Tag Archives: language

Substantivos coletivos – aka – Things I’ll never learn in Portuguese

It was during our trip to Bonito, that I first realised that Portuguese had more nouns for groups of animals than English or German. A woman had asked what again the word was for a swarm of butterflies, and the answer was panapaná –  used for butterflies and nothing else.

Indeed, as a colleague taught me later, Portuguese has a whole set of nouns that describe groups of animals, going way beyond the swarm, herd or flock other languages have to offer. Some of these collective nouns are unique to wild or domestic animals, some to birds or fishes and others can be used just as well for a group of bandits.

There are more than comprehensive lists of these collective nouns available online, though the ones I found most compelling are:

  •  Colmeia – beehive / swarm of bees
  • Panapaná – a swarm of butterflies
  • Alcatéia – a pack of wild animals (wolves, lions, wild hogs, etc.)
  • Gado – cattle
  • Manada – a group of donkeys, horses or cattle
  • Boiada – a herd of cows
  • Cardume – a swarm of fishes
  • Fato – a group of goats
  • Cambada, gatarrada, gataria – a group of cats
  • Ponta – a group of mules
  • Vara – a group of pigs
  • Trompa – a group of lamas

“What a tapir” – or – How to insult a Brazilian

Tapirs, in Portuguese called Anta, do not enjoy much respect or a high reputation in Brazil. On the contrary, to call someone “uma anta” equals to denying this particular person even the most basic intelligible reasoning.

Maybe that’s why tapirs are threatened. In a mundus humanus, not being a cute animal hardly helps conservation.

Tap, tap, tapirI kind of like them. They are peaceful, slow vegetarians and like to take a swim. Plus, the little ones are cute. Don’t you think?

From cattle to cache

The Economist has a charming little article on the challenges of translating IT vocabulary into languages dominated by the farming or fishing origin of their native speakers.

How could one possible resist crash = hookii – a cow falling over but not dying; timeout = a honaama – your fish has got away; or aspect ratio = jeendondiral, a rebuke from elders when a fishing net is wrongly woven?


To portuguese

is indeed a verb in Portuguese: Aportuguesar; which is nothing else but to adapt a word from a foreign language. Usually, this is done by modifying the spelling of the word, in order to keep its pronunciation similar:

  • tuitar – to tweet
  • beisebol – baseball

And, the absolute favourite in our house: bleacaute – blackout.

Sometimes however, the original spelling is kept and only modified so far as to make a proper verb, e.g. pasteurizar or parboilizar which has then all the properties & conjugations of any (regular) verb.



  • rali – rally
  • uisque – whiskey
  • caubói – cowboy
  • coquetel – cocktail

Small change – big words

a little insight into the Brazilian language*…

As far as I have noticed, any noun in Brazil can be modified by adding a

  • ão – making it a ‘bigger’, or
  • inho / inha (depending on gender) – making it smaller


  • Jogão – an eventful, big game (of, let’s say, football)
  • Favorzão – a big favor
  • Favorzinho – a small favor
  • Chuvinha – fine / little rain
  • The famous cafezinho – a small / quick coffee
  • works also for chazinho – i.e. tea

Sometimes however, the meaning of the words shiftes ever so slightly when marked by such a suffix:

  • Peixão – big fish – also synonym for a woman with curves
  • Peixinho – small fish – also synonym for the boss’ favorite in the office

Beyond the meaning, comes the wish-thinking in the form of problemazinho – a little, a small problem. While grammatically, problemazão exists as well, no Brazilian would ever admit that you are just confronted with a such.

Which leaves us – last but not least – with obrigadão – a big thank you for reading!

* Technically português do Brasil as opposed to português do Portugal. Only that I have absolutely no idea about the latter since I’ve never been there.

On demand language skills

Today, I had one of those moments where I just wished not to understand other people. Of course, it’s a good sign that I understand by now almost anything or anybody when it comes to Portuguese.

But when I had to wait today in a ministry, these two people next to me… How to say this politely? I do not care what you had for dinner. And no, you don’t need to call your daughter to ask her how the pudim was she had after lunch. And no, I don’t want to know that you are accused by everybody in your family of having too many midnight snacks.  And so it went on and on and on for the entire 60 minutes waiting time…

It was one of those moments in which I longingly remember the blissful time when I would simply continue reading my book because I didn’t understand and  in which I very much wish that language skills could be momentarily suspended.

Infelizmente, não é possivel.

Multilingual Maceió?

Well, not really. Maceió is really more of an unilingual environment which is actually very helpful in terms of learning Portuguese. Nothing motivates as much to study a language as the dire need to make yourself understood.

What I still have trouble getting used to though, are the looks, the heads turning and the whisper whenever talking in French or German in public places. Especially after the time in Brussels where it was nothing unusual to overhear people talking in Russian, Polish, English, Dutch, German, Spanish, Arab, French, you name it, during a single metro ride.

And not one person would even shrug…

Epiphany of the year

There are native English speakers, native French speakers, German, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, you name it.

And then there are native bullshit speakers. The moment they open their mouth… across all language barriers.

It feel so good to have found a word for these guys: RIP Kiss principle!

The joy of language

Seen before but rediscovered today thanks to The Proceedings.

Word of the week


  • A pret is a pleasure; ein Vergnügen.
  • pretje is the diminutive
  • binnenpretje is a chuckle about a funny thought

One of those words for which there is no one-word equivalent in another language (I know). Grappig.