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6 Portuguese Terms We Wish Existed in English

futevolei edit

Sometimes we’re at a loss for words, not because we’re speechless, but because no English term lends itself to the situation (or snack) at hand. At those times, we turn to other languages, celebrating them for the concepts we wish we could express so easily in English. Here are some of our favorite words from the Portuguese language.

Saudade
This untranslatable Portuguese term refers to the melancholic longing or yearning. A recurring theme in Portuguese and Brazilian literature, saudade evokes a sense of loneliness and incompleteness. Portuguese scholar Aubrey Bell attempts to distill this complex concept in his 1912 book In Portugal, describing saudade as “a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present.” He continues to say that saudade is “not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.” Saudade can more casually be used to say that you miss someone or something, even if you’ll see that person or thing in the near future. It differs from nostalgia in that one can feel saudade for something that might never have happened, whereas nostalgia is “a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.”

Futevôlei
Brazilians have inventively portmanteau’d the sports of volleyball and soccer together to create futevôlei, “footvolley,” beach volleyball played without hands. This sport rose to popularity in the 1960s on the beaches of Copacabana. One famous move called the Shark Attack involves players spiking the volleyball over the net with one foot.

Cafuné
Perhaps the secret to Brazil’s romantic image lies within the Portuguese language. “The act of caressing or tenderly running fingers through a loved one’s hair” is a mouthful mercifully avoided in Brazil with the term cafuné. This affectionate action can be applied to lovers and pets alike, as can the term chamego, which wraps up the senses of intimacy, infatuation, and cuddling, all in one term.

Farofa
A traditional Brazilian feast will come with a side of farofa. This dish consists of manioc flour toasted in butter, and usually mixed with finely chopped ingredients like bacon, eggs, or bananas. Brazilians generally serve farofa alongside other foods at a traditional barbecue, called a churrasco.

Tapioca
Though English speakers might think of tapioca as the dense balls found in pudding and bubble tea, the term can refer to something entirely different in Brazil. Often purchased from street carts, this snack is made of tapioca flour toasted until it forms a flat, round shape, filled with sweet or savory ingredients, and then folded in half. A popular treat among Brazilians is tapioca filled with shredded meat and cheese, or with coconut, condensed milk, and cinnamon.

Desenrascanço
The term desenrascanço, used in Portugal, roughly means “the act of disentangling yourself from a difficult situation using available means.” Some English speakers find a near translation of desenrascanço in the colloquial verb MacGyver, as in the Gizmodo headline “How NASA MacGyvered the Crippled Apollo 13 Mission Safely Home.” The eponymous verb MacGyver comes from the action/adventure show of the same name, first aired in 1985, in which the title character evades sticky situations by reconfiguring the limited resources at his disposal. For example, in one episode MacGyver fashions a trap using plywood, rope, water jugs, and a smoke detector to help him escape from a heavily guarded warehouse.

What are some of your favorite words from Portuguese?

52 Comments

  1. Renata M. Myers -  June 29, 2014 - 7:09 am

    You did wonderful describing these words in Portuguese from Brazil and Portugal. Great article. Thanks.

    Reply
  2. Paulo -  June 29, 2014 - 6:35 am

    The word “desenrascanço” exists in portuguese language. I think some brazilians didn’t understand that the article is about portuguese and not their specific version of the language,

    Reply
  3. Heitor -  June 28, 2014 - 8:27 pm

    Regarding this: “It (saudade) differs from nostalgia in that one can feel saudade for something that might never have happened (…)”.

    I’m sorry, but that is totally wrong. ‘Saudade’ is AWAYS about something that happened at least once in someone’s life! The difference between nostalgia and saudade (at least in Portuguese) is that nostalgia is when you are already missing/longing for something that just happened, while saudade is when you are missing/longing/yearning for something (or someone) that is gone (or happened) for some time already.
    For example: “Estou com saudades (often used in plural) de casa.” (“I miss/long for my home.”
    Saudade is often about not just something that you miss/long for, but also about something that you hope to see (or have) again.

    Reply
    • Oddislag -  July 2, 2014 - 3:56 pm

      It’s like he’s talking the kind of Saudade some poets would use. In an allegoric way, it is the way as it’s here described.

      Reply
    • Gabriella -  July 24, 2014 - 11:47 pm

      I thought nostalgia was reflecting on the distant past through rose-plated glasses.

      Reply
  4. Heitor -  June 28, 2014 - 8:03 pm

    Some people just can’t read English well. :P So many Brazilians saying ‘desenrascanço’ doesn’t exist.
    Read the text: “The term desenrascanço, USED IN PORTUGAL (…)”. Just the start says it all! I’ll write it in Portuguese so every Brazilian can understand it well: “O termo desenrascanço, USADO EM PORTUGAL (…)”. In other words, you don’t know it because it doesn’t exist in Brazil, but the article is about the Portuguese language in a whole, not only the Brazilian Portuguese, and the text explains it right in the beggining of the paragraph: “The term desenrascanço, used IN PORTUGAL”. Leiam! ;)

    PS: I’m Brazilian. :)

    Reply
    • Carla -  July 2, 2014 - 10:03 am

      Olá Heitor,
      Se estiver interessado, acabei de deixar um comentário mais abaixo (resposta a Fernando Rodrigues) que explica o aparecimento de tantos comentários de compatriotas seus a dizerem que a palavra não existia. A parte “used in Portugal” foi acrescentada posteriormente, não estava na explicação original aquando da publicação do artigo. Mesmo assim, e como disse no comentário, penso que uma simples pesquisa bastaria para encontrar o termo no contexto em que é utilizado em Portugal. Seria o suficiente para evitar toda esta discussão do “existe/não existe”, que, em retrospectiva, parece um pouco absurda :-)

      Reply
  5. Kenjie Tsuchiyama -  June 28, 2014 - 7:57 am

    Why disagree on something that the author did not say? The author wishes that the six Portuguese terms he described existed in English. The terms are not all Brazilian Portuguese either but he specifically mentions if it is. As to the term “desenrascanço,” he clearly added “used in Portugual” so why should our Brazilian friends wonder if this is not being used in their country? I’m not Portuguese, nor a native English speaker but I understand simple English.

    Reply
    • Kenjie Tsuchiyama -  June 28, 2014 - 8:11 am

      As I was about to close this site, that’s the only time I’ve learned that the author is a lady. My apology for using “he” in Moshiwake arimasen.

      Reply
  6. Fernando N. Rodrigues -  June 27, 2014 - 2:25 pm

    ‘Desenrascanço’ does not exist because it does not exist in Brazil.
    ‘Desenrascanço’ exists, because it exists in Portugal – though it appears on Brazilian most authoritative Houaiss Dictionary.
    Dictionary.com states it clearly that the term is ‘used in Portugual’.
    What a waste of time discussing that.
    What nobody seems to have noticed up to now is that the name of Portugal got here an extra ‘u’ between ‘g’ and ‘a’, in a funny form of writing that is more and more usual in Brazil these days.
    Thank you for your very nice article.

    Reply
    • Carla -  July 2, 2014 - 9:44 am

      I’ve been following this discussion since pretty much the beginning, and what happened was that the part “used in Portugual (sic)” (and yes, that typo should really be fixed) was added later, it wasn’t in the original explanation of the term for the first few days after the article was posted.
      However, being Portuguese, I did find it a bit sad at the time that so many Brazilians went for the “that word doesn’t exist” comment without at least doing some research first. After all, the article did say it was “Portuguese terms”, not “Brazilian Portuguese terms”.
      So, to all Brazilians out there (or at least those who left the first few comments): if you ever come across a supposedly Portuguese word you don’t recognize, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist; chances are it’s a word used in at least one of the other Portuguese-speaking countries.
      And Fernando, thank you for pointing out the “Portugual” typo. I do hope someone fixes it.

      Reply
  7. Joe (José) -  June 27, 2014 - 10:20 am

    I lived in Brazil for a while in the 1980s. These are some of my favorite expressions or the way some terms were used…

    Não tem jeito
    Não da, para… (fazer uma coisa)
    Um porcaria
    Com licença

    Reply
    • the internet -  June 27, 2014 - 5:42 pm

      hi joe (josé),

      what do these things mean?????? i dont speak portuguese or else i would already know these phrases. thank you in advance.

      love,

      the internet

      Reply
  8. Gilka Calazans -  June 27, 2014 - 6:33 am

    Loved the article, not to mention the discussions posted, very entertaining. Keep up the good work. And for all of you who like to post your opinions, perhaps next time do some research first. I liked the point that David made and I agree with him. Keep in mind that the reason Portuguese in Brazil differ from the one in Portugal is due to the native Indians languages influences such as Tupi and Guarani, but the African ones as well; besides any linguistic will tell you that language is endlessly evolving, or else we would still be speaking the Shakespearean ways today “To be or not to be…” Hey, remember this: “When you change the way to look at things, the things you’re looking at change.” I am a Brazilian who lives in US for 30 yrs. major in Spanish. So, Keep it up. I’m loving it!

    Reply
  9. Marcos alves -  June 26, 2014 - 8:50 pm

    Sudade sound like perfect if you compare with saudade xD i’m from Brazil

    Reply
  10. Azélio Negrão Jr. -  June 26, 2014 - 1:57 pm

    Dear Jane Solomon. I can’t be bold cause I never took classes in English.
    But I loved to read your article. So…who was your brazilian advisor ? You don’t need to be a cook to know that Tapioca is another type of finished product from Manioc too,- so you was right about Farofa. By the way, in some part of this large country some think Farofa like a corny or dull kind of food. The past generation doesn’t offer farofa because it’s a poor’s choice.
    And now the tragic History: – Saudade: You can ask Camões about it or
    better yet – something fresh, like a Portuguese Dictionary.
    Saudade is Portuguese exclusive word, (Picture me whispering …bull !!)
    That reminds me of a song : I wish you were here ( the kind of stuff carved in my ENGLISH) or simply I miss you,. Missing is the perfect replacement to explain all the feeling within saudade of anything, in time or space, the rest is a myth ! I can express myself like this: “I miss my wife and mom’s food.and my youth, my freedom.” You see: things, people, emotions or feelings, moments or places. I can miss it all.

    Desenras….what? Oh ! a typesetting error I beleave?!?!
    Once again thanks to bring eyes over Brasil, all the best.

    Azélio Negrão Jr.
    Pós-Graduado em Língua Portuguesa
    especializado em produção de texto
    TCC: a importância da escolha vocabular
    na produção de textos

    Reply
  11. Daiane Gadelha -  June 26, 2014 - 12:11 pm

    Hi!
    I never saw this word “desenrascanço” in Protuguese from Brazil! About Cafuné, it also can be done among parents and children, but CHAMEGO is a term used just to to couple!!!

    Reply
  12. Ana -  June 26, 2014 - 11:26 am

    Futvolei is not exclusively from Brazil. There is futvolei in Portugal, there are championships of futvolei, a federation, and there is also a variant of futvolei called madeirabol.

    Reply
  13. João -  June 26, 2014 - 11:00 am

    I am portuguese and I can despite having no knowledge of how it is like in Brazil, I can attest that the verb ‘desenrascar’ does indeed exist and is fairly used in Portugal. This whole thing is a non issue really, just use any dictionary and you’ll find it.

    Reply
    • Maurício Morgado -  June 27, 2014 - 4:40 am

      João
      Sou do Brasil e, confesso, me surpreendi com “desenrascanço”. Nunca tinha ouvido, achei fascinante. Aliás, adorei. Veja você, na falta dessa ótima palavra em nosso vocabulário do lado de cá do Atlântico, às vezes chamamos um sujeito que resolve situações complicadas de MacGyver. Seria ele um “desenrascançador”?
      Adoro observar a diferença entre nossas formas de usar o mesmo idioma.
      Em visita a Portugal, em um restaurante, vi que serviam borrego. Tive que pedir o cardápio em inglês para descobrir que era o que chamamos aqui de carneiro.
      Sinto falta dos pastéis de Belém! Dos legítimos, claro.
      Abraços e sorte por aí.
      Maurício

      Reply
      • Laura -  June 27, 2014 - 4:46 pm

        Maurício, nesse caso seria um desenrascado ;)
        Já agora, nós também chamamos os carneiros de… bem, carneiros! Borregos são os carneiros jovens. Como porco e leitão ;)
        Ah, e prova um pastel de nata dos bons. Vai dar no mesmo, acredita!

        Reply
  14. Milicent -  June 26, 2014 - 10:19 am

    Dudes, Portuguese isn’t spoken solely in Brazil. “Desenrascanço” does exist. In Portugal. And we use it often.

    Reply
  15. Cinthia Kriemler -  June 26, 2014 - 8:01 am

    The Word you want do say is “Desenrascar”. It is a verb, meaning exactly what you described (to disantangle). But in Portuguese you have to conjugate the verbs according to the pronoun. Exemple: “Eu (I) desenrasco”, “Você (You) desenrasca” , “Eles (they) desenrascam” and so on. The word you wrote down does not exist. But is quite similar. Try DESENRASCANDO. Just change the “ç” for a “d” — the “ando” , “indo” “endo” verb terminations in Portuguese is quite the same as the “ing” in English.

    Reply
    • Grazillionaire -  June 30, 2014 - 9:06 am

      Cinthia,

      “Desenrascanço” is the noun form of the verb “desenrascar”
      Think “disentangle” -> “disentanglement”

      Hope this helps.

      Reply
  16. hi -  June 26, 2014 - 7:47 am

    What a Waste!….
    Why list the words but not the audio pronunciation of the words, especially Foreign words…on a dictionary website, no less.

    Also, why do this site give us USELESS words like many of the British words that are not used in America.
    There are many other words that are outdated and this site should separate them.
    We need up to date words and when they are outdated, have a separted sections for those words.

    Reply
    • Gooseberry -  June 28, 2014 - 10:05 pm

      The reason why we have these useless words is perhaps simply for entertainment, and coding an audio pronunciation button is unnecessary and time consuming.

      It’s just for fun, you know.

      Reply
      • Rebecca -  July 2, 2014 - 5:37 am

        Thank you. I find these entertaining and educational. And I always love hearing from the natives!

        Reply
  17. Fabio -  June 26, 2014 - 7:32 am

    I’m Portuguese and desenrascanço is definitely a Portuguese word. It might not be common in Brazil, but in Portugal is often used, especially in these times of crisis.

    Reply
  18. Victor Fraga -  June 26, 2014 - 6:46 am

    Interesting article except that I’m Brazilian and I’ve never heard the word “desenrascanço” nor anything vaguely similar…

    Reply
  19. Carla -  June 26, 2014 - 4:03 am

    “Desenrascanço” definitely exists in the Portuguese vocabulary (at least in Portugal, not sure about the African countries). Like Milicent said, it’s a word that describes how we, Portuguese, always manage to find ways to solve all kinds of problems, by whatever means necessary, and usually at the last minute. The Portuguese are masters of “Desenrascanço”.

    Reply
  20. Will -  June 25, 2014 - 11:17 pm

    Good article! But it doesn’t seem that desenrascanco is a real word. But hey ho, I live in England, what do I know?? :-)

    Reply
  21. Filipe -  June 25, 2014 - 7:42 pm

    Every so often I run into “saudade” on these lists, and it’s almost always treated with this sort of mystic reverence. It shouldn’t be. It’s a good word that evokes and conveys feelings that we’ve all experienced at some point. Please stop making it sound weird.

    Reply
  22. Marisa P. -  June 25, 2014 - 4:22 pm

    I’m a Portuguese citizen and I can assure you that the word “desenrascanço” is a coloquial term used in Portugal with the exact meaning perpetrated by this article.

    Brazilian friends, the portuguese language is not (just) brazilian portuguese. ;)

    Reply
  23. Beth Fischer -  June 25, 2014 - 1:40 pm

    I’m Brazilian and a translator. There is no “desenrascanço” in any part of Brazil, sorry to say. And the appropriate translation of “MacGyver” (noun) is “gambiarra”, meaning the improvised use of an object, or an improvised invention made with spare parts not intended for the aimed use of this invention, or any improvised fixing of parts (Apollo 13′s astronauts made a ‘gambiarra’ to come back to Earth). Oh, and “cafuné” is not a Portuguese word, it comes from the Native Brazilian “Tupi” language, and it refers to the sound one makes with their nails when picking for lice in the other’s head. The meaning of “caressing one’s hair” came after.

    Reply
    • Jose -  June 26, 2014 - 4:35 am

      I’m sorry to contradict you but the word “Desenrascanço” do exists in Portuguese language. I am a native Portuguese citizen (and a lecturer, by the way) and I can guarantee you that this word is widely used, specially in colloquial terms. Just because you don’t use it, that doesn’t mean it does not exist in Portuguese language.

      Reply
    • miguel -  June 26, 2014 - 8:52 am

      “6 Portuguese Terms We Wish Existed in English”
      Conforme se pode ler no título, o seu autor refere-se a palavras portuguesas.O que abrange o meu português, de Portugal, assim como o brasileiro e o português dos PALOP.
      E de facto o termo desenrascanço é tipicamente português e caracteriza muitas vezes os portugueses que são capazes de sair de situações complicadas de uma forma aurosa utilizando os meios que têm ao seu alcance em determinada situação.

      Reply
    • Daiane Gadelha -  June 26, 2014 - 12:10 pm

      Hi!
      I never saw this word “desenrascanço” in Protuguese from Brazil! About Cafuné, it also can be done among parents and children, but CHAMEGO is a term used just to to couple!!!

      Reply
  24. Genilce -  June 25, 2014 - 11:23 am

    Desenrascando*

    Reply
  25. Joyce -  June 25, 2014 - 8:06 am

    Well, very good article. I just would like to mention that I am Brazilian and I have never heard the word “desenrascanço”. Generally,we say “sair de uma enrascada” wich means get out of a difficult situation.

    Reply
  26. Milicent -  June 25, 2014 - 3:28 am

    ‘Desenrascanço’ is a word that perfectly describes Portuguese people’s tenacious spirit and our very particular resourcefulness.

    Reply
  27. Marcio -  June 24, 2014 - 9:17 pm

    There is no desenrascanco in Portuguese Language. The correct word is desembaraco with cedilla. I am native Portuguese native speaker.

    Reply
    • Jose -  June 26, 2014 - 4:32 am

      I’m sorry to contradict you but the word “Desenrascanço” do exists in Portuguese language. I am a native Portuguese citizen and I can guarantee you that this word is widely used, specially in colloquial terms. Just because you don’t use it, that doesn’t mean it does not exist in Portuguese language.

      Reply
  28. Marcio -  June 24, 2014 - 9:16 pm

    The last word is desembaraco with cedilla under the c. There is no desenrecanco in Portuguese. I am Brazilian Portuguese native speaker.

    Reply
  29. Davi -  June 24, 2014 - 11:14 am

    Hi guys,

    I’ve just read this article and I like it! Nevertheless, I’m Brazilian (living in Sao Pauo) and have never heard (or read) the word “desenrascanço”. I’ve just asked my parents and a friend of mine and they haven’t heard it as well. It sounds clumsy to us. Perhaps it is more common either in Portugal or in some specific areas in Brazil. Anyway, I got the word’s meaning and would say that the word “jeitinho” would fit much better in this case. “Jeitinho” is indeed well-known all over the country, and in many other countries too as a word used by Brazilians which roughly means “to solve a problem in a creative and sometimes even illegal way”.

    Reply
    • miguel -  June 26, 2014 - 8:59 am

      “6 Portuguese Terms We Wish Existed in English”
      Conforme se pode ler no título, o seu autor refere-se a palavras portuguesas.O que abrange o meu português, de Portugal, assim como o brasileiro e o português dos PALOP.
      E de facto o termo desenrascanço é tipicamente português e caracteriza muitas vezes os portugueses que são capazes de sair de situações complicadas de uma forma aurosa utilizando os meios que têm ao seu alcance em determinada situação.

      Reply
  30. Raphael Forte -  June 24, 2014 - 7:52 am

    As a Brazilian citizen, I’m sorry to inform you that the last word “Desenrascanço” does not exist.

    I’ve never heard or seen such word and I can assure you no one uses it in Brazil. I have no idea where you guys found it.

    I can’t imagine anyone saying this under any circunstance, since it is not a real word present in the vocabulary of a Brazilian citizen.

    See ya!

    Reply
    • Rebecca -  July 2, 2014 - 5:42 am

      Eu imagino que já viu todas as respostas dos portugueses que dizem que desenrascanço si usa com frequência em Portugal. Tem que pensar nos outros países lusofonos!

      Reply
  31. Vijai gomes -  June 24, 2014 - 4:06 am

    Like

    Reply

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