Posted in English

A Crónica Dos Bons Malandros – Vocabulary

I’ve been watching the TV adaptation of Mário Zambujal’s novel, A Crónica dos Bons Malandros (the chronicles of the good… scoundrels…? hmm… it doesn’t sound as good in english though does it?), about a bunch of chancers who set out to steal some valuable jewels from the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. It’s on RTP1 and it has portuguese subtitles which helps when the dialogue is fast (most of the time) but even so, it’s really challenging. Lots of slang, lots of period detail from the early eighties. Here are a few words and phrases that I collected along the way. It’s pretty far from being a full glossary, but they were the things that caught my intetrest

Os Bons Malandros – the Portuguese Ocean’s Eleven

A trouxe-mouxe

In a disorderly manner, helter skelter

Isso são pilha-galinhas. Vamos embora

When the gang get arrested early in the series, the cops get a call on the radio a abiut a more serious crime and so they decide to let them go because they are just “pilha-galinhas”: small-fry, literally chicken thieves.


To steal something in a sneaky way. Nick it, pinch it, ‘ave it away.


A swarm of bees. You can’t really miss this one because when they release it there are bees everywhere


Usually means shelf but it comes up in a slightly surprising context. According to Priberam it can also mean “Os seios”

Isto é uma cena muito política, ‘tás a ver? Cunhas

Cunhas just means wedges, and when people use it like this it’s meant to convey that the person has contacts who can help them get a foot in the door. In other words, it’s a gripe about being treated unfavourably by insiders making way for their friends.

Carlinhos dança que se desunha

Literally “desunhar” is what it sounds like: unhas are nails, as in fingernails, so des-unhar might literally mean to remove someone’s claws or nails, but more likely, when used as a pronomial verb with se, as in the example, it means working so hard that your nails come off. So Carlos dances a lot, puts everything into it. It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s good (although he seems to be that too!)

Trigo limpo, farinha Amparo

This one comes from an old advertising slogan for Amparo, a brand name of a kind of wheat meal popular in the seventies and eighties. I think when it’s used in the show he’s using it to mean it’s all good, nothing to worry about.


A public hair – or by extension any trivial, insignificant thing


Literally means a tassel, but can also mean a freebie. I’m not sure how informal this is though: the character who says it is asking a prostitute if she’ll “fazer uma borla” and I think he’s asking for a freebie as a regular customer. Whether you can use the same expression when asking your friend to fix your laptop for free, I don’t know. Caveat emptor.

“És anti-religiosa?” / “Nao, sou anti-mirones”

Said by Zinita when o doutor turns the statue of Jesus to face the wall. A mirone is a rubbernecker, peeping tom, lookie-loo, that kind of thing


This one comes up a few times and it means nickname


A film extra

Não enche meu saco

Don’t annoy me.


Nuffink, Nope


Forças Populares 25 de Abril was a left wing terrorist organisation in the eighties.


The nose, mouth area of an animal – the snout or the muzzle, so when the guy in the prison yard says he’s going to esmagar Flávio’s fuça he means he’s going to give him what PG Wodehouse would call “a poke in the snoot”


Something like “oh yes indeed” although I don’t think the justiceiro means it when he says this to the fascist banana seller because in the next line he reminds him that his father is…

A gritar bravos ao Botas no cemitério do Tarrafal

Tarrafal was a concentration camp in Cabo Verde where the Estado Novo kept its political prisoners, so if someone was shouting bravo there they were probably a collaborator or a lickspittle of some kind. I’m not sure who or what Botas was – I can’t find a reference to him in any of the pages I’ve seen.


The cops, the fuzz


Is just the name of a footballer. You probably already know gthat but I’m a bit slow on the uptake. I think the joke is that they’ve just heard about the robbery on the news and they ask Justiceiro his opinion but he’s distracted by another story, about the footie.


This one is pretty straightforward and just means to put something in a drawer (Gavete), but can also be used the way we might talk about “shelving” something – just put it aside and ignore it. In episode 6 there’s a scene where the police officer who has arrested Bitoque asks him if he will “engavetar” his grandmother and he’s using it in another sense, namely, to put someone in jail. So he just wants him to give them information about her crimes.

Defendo que Camarate foi um atentado

This comes during a really confusing scene half way through the last episode where there’s been a double cross, and nobody know where the jewels are or what’s going on, and people are pretending not to be able to understand each other’s accents and slinging around insults. Barbosa accuses his son in law of being an esquerdalha (leftist) and he replies that “I support the theory that the Camarate Case was an act of terrorism”. I’m not quite sure how this situates him on the political map TBH. The Camarate Case was a plane crash in the Camarate district outside of Lisbon in 1980. the then prime minister, Franciso Sá Carneiro and his finance minister, Adelino Amaro da Costa were both among the dead. This was shortly after the Carnation Revolution and there was a lot of shady stuff going on. Some think he was killed by the CIA because he was going to stop America from using the Açores as an air base, (that was a huge deal at that stage of the cold war), but I’ve also spent an awkward taxi ride listening to the taxista rant about how it was that bastard Mario Soares who had him killed. Soares was in the Partido Socialista whereas Sá Carneiro was in the Partido Social Democrata. You can read more about it here (Portuguese) or here (English). Or just ask a taxista.

Taxi drivers – they’re the same the world over!


Just a data nerd

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