella). Rather, what surprises me is that, as far as I can tell, “arrepiar” is used not only by women, but often by men too. Is this impression accurate?

In US English, expressions like “it gave me goosebumps” is heard mostly from females. One may hear it from very young boys (say, 5 or younger), or from flamboyant gay men. But a “regular US guy” won’t readily admit to getting goosebumps outside of his therapist’s office, and least of all from listening to music; the US male culture regards it as unmanly.”

I would generally agree with the statement above.

The conversation continues and the subject changes to the use of diminutives in Portuguese and how it isn’t considered “manly” in Brazil to use them (outside of saying ‘cafezinho’ and the like). I found this to be quite true during my time in Brazil although in my experience it was mostly women who would tell me “men don’t say that” or “if you say that, other men will think you are gay”. Personally, I could care less if someone is gay or not as I believe in “to each his/her own”, do what makes you happy as long as you aren’t hurting others in the process. Anyways, I rather enjoy hearing women use diminutives although not all the time as that reminds me of ‘baby-talk’ (infantilization). As far as men using them, I just don’t have the ear for it, in order to notice that anything is wrong with using it, so it is very much ‘over my head’.

While on the subject of diminutives, a few years ago, just before wanting to tell a random beautiful woman she was “bonitinha”, I considered the fact that I hadn’t quite got my mind around the use of such a diminutive so I didn’t say anything at all. Later, I asked my Brazilian female friend and she told me never to say that because that particular way of saying someone is pretty is considered to render the opposite effect…meaning it would be like calling her “ugly” or in the least, “a little bit pretty”.

Might you have any other examples?

3 thoughts on “Machismo in the Portuguese language

  1. Interessante. Não sabia que ‘get the goosebumps’ é usado por mulheres e gays. Quando não estamos inseridos numa certa cultura, as palavras nao tem o mesmo peso que as palavras na nossa cultura. É como se todas as palavras da outra cultura fossem iguais, Nenhuma é mais ofensiva ou menos ofensiva ou mais adequada ou menos adequada que a outra.
    Meu amigo americano às vezes fala umas palavras no diminutivo que eu acho estranho, pq nao costumamos a usá-las no diminutivo. No entanto, nunca fiz uma sistematização das palavras que são ditas no diminutivo e quais são mais femininas etc.
    Tem uma nova propraganda de cerveja que trata desse assunto de diminutivo e aumentativo. Vc já deve ter visto:

  2. Interesting…
    Well, I think the machismo in Portuguese language comes mostly with gender consideration, e.g. one group with 100 women and 1 man you will always use masculine adjectives and so on.
    I’m not sure if there is machismo considering words usage, but I have to say that Brazilian women are more “machistas” than Brazilian men.
    Diminutives – this is a tough subject. If you go to Minas Gerais you will notice that people there in general say more words in diminutive than other parts of Brazil, and you will notice the same phenomenon if you go to Portugal.
    Bonitinha(o) means feio arrumadinho (an ugly person well dressed) lol I would say that in Brazilian Portuguese the main function of diminutive is to decrease importance while augmentative is used to increase importance (there are exceptions)
    One example of word that the meaning can be completely changed if you use them on diminutive or augmentative

    If you call a man of:
    Cachorrinho – bad thing, means he is “capacho” passive when dealing with his date/relations; he has no voice at all.
    Cachorrão – “good” thing, means he is talented at conquering women


    Mineirinho – smart, clever (expression – mineirinho come quieto)

    neguinho – means “someone” – just someone that you don’t know; it has nothing do to with race

    pelinha (from “pela saco”) – annoying

    and so on… lol

  3. Speaking of gays, one thing I’ve noticed with the European Portuguese culture (not sure if the same applies in Brazil) is the tendency for people to call gay guys by the diminutive form of their name, i.e. Carlos – Carlinhos, Manuel – Manuelinho, Tiago – Tiaginho etc..I’m sure no malice is intended but it can come across as being a bit condescending…

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