Without Salt – Phrases/Slang

I just learned a new phrase for saying a woman is a plain Jane. I haven’t confirmed if this is applied to men as well but I wouldn’t see why not. It seems to go like this, since salt is seasoning and seasoning generally makes food more appealing or interesting, then to say someone is without salt, means they’re boring.

Ex. Ela é muito sem sal e não sei o que ele vê nela.
Ex. She is such a plain Jane and I don’t know what he sees in her.

You may also see “sem sal, nem açúcar” which is basically the same, meaning without salt, nor sugar.

How I Think In Portuguese

I want to address how I think in Portuguese, which is to say, how I translate words I see and interpret words I hear. The initial misconception on how this works is that I see maçã (apple), for example, and then my brain searches for the word, then the translation, and then the word ‘apple’ appears in my mind. Well, that’s actually not how it works. Let me explain.

For me, and maybe this goes for everyone or most people or maybe no one else, but for me, English pretty much goes out the door when I’m thinking in Portuguese. It’s as if my left brain is Portuguese-speaking and my right brain is English-speaking and one side gets turned off while I process things in the language of the opposite side. Make sense?

I’m trying right now to think back on my learning process and if there was a point when I did translate word for word where the phrase ‘eu comi a maçã’ would become something like ‘eu/I…comi/ate…a/the…maçã/apple’. Perhaps in the very beginning, I’m not sure anymore.

When I have to interpret for someone or when subtitles on a movie are in the other language, it’s like my mind doesn’t naturally want to do that work, which tells me that either profession is about training your mind to automatically do the extra level of processing on top of the foreign language side of the brain processing. If you’ve ever spoken with either interpreters or translators, you’d know that they do not appreciate non-professionals even though practically-speaking, knowing another language means you can do either job (notice I didn’t say well). Technically-speaking, though, what they strongly dislike about someone not-highly trained doing such work is that they are taking away work from a professional while doing a worse job at it.

Going back to the main subject, I’d say that once you hit about 85% fluency, you can start to automatically think in that language but if you are finding it hard, try to force yourself to do it. All the things you say to yourself during the day, just think of those very things in Portuguese. Whether you ‘say’ it right is one thing, but there’s also the other side of the coin which is that you are still training your brain to think in that foreign language. 

To Miss Work/Class – Phrases

Since the verb ‘to miss’ has a few meanings, one might end up interpreting such a phrase as ‘I missed work today’ or ‘I missed class today’. For this, you wouldn’t use ‘sentir falta (de)‘ because that is used to express the idea that you miss something that is not or no longer present in your life. What do you say then? The verb ‘faltar (a)‘!

Ex. Hoje, eu faltei ao trabalho.
Ex. I missed work today.

To say you missed class, just change ‘o trabalho’ for ‘a aula’. Keep in mind that you will also see ‘Eu faltei no trabalho/na aula’, so don’t worry, it means the same thing. Knowing what verb requires something else after it or with it is called regência verbal, in grammatical terms…but that’s another post!

Also keep in mind that if you wish to express truancy/playing hooky/cutting class, you would say ‘Eu matei aula‘, so that’s ‘matar‘ (to kill). Another verb for truancy is ‘cabular‘, as in ‘cabular aula‘, which is more specific although less used.

Either/Or – Vocabulary

In Portuguese, expressing ‘either…or…’, you use the equivalent to ‘or…or…’ (ou…ou…). Likewise, you will catch Brazilians using ‘or…or…’ in English and if you are like me, you will allow them to do so without correcting them because you, in turn, think in Portuguese.

Ex. Ou você vai aprender com os erros dos outros ou com seus próprios erros.
Ex. Either you are going to learn from others’ mistakes or from your own.

It can be said that the either/or statement is a fallacy in any language because the speaker is forcing the listener into one of two choices, when often more than two exist. The fallacy persists when the speaker gives two opposing options, which obviously makes one of the options seem a lot better.

The Seven-Headed Monster – Phrases

Bicho de Sete Cabeças is a phrase in Brazilian Portuguese that means “seven-headed monster”, which can be employed in English, although it isn’t the most common way to express such an idea. In Brazil, though, this is a common expression used to describe a very difficult thing. A student, for example, could say that math is a “seven-headed monster”, meaning that it is a hard thing to go to battle against (as the mythological animal was).

The expression is often used to describe an overreaction. When saying that someone “made a seven-headed monster”, the person is in fact saying that this “someone” is seeing big difficulties or problems when they are small or even do not exist. In the Brazilian movie of the same name, the main character’s father overreacts when sees his son with a marijuana cigarette. Instead of trying to solve a small familiar problem, he thought that it was a huge problem that should only be solved with psychiatric intervention. So, it can be said that he made a seven-headed monster.

Ex. Calma! O português não é um bicho de sete cabeças!
Ex. Chill! The Portuguese language isn’t that complicated!

Fazer Cú Doce – Phrases

While this phrase might seem inappropriate (considering means a-hole), it really isn’t when you consider the way it is used. The colloquial idiomatic Brazilian-Portuguese phrase actually means ‘to want something but to pretend you don’t’ and in this sense, the person offering will insist until it seems like you are the one doing the favor. Basically, the person feigns disinterest or indifference probably because they like playing little games with people in order to attract attention or perhaps they think the more that the person offering insists, the more they care. Among interested parties (one who wants to date the other), it can be considered ‘playing hard to get’ (fazer de difícil).

Ex. Aquela menina me deu bola, mas na hora que eu a convidei pra sair, fez cu doce.
Ex. That girl was into me, but when I invited her out, she pretended like she wasn’t interested. 

Other ways to say the same thing in Portuguese would be fazer doce, fazer charme or fazer frescura. Btw, if you want to read a joke that uses the phrase, see the second explanation on Informal Dictionary.

Fairy Tale – Phrases

Today I learned a new phrase which can be used in two ways. First, let me tell you the normal way to say ‘fairy tale’, which is conto de fadas (lit. tale of fairies) although the one I just learned is conto de carochinha (lit. tale of little lies), although either can be used to talk about something that is or seems like a lie. The example I heard was ‘racial democracy in Brazil is a mere conto de carochinha,’ at which point I had to look up carocha.

Carocha can mean ‘beetle’ (and thus one will find this name as an alternative to the Fusca by Volkswagon…which we call a ‘VW Bug’ in English), ‘dunce hat’, ‘witch’ and a ‘lie’.

Torpedo & Zapping – 2 for 1

There are two strange terms in Portuguese that are used in the media. One is torpedo which means ‘text message’ and the other is zapping which means ‘something that creates a lot of interest’ (although it is pretty much strictly used for entertainment news).

I’ve never seen ‘zapping’ used in a sentence, rather just as a header on news sites. I think it should be called penugem (fluff), or perhaps besteira (absurdity) fits best. ; ) Let’s see if I can make a sentence…

“Recebi um torpedo sobre um zapping que mencionou um outdoor que mostrou um smoking que posso comprar num shopping.”

And some people say anglicisms are not hurting the Portuguese language…but just for fun, I’ll do that in English while using German words in place of the anglicisms (although ‘smoking’ for ‘tuxedo’ seems to be more universal). Given the sentence below, I would assume the speaker and the listener were bilingual and code-switched with regularity.

“I got a Kurzmitteilung about a Promi-News that mentioned a Reklametafel that showed a Smoking which I can buy at the Einkaufszentrum.”

Is it that improbable?

I always find it a bit funny when I converse with certain Brazilians online who don’t know me but think that because my Portuguese is good enough that I can only be Brazilian. Is it that improbable that someone, anyone can learn another language, including slang terms and cultural references? I understand that the lesser-known the language, the higher the chance that a non-native speaker would speak it, much less know how to speak it informally, but Portuguese is widely-spoken throughout the world.