Posted in English

Um Novo Podcast

Today’s daily text is about a book podcast in English. Thanks to danimorgenstern for the corrections

Backlisted podcast

Há algum tempo ouvia dois podcasts sobre livros: Bookshambles e Mostly Lit mas o segundo acabou quando um dos três apresentadores saiu para escrever os seus próprios livros. Depois, o primeiro deixou de falar sobre livros e fiquei aborrecido.
Mas ontem ouvi falar dum podcast interessante chamado Backlisted. Não é novo, apenas não tinha reparado nele antes. O seu arquivo tem montes de gravações sobre livros antigos que eu adoro tal como “A Month In the Country” de JL Carr e “The Dark is Rising” de Susan Cooper. Os apresentadores adoram livros e sabem tanto mas mesmo tanto sobre os autores dos quais falam. Estou a gostar muito!
Não conheço nenhuns podcasts portugueses semelhantes mas não me importa assim tanto porque existem Booktubers amadores que deixam opiniões sobre os seus livros preferidos e é aí que mato a minha sede livrólica!*

*=i originally tried to write this last sentence by splicing together two lines from two of the poems I’ve been learning by heart: “nele é que espelho o céu” (from Mar Português by Fernando Pessoa) and “Com luar matar a sede ao gado” (from Rústica by Florbela Espanca). It ended up as “nele é que mato a minha sede livrólica!” but I’d obviously bitten off more than I could chew!

Posted in English

Loose Screws and Brexit Blues

I see the Portuguese papers are covering Dom Cummings’s interview with Laura Kuennsberg. Now, I don’t really think Cummings and his ridiculous scheming need any more free publicity so for the purposes of this blog post, I will change his face and name to that of another Dom, namely Dom Casmurro, the protagonist of a classic Brazilian novel of the same name by Machado de Assis*. Why would Dom Casmurro want to bring about Brexit? Something to do with his belief in the power of unfettered free markets, I think. Yes, that’s right… He’s a Capitulist**.

One of the things Dom Casmurro said in his interview was that anyone who was sure about the outcomes of brexit must have “a screw loose”. Except the Portuguese headline doesn’t actually say that, it says one screw short: “Um parafuso a menos”. I wondered if this was just an attempt at a literal translation of an English expression that had gone a bit wrong, but it isn’t. According to priberam, the expression “ter um parafuso a menos” actually exists as an idiomatic expression and it means the same thing as “have a screw loose” means in English.

There are variations. You can hear it as “um parafuso de menos” because a menos and de menos mean the same thing. And here’s where the plot thickens: you can also have “um parafuso a mais” – one screw too many!

I suppose the fact that Portuguese screws can be too many or too few might point to a subtle difference in what Portuguese and English speakers are imagining when they use their version of the expression. It seems as if the Portuguese version relates to something like an IKEA assembly, or some sort of building project where you either run out of screws or have one left over at the end. Something must have gone wrong in the assembly. In English, on the other hand, we’re usually thinking of a machine that is behaving erratically, rattling and producing defective work because it hasn’t had all its fixtures tightened properly.

I like this sort of divergence. There are lots of examples of Portuguese expressions that are identical to English ones and plenty where an expression only exists in one language. But this sort of case is intriguing because they’re similar but with a different slant in Portuguese vs English. How did they end up like this? I refuse to believe that they just emerged independently. That just doesn’t ring true at all.

So… Maybe the expression started out in one language and was transmitted to the other but in the process it got altered slightly? So if it started in English and got adopted in Portuguese, “um parafuso a menos” sounded better than “um parafuso à solta”.

Or vice versa, if it traveled to London from Lisbon, “a screw loose” sounded better than “a screw missing” to anglophone ears so we changed it to suit ourselves.

Alternatively, maybe it was imported into both languages from a third, such as French, say. I had a half-hearted look online for “un vis desserrée” or various ways I could think of saying absent, missing, failed screws with my rusty O-Level French, but couldn’t come up with anything that brought back a high enough number of Google results to convince me I was looking at a common ancestor of my English and Portuguese expressions.

Dictionaries, whether English or Portuguese, limit themselves to etymologies within English and Portuguese and don’t acknowledge earlier instances in other languages, so there’s not much of a clue to be had there. English dictionaries claim origins somewhere around the 18th or 19th centuries but I don’t see any dates in any online Portuguese dictionaries. Maybe it’s time to invest in a chunky breeze-block sized Portuguese dictionary at last.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I don’t know for sure but I am pretty sure that there has been some cross-pollination of languages here, but not a direct, literal translation. If anyone reading this has any more information I’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, the expression “um parafuso a menos” seems useful to know and I will definitely try and work it into the conversation next time I meet a young poet on a train who wants me to listen to his poetry when I am feeling sleepy.

*=The Dom in Dom Casmurro isn’t a name though, it’s an honorific like “Sir” or “Lord”. The protagonist, Bento Santiago is given the name Don Casmurro on the very first page of the book by an annoying wannabe poet who he has met on a train journey. Casmurro doesn’t translate well into English but it’s something along the lines of stubborn, monomaniacal, a loner… Pig-headed maybe? “Lord Pig-headed”? I dunno. It’s not a catchy name for a book is it?

**= in the book, Bento falls in love with and marries his neighbour Capitolina, known as Capitu. The novel is really popular but there’s a raging controversy among its admirers which hinges on whether or not Bento is correct in his belief that she has been unfaithful to him. IMHO, no, he’s an idiot, but that’s far from a universally held opinion! Anyway, sorry, that’s a lot of background material to explain a pretty terrible pun, isn’t it?

Posted in English, Portuguese

The New New Normal

Since “The New Normal” has been a theme today, here’s Sergio Godinho with a song of that name, written in August last year and containing obvious references to the long nightmare from which we hope we will soon awake (although I’m writing this the day after “Freedom Day” and I am regning in my optimism…)

Dadas as circunstâncias Given the circumstances
Mantenha as distâncias Keep your distance
Respeite os espaços Respect the spaces
Controle essas ânsias Control your urges
De beijos e abraços for kisses and hugs
Refreie as audácias e as inobservâncias Refrain from risks and non-observances

Posted in English

Are You Normal?

I really challenged myself yesterday by participating in a live discussion about whether or not covid has brought about a “New Normal”. Regular readers might remember I tried to join in a workshop about the suffragette movement in Portugal a few weeks back but I got cold feet when I realised I’d have to speak on camera and not just listen. Well, this time, I was better prepared!

People photo created by mego-studio -
Proposed new design for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

The teacher started out with an introduction and asked us all to write down our personal answer at the outset. Then the format was based on a series of video and audio recordings. She’d show us a different point of view and then we broke into discussion groups to see whether the new angle had changed our minds at all. At the end we summed up by seeing how our opinion had changed over the course of all the stages.

My subgroup consisted of just three people. I started out by apologising to the other two for the fact that my mastery of Portuguese was perhaps a little less than ideal for the level of discussion, and I hoped they wouldn’t mind me tagging along. Amazingly one of them asked would I like them to conduct the discussion in English! I am used to waiters and shop assistants offering this courtesy of course, but the level of generosity in offering to do it in an hour-and-a-half long discussion speaks volumes for how welcoming the Portuguese are to visitors, tourists and immigrants. Imagine some English speakers in the UK making a similar offer to a french guest who dropped in unexpectedly, for example.

I thanked her for the offer but declined of course. Even if I wasn’t trying to gain familiarity with the language, the level of egotism I would need to expect them to go to such trouble would just be off the charts!

I actually managed to hold my own pretty well, I think. I mean, I struggled with some aspects. One of the videos was hard to follow due to the Brazilian accent, and I hadn’t really warmed my brain up beforehand so I wasn’t especially articulate, but that’s OK. I listened to the other participants, tried to give my own opinion (slightly stiltedly) asked a couple of questions, described how my point of view had changed . I didn’t amaze and astound the group with my laser-like insight, but I did OK. I didn’t disgrace myself. I’d class that as a victory of sorts!

If you’d like to be involved, the list of courses is here. Obviously only consider this if you are a confident listener and speaker. I’m at B2 level and I was struggling, so don’t even think about it if you’re a newbie.

Posted in English, Portuguese

Piadas de Tiozão

Apparently piadas de tiozão (“big uncle jokes) are what Brazilians call dad jokes. Older subscribers who have endured three or more years of this blog (I raise a glass of Licor de Beirão in your honour) may remember that the European equivalent is “Piada Seca

I inflicted two in the world today.

Como se chama um cantor que tem muita sede?

Justin Beber

Como se chama um cantor que tem um leque e um tambor?

Justin Tamborleque

Posted in English

Portuguese Graphic Novels

I had been putting together a list of Portuguese Graphic Novels for a while and it’s not quite finished yet but someone just asked a question about it so I’ve gone ahead and published it in draft form along with the other resources. If you’re looking at this on a computer it’ll probably be over on the right, and if you’re on a phone screen, you’ll probably need to scroll down a bit. Or just click here.

The plot thickens though because after I published it I saw a reply from another Redditor (is that what you call them?) with this link to a list of the supposed fifteen best. Some are on my list too, and some I don’t know. I’ve no idea why they have Caos e Ordem on there. I liked the look of that too but it’s a huge disappointment.

Posted in English, Portuguese

Rústica – Florbela Espanca.

I mentioned a few days ago that I was trying to memorise poems in both English and Portuguese. Well, today’s is a Portuguese one: Rústica by Florbela Espanca. As with so many of these poems, reading it through once a couple of years ago, I was my usual poetry-reading self: “Yes yes, very poetic. Next!” But now that I’m immersing myself in them, I’m starting to get the point of poetry. Here is the original:


Ser a moça mais linda do povoado.
Pisar, sempre contente, o mesmo trilho,
Ver descer sobre o ninho aconchegado
A bênção do Senhor em cada filho.

Um vestido de chita bem lavado,
Cheirando a alfazema e a tomilho…
– Com o luar matar a sede ao gado,
Dar às pombas o sol num grão de milho…

Ser pura como a água da cisterna,
Ter confiança numa vida eterna
Quando descer à “terra da verdade”…

Deus, dai-me esta calma, esta pobreza!
Dou por elas meu trono de Princesa,
E todos os meus Reinos de Ansiedade.

Rústica, Florbela Espanca, from Charneca Em Flor

Florbela Espanca

There are a few unfamiliar words in it so I’ll have a go at translating it:


To be the prettiest girl in the village
To walk contentedly on the same trail
To see descending on the cosy home*
The blessings of the Lord on every child 

A calico** dress, well-washed
Smelling of lavender*** and thyme 
With the moonshine quenching the thirst of the cattle****
Giving the doves the sun in a grain of corn

To be pure as the water in the cistern
To believe in a life eternal 
When I go down to the land of truth*****

God, give me this calm, the poverty
I’ll give them my princess throne
And all my kingdoms of anxiety

*=The word used in the original is “ninho” which means nest, but I think in this context its just a folksy way of saying home.

**=my paper dictionary says chintz, but I think chintz is made of calico (?) and that calico goes more with the vibe of the poem. But I’m not an expert in cloth, so I could easily be wrong.

***=I’ve been saying “lavandas” for lavender but I think that might be a brazilism because according to the wiki this is the word used in Portugal.

****=matar a sede means kill the thirst, literally, but quench seems better. And it’s not “a sede do gado” (the thirst of the cattle) but ao gado (to the cattle) , another example of Portuguese speakers using prepositions in a way that are just a little different to what an english speaker would expect.

*****=Descer in this sentence is the future subjunctive, not the infinitive, and I believe its “when I go down” not “when he/she/it goes down” but I can only get that from context since there no way of telling grammatically! I’m not sure what the land of truth means here either. If it’s heaven, why is she descending and not ascending? I’ve read the bible and spent a lot of time in church but this makes no sense to me I’m afraid.

Here’s an analysis I wrote of the poem, in Portuguese, for today’s writing challenge (thanks to Dani Morgenstern for the help)

O Poema de hoje é Rústica de Florbela Espanca. O poema fala do anseio da poeta por uma vida mais bucólica, numa aldeia onde ela seja “a moça mais linda” e o ar seja perfumado de ervas e flores.
Este desejo, esta saudade duma vida sem ansiedade e sem problemas é, no entanto, pouco realista porque a vida numa aldeia tem as suas próprias ansiedades e nem todas as moças podem ser a mais linda. Mas isso não contraria a mensagem do poema nem a vontade que todos nós temos de afastar-nos da vida moderna.
O poema tem quatro versos: dois de quatro linhas e dois de três, e tanto quanto sei, este padrão é muito comum na obra desta poeta. Usa imagens da natureza (o que é pouco surpreendente neste caso!) e temas religiosos. Aliás, a religião não é apenas um tema: a saudade da religião faz parte da saudade da vida simples. É como se Deus não tivesse poder nenhum na cidade e só soubesse tocar o coração de quem vive nalguma quinta.

Posted in English

O Verso Alcançando o Infinito


So ages ago, I heard Jose Jorge Letria (a poet who wrote, among other things,”Era Uma Vez Um Cravo”) read a poem called O Dia Mundial da Poesia. I mean, I thought it was called that. I thought he’d written it for world poetry day and he’d called it that because it was about poetry itself, where it comes from and how it’s made. And I spent ages looking for a printed copy because I liked it so much even though my listening skills were terrible and I could only make out about one line in five.

The poem is born of an impulse [… Blah blah blah… ] from the sonorous temptation of a metaphor [… Something something…] Afterwards, it’s writing, the work of hands on the incandescent material of syllables [… Tum ti tum…] The poem is born, finally, from the illusion that there is something left that hasn’t been said [… Etc… ]

I couldn’t catch it all. But I got enough to know I wanted more but I couldn’t find it anywhere online or in any of his books.

Anyway, as you’ve probably gathered by now, it’s not called O Dia Mundial da Poesia at all; it’s called O Verso Alcançando o Infinito. So that explains why I couldn’t find it. Anyway, now I know what to plug into Google, I’ve found another recording of it here…

And if you need the lyrics (I wish I’d had access to then five years ago!) they’re here. Well, some of them are. Another one for my project to learn poetry, I think!

Posted in English

The War on Ter Que-ism

I’ve seen occasional grammar guides arguing that it’s technically incorrect to use “ter que” to indicate obligation. For example in “101 Erros de Português que Acabam com a Sua Credibilidade” by Elsa Fernandes, she says “Ultimamente tem-se vulgarizado o uso da construção *ter que* para significar obrigação […] os especialistas indicam que, nesse caso, a forma mais correta é ter de.”
This ciberduvidas article makes the same point 

But this morning I was reading through (and trying to memorise) Mar Português by Fernando Pessoa and I noticed it has this couplet

Quem quer passar além do Bojador
Tem que passar além da dor

This looks like the great man is using tem que in exactly the way “os especialistas indicam” is wrong. Borrowing a phrase we sometimes use about Shakespeare, “I’d rather be wrong with Fernando Pessoa than right with Elsa Fernandes”, but I asked on Reddit to see if anyone else had thoughts on what might be going on. After all, the poem also includes an old-fashioned spelling of the words “rezaram” and “nele”, so maybe the language has drifted a bit since his day. It doesn’t seem so though.

“Ter que” is used a lot in Brazil, and as Elsa says, its increasingly common in colloquial speech in Portugal too. It’s technically wrong but seems to be one of those things that is used a lot. If teenagers and Fernando Pessoa are using it then it’s probably safe to call it a de facto standard. Best avoided in exams, but it seems as if it would be pedantic to pick someone up on it in normal conversation.

So what is “ter que” supposed to be for? It’s quite similar but it is more to do with ownership than obligation. So “tem muito que contar” means “he has a lot to tell”. In other words, he has a lot of experience, he’s an interesting guy. As opposed to “tem de contar muito” which means he’s obliged to tell you a lot.

Tenho muito que fazer = I have a lot on my plate
Tenho de fazer muito = I am being forced to do a lot

I had a complaint about the low quality of the pun in the title, so if you prefer you can think of it as “Ter Que’s Voting For Christmas”

I’m sorry.

Posted in English

Is This The Most Confusing Verb in the Portuguese Language?

Image of a "Soul Reaver" from some game called Legend of Kain, listed as under a fair use license on Wikipedia. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the article
Frankly, this image is not helping. If anything, it is adding to the confusion.

So I came across this freaky verb today: “Reaver“. No, not rever, reaver. It’s based on the verb “haver” but with the re- prefix. Its h disappears because it would be silent anyway: re+[h]aver=reaver.

Haver is a weird verb to start with because it’s almost always used in the third person singular and it means something like “exists” or “there is”, but it has another meaning, which is “to have” or “to possess” and that’s the sense that’s used with reaver. It means “have again”, “recoup” or “get back”.

Cool, cool, cool, so let’s look for examples of it in use? Most likely form we’ll come across will be re+[h]á=reá, right?

Wrong! Reaver is a defective verb, meaning it doesn’t have a full conjugation. So even though the most-used form of haver is the third person singular present indicative form, that form doesn’t even exist for reaver. The only two forms Priberam’s conjugation allows in the present tense are the nós and vós forms.

Some examples of legitimate use are given in the dictionary entry

  • Ainda não conseguiu reaver o dinheiro que gastou (he still hadn’t been able to get back the money he’d spent)
  • Por duas vezes, eu perdi óculos escuros que nunca reouve (Twice I lost a pair of sunglasses that I never got back)
  • Paradoxalmente, era quando reavia as forças que a certa altura julgava exíguas (paradoxically it was while he was rebuilding his forces that, at some point, he judged them to be too weak)

But if you look at some of the examples Priberam gives of the past-tense use of reaver you come across a citation of a page by Portugal rebelde blog:

  • Cada vez que se reouve uma canção corre-se o risco de reparar em aspetos musicais ou poéticos de que não nos tínhamos apercebido. (Every time one hears a song anew, one runs the risk of noticing a musical or poetical aspects that we hadn’t recognised before)

Well… that’s *not* an example of the past tense of reaver though. That’s the present tense of “reouvir“, meaning to hear again, surely…? And so is this citation from a blog called French Kissin’, also cited by Priberam

  • O disco não tenta sistematizar o tema, muito menos esgotá-lo. Talvez por ser tão despretensioso, ouve-se e reouve-se sem cansar. (The record doesn’t try to systematise the theme, let alone exhaust it. Maybe because it is so unpretentious, one can listen and relisten without getting tired of it)

Googling what I thought would be common forms of the verb, I didn’t really find many examples of it being used in the wild. So… It’s useful to know this exists in case it crops up in books but I don’t think I will be rushing to try and use this one in conversation!

If you’re hungry for more pain and suffering, you can find out more about reaver in this Ciberdúvidas article.