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Brazinglish and misunderstandings galore!

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Brazil English month is coming to its end shortly. Our final guest post from Jussara Simões, translator, interpreter and blogger, responds to an earlier post and reveals more about Brazinglish.


“Therefore, virtue is a kind of mean, since, as we have seen, it aims at what is intermediate.”
(Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics, translated by W. D. Ross)

There’s also a Danish proverb that goes:

“Virtue in the middle, said the Devil, when seated between two lawyers”.

I appreciate Mr. Denilso Lima’s good humored texts, but, as “virtue is in the middle”, I must say he exaggerated just a little tiny bit. I wouldn’t want Macmillan Dictionary Blog readers to stay under the false impression that Brazilian politicians are anglophobes.

In 1999 a Brazilian congressman (Aldo Rebelo – PCdoB) proposed a bill for the fostering, protection, defense and usage of the Portuguese language, which would contemplate fines for the abusive borrowing of strange and/or foreign words by the Brazilian media, public institutions, and many other social and cultural domains. If it passed, commerce, media, and government would have to give the Portuguese translation together with the foreign name of whichever they announced in English or any other languages. Unfortunately – for a country where 90%+ of the inhabitants are functional illiterates, can’t understand what they read in our own language, much less in English – the bill did not pass.

Here is an example of the need of translation together with the English terms: sale is liquidação in Portuguese, but it means “dirty” in French, and “he/she/it goes out” in Spanish. It’s really funny, in a touristic city like Rio de Janeiro, to see the look in the face of French tourists when they see the word sale written on some store windows. And they wonder: “Why should I buy dirty products?” But I digress.

The majority did not agree with the payment of fines, and, when it went through to the Senate, the bill text was replaced with a completely different one, which does not even mention the term “foreign language”, and requests that the government encourages the learning of our language through all possible means. The revised text of the bill is currently awaiting the President’s endorsement.

So what happens now is Brazilians keep having to guess what the English signs say, and the English speakers keep having to guess what Brazilians think is English. For instance, many delivery services call themselves disk because the verb to dial in Portuguese is discar, so they think that discar must be to disk in English. Instead of Dial a Pizza, they call their businesses Disk Pizza, and it makes English speaking visitors wonder: what formats do pizzas have other than the “disk” one in Brazil? The word disk is, thus, another example of Brazinglish, the flavor of English spoken in Brazil.

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Jussara Simoes


  • Great text!
    However, it also shows an example of Brazinglish when it says “in a touristic city like Rio de Janeiro”. “Touristic”? Are you sure? That’s not even in Macmillan Dictionary itself. That’s probably come from “Turístico” in Portuguese…

  • I just don’t agree with the “90%+ of the inhabitants are functional illiterates”. And I’m not sure if it could be better the Rebello’s idea. Altough I should say that I hate the abusive use of English terms on newspapers and media in general… So now we don’t have words for fake, ranking, gap anymore?
    Loved this blog

  • With all due respect to the views of the author, delivery services use the word “disk” as a contraction of the Portuguese word “disque” (both sounds the same). In other words, “disk” is a shortened way of the correct Portuguese word “disque” for marketing/attention purposes. The author’s assumption that businesses owners think that “discar” must be “disk” in English seems very imaginative.

  • Not to mention the ever-popular outdoor which, from an English adjective, became a Brazinglish noun meaning billboard, and its several variations such as busdoor (for bus window publicity). Students are invariably in appalled when they find out about it, and that’s just one of the several pseudo-English words we see around here. On the sale issue, which is often accompanied by a X% off variant, the foreign word is clearly used as a way of the stores coming across as fancy and modern. This same reason often creates awkward and even funny situations, such as a store I’ve seen advertising, among many other things, the selling of both puzzles and quebra-cabeças, which is nothing else than puzzle in Portuguese. I once couldn’t help entering the store and inquiring an attendant about it, who “explained” me they are two different things, claiming puzzle was some sort of religious game as opposed to the lay nature of quebra-cabeça. Ten years later, the ludicrous sign still stands unaltered.

  • Thanks for the comment, Ana Carolina, I should really have been more careful in the choice of words. The word “touristic” appears on the OED (Oxford English Dictionary (Copyright © Oxford University Press 2009), on the Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (and on the Merriam-Webster’s (copyright © 1999 Random House Inc.), and a few other dictionaries, but I should have given more thought to the usage of the word here.

  • Dear Angela, what’s “marketing/attention purposes”? Their purpose was to use a word in English (in this case, Brazinglish) to attract those upper middle class people who think that the only good things in the world are those that come from the US (Brazilian Generation X was trained to think so), and that was the only reason they had to drop the “que” and replace it with a “k”: to sound and look like English, but they didn’t know that there was no “to disk” verb in English.

  • Janaina, maybe you did not give much attention to the text of the bill (have you really read it?). If you “hate the abusive use of English terms on newspapers and media in general…”, you’d have loved congressman’s Aldo Rebelo’s bill to have passed, because it requested the adding of a translation below the foreign words used in the media and other vehicles. It would *never* ban the foreign words, but it would add a translation instead, just to let the gross majority of Brazilians understand what even the upper class do not (but they think they do).

    With relation to the functional illiterates, it’s a world fact. Brazilians are not the only functional illiterates in the world, but world education has been steadily lowering the bar since the 1970’s, and it’s a known fact. And here’s the worst news: the functional illiterates *think* they are not functional illiterates, and keep contributing to the generalized chaos in communication we’ve witnessed all around the world in recent years.

    I thank Macmillandictionaryblog for this great initiative of showing the world the huge Babel that the hegemony of the English language has built in the world in an era where education has been spiraling down all over the world. *Thinking* that you know what you really don’t know is a lot worse than not knowing a word in English (or in any other foreign language) . That’s what Brazilian humorists try to say when they keep repeating the same sentence,”the book is on the table”, which is one of the first sentences all Brazilians have to learn on their basic English classes, and most Brazilian English “speakers” haven’t gone much further than that, but they state in their resumes that they have “advanced” knowledge of English.

    I myself have been learning English for the last 42 years, but every day I am more and more convinced that Socrates was right by saying “I know that I know nothing”. Language learning can cause a great feeling of wonder, and that’s why it’s wonderful.

  • Even though I do not agree with abusive use of English (as in many contexts the use of English words sounds absurd and are often wrongly employed), I cannot imagine a bill such as the one proposed by Rebelo put into practice.

    The fact is you cannot control language; you cannot prevent people from using a word in the wrong way or misspelling words, or even coming up with new uses of words, which we know happens more often that some of us would like. Of course, it is so sad and yet so true that most Brazilians are functional illiterates (and functional illiterates can be found in the best universities or occupying high positions in multinationals – they are everywhere). But it is language’s nature to change, to borrow from other languages, to transform meanings. The payment of fines is an overstatement.

    I believe people would not employ English (or any other language) words in such abusive – and incorrect – manner if they were well educated and well aware of their own language. And that is a much bigger problem Brazilian government still cannot solve. It would be fundamental to deal first with our own language learning and cultural issues.

    Finally, it seems to me that we underestimate foreigners by not considering that it might go through their minds that a word in a store window in a foreing country may sound like a word they have, but it may be a different one. That is just common sense.

  • Dear Lorena Leandro, the title of this post, *Brazinglish and misunderstandings galore*, could not be more appropriate! You’re not the first one, and I am sure you’ll not be the last one to jump to conclusions before reading the text of the bill.

    As I’ve been tirelessly saying (for the last 11 years), the bill would NOT ban the usage of any word. The bill WOULD request the ADDITION of a translation, TOGETHER WITH and BELOW the foreign words, wherever those foreign words be used.

    It’s amazing! The more I say that, the more people come here to say that “you cannot prevent people from using a word”. Of course you cant! That’s why nobody ever thought of prevent it! And, again: that’s not what I tried to say.

    I beg you and the other readers now: Would you please show me WHERE I said that the bill would BAN the usage of foreign words. I’d love to see where I said that so that I could make a correction, because it has NEVER been my intention or, for that matter, the congressman’s intention.

    Regarding what you think the foreigners “think”, I can only tell you that I myself have been to dozens of stores and, when I asked the employees (and even the owners), what “sale” meant, most of them didn’t have a clue! So, when the French tourist comes into one of those stores, they can’t even talk to them, because French is one of the least learnt languages in Brazil nowadays. So, my dear, even if the tourist does think that “sale” is a Portuguese word, they can’t find out what that word means because communication in French is impossible here.

  • Dear Jussara,

    There’s no misunderstanding here. I completely understand the content of your text and of the bill. Maybe I didn’t make myself clear or you didn’t understand what I said.

    Forcing people to add a translation everytime they intend to use a foreign word is a kind of control that is really close of forbidding people to use such words. It’s not every time a translation between brackets is welcome or suitable, it depends so much on the situation and its purposes. It is different to require this (to some extent, of course) of newpapers or advertising companies, for example. But stores are private businesses. If they want to use “sale” on their windows, they are free to do so. They are the ones who should worry whether the public will or will not understand what they are trying to communicate! If they do not attract a satisfactory number of clients because of that, let them come up with a solution!

    I’m not against translation (I’m a translator myself!), but there is time and place for everything. I always use to say I wish most of the foreign words we use (especially regarding computers and similars) had a proper translation in Portuguese. But the thing is this is a natural process. We can start changes from now on, but going back to change things in the past will never work.

    With regard to foreigners, how can they go to a different country and expect that everyone speaks their language? We do have English as a global language to help us dealing with French, Japanese, Italian people… If a employee or an owner of a store can’t speak English with a Japanese, it’s very unlikely they’ll start speaking Japanese. And, again, if they’re not prepared to deal with foreign clients, that’s their problem, not government’s!

  • Dear Jussara,

    I would like to thank you for you brilliant text. However, I missed one thing: examples where the words are used especially by Brazilian learners of English. In my humble opinion, this could be a great source of discussion because it would give people an image how Brazilians are dealing with English.

    As you know, most Brazilians learn English but hardly ever have the opportunity to interact with a “native” speaker. So, most of them talk to other Brazilian learners and use the language in their own way sometimes making “mistakes” like this one:

    “Drugs? I am out!!”

    I am sure there are lots of examples like the one above that prove how we are taking control of this foreign language and how we are changing it.

  • Good text! I just wanna disagree with the “90%+ of the inhabitants are functional illiterates”. This is a huge exaggeration! According to data from 2009 of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, IBGE, Brazil has 20.3% of functional illiterates. Please don’t do this kind of big distortion about brazilian facts anymore in this blog!

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