Cross My Heart… – Phrases

In English, we have a phrase that goes “Cross my heart, hope to die(, stick a needle in my eye)” which acts as a way to convey trust. In Brazil, it’s not so literal but there is a comparable phrase. Before I get to it, another English phrase is “I swear on my (insert relative here)’s grave” which means the same. In Brazil, one swears on the health of someone important to them.

Ex. I swear! Cross my heart, hope to die.
Ex. Eu juro! Pela saúde da minha mãe.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be one’s mother. You can also say “juro por Deus” (like “I swear to God”).


Amador vs Amante – Differences

I always found the word ‘amador’ to be interesting because of its makeup, ‘ama’ and ‘dor’, which to me means someone who loves something. Technically, that’s what it means but then again, one might easily confuse this with ‘amante’ (lover). Below, I’ll explain the differences.

Amador (m/f) – amateur, dilettante; dabbler; lover.

Ex. Sou fotógrafo amador.
Ex. I am an amateur photographer.

Amante (m/f) – lover (usually in an intimate context)

Ex. Sou amante dela.
Ex. I’m her lover.

Finders, Keepers…in Portuguese

Pretty much anyone who has grown up in the US knows “finders, keepers, losers, weepers”, an expression that alludes to an ancient Roman law (usucapio) describing ‘adverse possession’.

Tonight, while watching a Brazilian flick, I heard a phrase in Portuguese which is the equivalent. It says ‘achado não é roubado‘ (found isn’t stolen). These are the things that make you Brazilian, knowing little phrases off the top of your head like this. In order, I’d say there’s formal language, informal language, cultural references then adages or sayings. Once you have those four down, you’re golden.

Edit: Thanks to Fábio, I now know the rest of the phrase (which I actually heard in the film I saw but didn’t understand that it was part of the phrase). The full phrase is “achado não é roubado, quem perdeu foi relaxado” (found isn’t stolen, the loser was relaxed…or put at ease). I’m sure ‘relaxed’ is only used for rhyming purposes, although I saw as alternatives ‘assaltado’, ‘azarado’ and ‘descuidado’ used while doing some extra research.

What’s in a word? Americanos vs. Estadunidenses

Gene at Expat Brazil posted a link to an article where the Argentine President called Americans by the term “americanos” instead of by the more formal term “estadunidenses” (something like “United-Statesian”). Interestingly enough, I was having this conversation on a forum elsewhere just yesterday so I thought I’d chime in ‘officially’ on my own site. Personally, I use both terms when I see fit (ie, depending on who I’m talking to) but I don’t go out of my way to make sure someone knows I’m not of the opinion that I rule the world.

All of Latin America (now there’s another famous discussion, are Brazilians ‘latinos’?) uses both terms although the use of “americano” is way more widely used by all while “estadunidense” is used by two kinds of people. The first kind is the intellectual wishing to be as correct and specific as possible and the second kind is the average person who believes that Americans believe we own the world (while we all know it is the “United-Statesian” government that really wishes to own the world). Let’s stop being silly then, shall we?

The only counter-argument used tries to say that anyone from the Americas is an American. True to a point, but nobody south of the United States really calls themselves “americano” so let’s make that clear (and yes, I’m pretending to know every citizen south of the US). If the intellectual wishes to make the distinction, then he/she must be of the intellect to know that we don’t call ourselves Americans for any other reason than that is just how we are known around the world. The argument is then moot because we certainly won’t start calling ourselves (or being called by others) “United-Statesians” any time soon.

Why being oneself in Brazil isn’t a breeze – Observations

In my time abroad, mostly in Colombia and Brazil, I’ve noticed something significant. No matter how much I study the culture or how good my language skills are, it’s hard to be myself. What do I mean by that? This post by Leo at The Lions Den is self-explainitory, but I’ll repost the part that struck me.

“We hit the Rio Vermelho district and sat outside drinking beer late into the morning. Pretty common occurrence by our standards, but what set this particular outing apart was the subtle cultural interaction that happened between her students and myself. To my glee, I have reached a point in my Portuguese that allows me to be my safado, jokester, no public shame kind of self, and it is indeed most liberating. The process of learning a language has been somewhat difficult for me, as I have had to survive being the quiet awkward observant one for too long. I hate this. Truly hate it.”

I know the pain you’ve endured, Leo. Even with my knowledge of Portuguese being tested at 96%, give or take, that still doesn’t mean I can be myself in Brazil. This has to do with a single factor which has two sides, one is knowing that your spoken Portuguese is fluent and versatile, the other side is being confident enough that you won’t mess up (or that you’ll be okay with sounding like an idiot in the case you do). It’s the former that bothers me.

My spoken Portuguese in a normal conversation with a stranger borders on quite good but not great and this is noticable when you are a native-speaker/stranger talking to me. Luckily, I’ve reached the point where they assume I’m Brazilian but they just can’t place me (although when they do, it’s as a gaúcho while in the North or a Paulista/Carioca otherwise). Nobody likes sounding like an idiot so this makes you think twice about how you say what you say and also about how much to say. For day-to-day operations, I go for ‘short and sweet’ but when out to have fun or even to learn, this method doesn’t cut it.

Personally, I like to see how long I can go with others thinking I’m Brazilian but it doesn’t bother me in most cases when they know I’m not. At this point though when they find out I’m not, I’ll get one of two treatments. Either they will pretend I’m a complete moron linguistically or they will treat me normally. Being an American interested in South America has its advantages here. For one, I’ve grown up in a culture where no one really talks to each other so in the case I’m seen as the linguistic moron, it’s a good way to not talk to people I otherwise wouldn’t talk to. A personal interest in Brazil though gives me another option, I can talk to those who treat me normally and that is a chance to learn more about their (regional) culture.

One may come across certain situations which come down to taste, preference and environment rather than language skills. One such example is when you find yourself in a noisy bar and you are with a group of around 5-6 people, perhaps more. Let’s assume, as is the case most of the time, that the conversations going on at the table are in Portuguese. Let’s also assume you can’t understand 85% of what is being said and therefore you have trouble following along. This has zero to do with study-time and everything to do with how you are in your home country. In the U.S., I like bars but I don’t like crowds and by extension that means I don’t like noisy bars. Why? Because you can’t hear a thing, meaning you can’t concentrate, meaning you can’t join in on the conversation and enjoy yourself without going hoarse. In Brazil though (or any other country), not participating makes you seem like you are either a quiet foreigner or a stuck-up foreigner…no one seems to consider the fact that it’s just not your thing to be in a noisy place (if you go to Brazil, get used to it, it’s a noisy place all-together).

Getting back to the main point; being yourself. The things I’ve discussed can definitely make it hard to relax and ‘shoot the breeze’ or even to get into a conversation that is on the more intellectual/philisophical side. The solution to being able to be yourself is to either give in 100% to your efforts…meaning study spoken, informal Portuguese like your life depended on it without fear for error and with a mind open to corrections OR to find people who are bilingual, especially if you consider yourself to be bilingual too. In the case of the latter, you can make jokes in both languages and discuss the finer points of an issue in either language, etc., etc. In my experience though, with a long-time conversation partner (be it a friend or what-have-you), you’ll fall into using one language most of the time with the occasional code-switching for words you both understand have a more loaded meaning in one language or the other. Over the years, I swear I did not try to meet and become friends with English-speaking Brazilians but most of my good Brazilian friends are fluent in English. It’s refreshing then to be able to be oneself for a change, to not be the quiet and possibly-frustrated foreigner but to just be the same person you’ve always been, whatever that means to you.

This post goes out to my good friends (you know who you are) whose own interest in my native tongue have allowed for a fuller experience of friendship than I could have had with anyone who is monolingual. After all, my Brazilianist inclinations almost require that a good friend be bilingual so we can be free to share ourselves and our interests in the language we see fit.

University terms – Portuguese

Between the US and Brazil, the educational system has many differences and while that would be interesting to go over (I’ll save that for a future post), I’m going to concentrate on some of the terms in Portuguese for university students.

Universidade – University
Faculdade – College (ie, College of Liberal Arts)
Colégio – Elementary, Middle or High School (it doesn’t mean ‘college’)
Escola – School (a general term)

Curso – The degree you are studying
Cursar – The verb to explain the term above
Matrícula – Tuition
Semestre – Semester

Bacharelado – Baccalaureate
Graduação – Undergraduate
Pós-graduação – Graduate
Formar-se – To graduate
Ser formado/a em – To have graduated in

Universitário/a – University student
Aluno/a – Student

Matéria – Course or Subject
Aula – Class
Sala – Classroom
Nota – Grade
Tirar 10 – To get an A (0-10, not letter-based)
Colar – To cheat

Why Portuguese is not Spanish

How many times have you heard someone who doesn’t speak both Portuguese and Spanish say that the two languages are similar (enough)? Meaning if you speak one, the other isn’t that hard to use also. Of course the joke here is that he/she speaks “Portunhol” but if you look at a recent article (PT) in O Globo, you’ll see Portunhol is very different from people’s idea of it.

Focusing again on the reason for this post, I’d like to insert my quick opinion of both languages and their differences. Portuguese and Spanish are not the same and are not that similar. From the pronunciation to syntax to the grammar to the vocabulary and including the slang, it’s not right to confuse the two! Spanish-speakers won’t appreciate it and neither will Portuguese-speakers when you visit their countries. Additionally, there are enough differences to deal with when looking at European vs. Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish from Spain versus from Latin America.


If you want to look at why Brazilians speak Portuguese, it’s enough to look into a certain treaty.

“Technically, the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas divided the New World between Spain and Portugal. An imaginary line, running north–south from roughly the mouth of the Amazon to what is now Santa Catarina, was drawn on the map. Land to the east became Portuguese territory; land to the west fell under Spanish control.”- Source

And if you want to look at why Portuguese exists, here’s a brief explanation.

After the Roman conquest of the Iberian peninsula the Vulgar Latin replaced virtually all local languages. In the territories along the Atlantic coast it gradually evolved in what is technically known Galician-Portuguese language. Later, following the incorporation of Galicia into Spain and the independent development of Portugal, this language split in Galician and Portuguese branches. – Source

Mutual Inteligibility

Now, what do they have going for them that helps one person learn the other? Mutual inteligibility, principally in written form, can be helpful due to the fact that the two langauges can be categorized under the same sub-family of languages called West Iberian. A perfect example of this can be found in the following paragraph,


Pero, a pesar de esta variedad de posibilidades que la voz posee, sería un muy pobre instrumento de comunicación si no contara más que con ella. La capacidad de expresión del hombre no dispondría de más medios que la de los animales. La voz, sola, es para el hombre apenas una materia informe, que para convertirse en un instrumento perfecto de comunicación debe ser sometida a un cierto tratamiento. Esa manipulación que recibe la voz son las “articulaciones”.


Porém, apesar desta variedade de possibilidades que a voz possui, seria um instrumento de comunicação muito pobre se não se contasse com mais do que ela. A capacidade de expressão do homem não disporia de mais meios que a dos animais. A voz, sozinha, é para o homem apenas uma matéria informe, que para se converter num instrumento perfeito de comunicação deve ser submetida a um certo tratamento. Essa manipulação que a voz recebe são as “articulações”.


On the flip side, the differences abound (and the list could virtually be endless). Here are a few examples of the Spanish term followed by the Portuguese.

– Tienda/Loja (store)
– Rodilla/Joelho (knee)
– Calle/Rua (street)
– Ventana/Janela (window)
– Borrar/Apagar (to erase)
– Olvidar/Esquecer (to forget)
– Manejar/Dirigir (to drive)
– Llamar/Ligar (to telephone)

The days of the week are also quite different with the exception of Saturday and Sunday. If we add the influence of regionalisms, colloquial speech and the differing accents, what results is something deep and rich on both sides. So let’s not confuse the two languages anymore please because with just a few weeks of preparation, you can give either language a more honest shot. Of course, if you wish to really seek out the true depth of both, you’ll need a good 10 years of study…for starters.

You can find a long list of additional differences here on Wikipedia, where I found some of the material.


If you’re learning Portuguese, check out my ebook, 103 Tricky Verbs in Brazilian Portuguese!

Fruit terms in Portuguese

General Fruits

Apple – Maçã
Avocado – Abacate
Banana – Banana
Blackberry – Amora silvestre
Cherry – Cereja
Grape – Uva
Lime – Limão (or Limão-verde)
Lemon* – Limão (or Limão-amarelo/siciliano)
Mango – Manga
Orange – Laranja
Papaya – Mamão
Peach – Pêssego
Pear – Pêra
Pinapple – Abacaxi
Plum – Ameixa
Strawberry – Morango
Tomato – Tomate
Watermelon – Melancia

* – In Brazil lemon is limão-siciliano, Mexican (Key) lime is limão-galego, Tahiti (Persian) lime is limão-taiti and Rangpur lime is limão-cravo. Bearss (Siciliano) is grown in the hot and humid climate of Brazil for the same reasons it is the main variety in Florida. Whereas Mexican and Tahiti limes are better suited to the climate and therefore much more common in everyday use, the ‘Siciliano’ lemon is a specialty food item in Brazil, much appreciated for its fragrance. Most of the crop is eaten fresh, some of it is used for rind oil.

Brazilian Fruits

Acerola – Barbados Cherry
Cacau* – Cocoa
Caju – Cashew fruit
Coco da Bahia* – Coconut
Goiaba – Guava
Jaca – Jackfruit
Maracujá – Passionfruit

It is estimated there are 312 kinds of Brazilian fruit, although only 6 kinds are widely cultivated (subtract Jaca and Acerola from the list above). Among the stranger kinds, there are names like banana-de-macaco, marôlo, araticum-cagão, taperebá, cariota-de-espinho, pau-alazão, marajá and fruta-de-ema. One strange sounding fruit isn’t mentioned though, it’s the ‘oiti-da-baía‘, which although the favorite fruit of Dom Pedro II, is extinct.

* – Cacau, while translated as ‘cocoa’ is not chocolate-flavored as the seeds from the cacau are what make the chocolate.

* – Coco da Bahia is a Brazilian coconut variety. The origin of coconuts in general is not known. Coconuts received the name from Portuguese explorers, the sailors of Vasco da Gama in India, who first brought them to Europe. The brown and hairy surface of coconuts reminded them of a witch called coco (that used to be represented as a carved vegetable lantern). When coconuts arrived in England, they retained the name and -nut was added.

Fruit-related terms

Pulp – Pulpa
Seed* – Caroço
Skin/Peel – Casca
Vine* – Vinho (or Videira)

* – Semente also means ‘seed’, but in a general sense. It is not used for what is found immediately inside a fruit, that’s a caroço, while the semente is protected by the caroço. In summation, caroços are hard but it’s the sementes that germinate.

* – Vinho can also mean wine.

House terms in Portuguese

House – A Casa
Home – O Lar (like ‘Home, Sweet Home’ = ‘Lar, Doce Lar’)
Apartment – O Apartamento (shorthand apê)
Studio apartment – O Conjugado
Small apartment – O Quitinete* (may be written as ‘kitinete’)
Mansion – A Mansão
Shack – O Barraco

Room – O Quarto
Living room – A Sala de estar
Kitchen – A Cozinha
Dining room – A Sala de jantar
Garage – A Garagem
Backyard – O Quintal
Bathroom – O Banheiro
Attic – O Sótão
Basement – O Porão
Laundry room – A Área de serviço
Closet – O Armário* (or ‘o guarda-roupas’, or ‘o roupeiro’)

Roof/Ceiling – O Teto
Driveway – A Entrada de veículos/carros (or ‘o caminho de entrada’)

Bookshelf – A Estante de livros
Fireplace – A Lareira (although I’d guess it’s not needed in most of Brazil)
Ceiling fan – O Ventilador de teto

* – Quitinete could be feminine or masculine. I haven’t been able to get confirmation…just opinions. Although formally, it seems the masculine article is used while informally, the feminine is used.

* – Guarda-roupas seems to have a fuzzy definition. Most Brazilians tell me it doesn’t mean closet, but rather “wardrobe”. The problem is that “wardrobe” means both a collection of clothes and where those clothes are kept. The word “armário” or armoire, also means wardrobe but in the second sense. Roupeiro is where one keeps their clothes. All in all, these seem like they are cabinets where clothes are kept and not built-in spaces within a bedroom or near a hallway. Come to think of it, from my recollection, Brazilians don’t have closets, just cabinets.