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Embarrassing when you publish a blog post you haven’t actually written yet. Apologies to anyone who saw that and was confused. There will be a slightly better version of it in a day or two…

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With my Tony Soper mask on, creeping through the bushes in search of rare and exotic creatures in the Portuguese language, I came across this sentence in the book I’m reading. It’s part of a description of the video footage of the big dramatic confrontation between the incompetent policeman and the unrealistic villain (I feel like I’m giving spoilers for the book review I’m planning…)

Do you like the picture, by the way? My daughter showed me how to unblur a single sentence like this the other day and I’m delighted to have learned a new skill!

Anyway, “vivalma” was a new one on me. According to Priberam it’s a relatively new word composed of the two smaller words: viva, alma. Alive and soul respectively. The grammar of the sentence is a little complicated because you have the mystery-meat pronoun “se” which I always find a little difficult to deal with but it’s just triggering the passive voice: “não vira” = had not seen, “não se vira” = had not been seen.

So the whole thing means “For fifteen seconds, not a living should had been seen in the river”.

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O Dialecto Madeirense

This video was published on Twitter on Thursday (O Dia Mundial Da Língua Portuguesa). The first speaker is Francisco Louçã, an MP (“Deputado”) from the Bloco Esquerda and he’s introducing a PSD colleague named Carlos Rodrigues, saying he will now address the chamber in his “Madeiran Dialect”. Rodrigues then replies in a way everyone thinks is hilarious…

I can’t understand what he’s saying so I cheated and looked at the parliamentary transcript which is here, and you can read the surrounding context about the dialect (it’s not a dialect really, it’s an accent – mainlanders can be a bit snobbish about it though). Anyway, after reading the transcript… I was none the wiser!

Louçã: – Sr. Presidente, para surpresa da minha bancada, acaba de ser-nos comunicado que um Sr. Deputado passará a dirigir-se ao Plenário no “dialecto” madeirense. (…)

Rodrigues: – Quanto a dialecto, só tenho uma coisa a dizer-lhe, Sr. Deputado Francisco Louçã – e agora, mesmo em jeito de brincadeira: “o grado azoigou e foi atupido na manta das tanarifas”!

Grado exists in Priberam but none of the meanings seem to fit. Azoigar is in there too (although the spelling is “azougar”, because it’s one of those words that can be written with an ou or an oi) and now we’re starting to see the pattern because the definition is

[Portugal: Madeira]  Morrer (falando-se de animais).

Ah, if course – he’s replying using a madeiran expression, full of madeiran words. So, turning to a specialist madeiran page… We get the following

The dog (grado) died (azoigou) and was buried (atupido) on the pumpkin (tanarifa) terrace (manta).

Tanarifa is the sketchiest word there. The meaning is given as “boganga”, which, if you follow it, actually refers to a kind of squash/pumpkin. I’ve also seen people translating it as “alface” (lettuce) but most people seem to translate it as banana. So… I dunno… Conjure up whatever mental image you like on that one! I’ve translated manta (which normally means “shawl” or “blanket”) as terrace because in madeiran agriculture, a manta is a terrace on the side of a mountain where you can grow crops.

So… That’s all very well but what does it actually mean? Not sure. I thought maybe it was like “Os cães ladram e a caravana passa”. In other words, your yapping doesn’t really count for much. My wife, who is madeiran but hasn’t lived there for ages, didn’t recognise it either but thought it was more likely that the speaker is comparing his opponent’s argument to a dog in a race which he’s very proud of and thinks will win the race but it won’t because it’s dead and buried in the vegetable patch.

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Eating Cyclists – Finally An Answer to the Cost of Living Crisis?

Someone I follow in twitter showed a picture of his lunch which he described as “Bolos de bacalhau com uns ciclistas, molhinho verde e um outro ‘molhinho'”. Cod-cakes, with cyclists, green sauce and another ‘sauce’. The other sauce was wine, in case you’re wondering. What about the cyclists though? It looked like a plate of black-eyed beans to me – I couldn’t see any meat that looked like it has been carved off an oil-smeared leg, but my daughter is obsessed with cannibalism at the moment (that’s normal for a teenager, right?) so my interest was piqued.

Cyclist cannibal
I ate his lycra with some feijões fradinhos and a nice chianti

Further down the comments, he explains that he’s always referred to black-eyed beans as cyclists but wasn’t sure why. Cue another bout of research… Yeah I know, “Research” is one of those words that gets misused a lot on the Internet: it sounds like it involved a lot of hard work in a library but let’s be real: it just means the person did a bit of googling. “Do your own research” says some bro on twitter who’s just skimmed a medium article written by an seventeen year old who shared the exact same prejudices as him. OK, OK, I’m not writing a PhD thesis here, or trying to get a university professor sacked, and a Google search will do, so here are the fruits of my Extensive Academic Research.

The first link I found said something about how in the old days, there were always little bugs (“Bichos”) that used to turn up in bean salads and people would describe the bugs as cyclists (eh?) and after a while the name got transferred to the beans themselves.

This sounded like absolute bollocks to me so I carried on looking and came across this link on a blog called Rodas de Viriato, which seemed a lot more believable. First of all, the guy who wrote the tweet didn’t quite have it right: the name “ciclistas” seems to have originated not with black eyed beans (“Feijão Fradinho”) but with another kind of bean native to Alentejo which doesn’t even have an official name, but which has two different nicknames – “Feijão Ciclista” or “Feijão Boneco”. Its easy to see, if you look at the pictures on the site, why it might have got those names – the pattern on it looks like a cyclist seen face-on, or like a doll. I don’t have permission to use the images and they are watermarked so I won’t reproduce them but click through and see for yourself.

Sadly, the bean is pretty rare these days – it’s a “heritage” variety and apart from this blog there is almost no mention of it anywhere. If you search for “feijão boneco” Google shows you lots of beany babies – dolls stuffed with beans, not beans with doll patterns on them. And maybe that’s why the name has transferred to the more common black-eyed bean.

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Expressions with Bodyparts

Birthday cake

Scheduling this post for my birthday

Here are some expressions from the exercise book. I’m really trying to do these exercises every day now because I have been slacking.

Falar nas costas = talk behind someone’s back

Ter dedo = to have a knack for something

Puxar pela cabeça = think really hard

Queimar as pestanas = read a lot

Bater com o nariz na porta = be unable to achieve a goal because the shop/house/office/whatever was shut

With that last one, when I researched it, I found that there was one page that claimed it could be used in a more figurative sense – in other words you could use it when you were denied or rebuffed in some request, or met with some sort of bureaucratic denial, maybe, but the majority said it was strictly literal: you turn up at the library hoping to find a PG Wodehouse book you’ve never read but you bang your nose on the door because it’s shut. So I asked…

Há uma expressão no meu livro “bater com o nariz na porta”. Entendo o significado mas não tenho a certeza de como se usa. Será que pode ter um significado menos literal – por exemplo “Convidei a Mafalda para jantar comigo mas bati com o nariz na porta quando ela respondeu* que já tinha combinado um jantar com o Joaquim, um halterofilista com dois metros de altura” ou só numa situação concreta** como “Eu e a Janet fomos para o restaurante às seis e meia mas batemos com os narizes na porta porque os portugueses costumam jantar mais tarde

The verdict? No, only the literal sense works. If I go to the restaurant too early and its shut, I can say we banged on the door with our nose, but if I get spurned by Mafalda in favour of her hot date with the bodybuilder, I can’t use it.

* I cleaned up the grammar a little bit following some feedback from Dani. I had tried to use a different word here – ripostar – because I found it in the novel I’m reading and thought it would be more interesting but it turned out to be too interesting for this context!

** I used “específica” but that wasn’t the best choice.

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Bicho vs Bicha

So yesterday I started talking about a couple of Portuguese phrases, one of which included the word “bicho”. I translated it as “beast” because its cognate – in other words, bicho and beast both come from the same Latin root, namely the Latin word “bestius”. It can be used interchangeably with “animal” in some circumstances, but not all. For example, it’s used in the title of a classic book by Miguel Torga, Bichos, and in the Brazilian translation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm – A Revolução dos Bichos* But that’s not always true. In some cases, it means something else. And the plot really thickens when we bring in its female equivalent, “bicha”. Common sense dictates that this would just mean the same thing but for female animals, and sometimes that would be right but usually not.

As you can see, I really missed my calling – should have been a graphic designer.

I thought I’d sit down and list out all the meanings of both words and see how much overlap there is – how often is it true that bicha is the feminine form of bicho vs when does it just behave like a totally different word. I’ll ignore the Brazilian meanings completely.

Overlapping meanings

Bicha and bicho are the male and female versions of only one sense:

  • Some kind of animal – in the case of bicho, this is the primary meaning of the word. For bicha, it’s only the fourth meaning and even then it’s “especially a domestic animal”, so even this isn’t a perfect match. Bicho should, really, exclude humans but the Miguel Torga book I mentioned earlier has at least one story that’s about a human woman so… 🤷🏼‍♀️

Bicho only

These are meanings that only belong to bicho

  • A stallion or bull, specifically
  • An insignificant creature
  • An imaginary creature like an ogre or goblin, used to scare children
  • Antisocial person (especially as “bicho-do-mato” (informal)
  • The person you’re talking about, if you want to refer to them ironically “silêncio o bicho vem aí” = quiet, the beast approaches!
  • Cancer
  • A germ or illness – if you search twitter for covid bicho you’ll find lots of people referring to covid as a bicho. In this case, it’s more like “bug” than “beast”
  • An obsessive interest or taste for something: just like the example above, this seems to be used in the same way we would use “bug” – the example they give is “cedo, descobri o bicho de representação” could translate as “early on, i caught the acting bug”
  • A secondary school student (name given by students at the University of coimbra) – and again, you’ll sometimes find senior boys in boarding school novels referring to new boys as “new bugs” so the bicho/bug equivalence is confirmed!

Bicha only

And these words are specific to the feminine word bicha

  • Any animal with a long body and no legs such as a snake, worm or leach
  • Generally, any long, thin thing.
  • A slang word for a gay man (see this post a few years ago about fado bicha for example).
  • Some kind of firework – I’m not actually sure what to imagine here. Judging by what I can find online, they seem to be more powerful or dangerous than normal, commercial fireworks because some were confiscated by the police in this story… So… Flares for a flare gun, maybe? I’m not sure.
  • A queue
  • A flexible metal tube like this
  • A flexible rubber tube used in wine production
  • The wire that connects the conta-quilómetros (milometer) to the wheels
  • Snake-shaped charm earring
  • An angry or unreasonable person person
  • A stripe or decoration on the sleeve of a military uniform (the words “galão” and “divisa” are also used in this context)
  • The 15th and 16th definition are “male sexual organ” and “female sexual organ” respectively. Er… OK.
  • A customs launch
  • A kind of nautical strap with clips at the ends
  • Aguardente

Related Words

In addition to the noun uses of bicha, we also have some other uses, mainly based on the definitions of bicha, rather than bicho.

  • Bicha (adjective) effeminate, camp
  • Bichar (verb) to fill up with worms, maggots or other yucky things (also “abichar”)
  • Bichar (verb) to form a queue


You might be familiar with a few expressions using the same word. In addition to yesterday’s, we have…

  • Bicha de conta-quilómetros = milometer
  • Bicho da cozinha = kitchen hand
  • De criar bicho = violent, imtense
  • Matar o bicho /mata-bicho = breakfast booze, the hair of the dog that bit you
  • Matar o bicho do ouvido de alguém =to annoy someone with tips and suggestions
  • Bicho de Sete Cabeças – a really hard problem

So it’s tempting to think of these words as equivalent to each other but for opposite genders, but that’s not really true, and it needs a little bit of effort to relax the mind enough to take in a different way of using them in different situations.

*The Portuguese version is closer to the original: A Quinta dos Animais if you’re interested.

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Uma Maria-Rapaz

Ooh, I was intrigued by this passage in the book I’m reading. Are you ready for a couple of new expressions and some incoherent ramblings about gender? You are? Then come with me!

Had his colleague noticed that he admired her?

But what creature had bitten him? He had never thought about Marta that way. He had always seen her as like a Maria-rapaz, a partner who, although she was a woman, was able to talk like a man.

Sex is like that. It changes everything completely.

There are a couple of cool new things here. First of all, “que bicho lhe mordera” (“what beast had bitten him”) could be taken literally – there are certainly sites online that use some version of that as a headline to inform readers of how to figure out the origin of an insect bite or sting. In this case, though, it’s figurative. It just means something like “what had got into him?” or “why was he acting so strangely”.

The second phrase is even better. “Maria-rapaz”, as you can probably guess from the context, is a tomboy. According to the Wikipedia entry, there are quite a few different versions of this idea in popular usage, such as “moleca” and “maria-homem”. The meaning of it seems pretty congruent with the English equivalent. The Portuguese article is mercifully straightforward (at the time of writing), in contrast with the English version which has been larded with gender-studies buzzwords because, obviously, girls can’t just play with skateboards without well-meaning adults sticking labels on them. Ugh.

As the article says, the feminine male equivalent – “maricas” is much more likely to be seen as implying that the person is gay, which isn’t present in the idea of a tomboy, and – male gender stereotypes being more rigid – it’s generally seen as a more negative, derogatory word. There isn’t a Wikipedia page for maricas but Priberam sets out the different meanings pretty clearly.

I think that’s all for today. I had an extended side-note about that word “bicho” in the first expression, that was going to unpack the beastliness but I think I’ve decided it needs a blog post of its own so I’m going to do part 2 in this discussion tomorrow.

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Mother’s Day /Labour Day

I’m a day late with this so I’ll backdate it: Feliz Dia da Mãe to all Portuguese mothers, and Feliz Dia Do Trabalhador to all members of the Classe Operária (Portuguese working class)

If you’re both a mother and a labourer, make sure the people in your household bake you two cakes because you’ve earned it.

I was talking to m’wife this morning about May Day and how we don’t really register it as a big deal here apart from having a bank holiday and an excuse to sit in the garden (weather allowing) reading and drinking. If we think about it hard enough we might remember that there’s a socialist celebration known as May Day which happens to fall roughly on the same date as the older, pagan May Day festival, but there isn’t usually a lot of fuss about it. We don’t drive tanks down Pall Mall like the Soviets would have, and Hallmark don’t sell Tony Benn greetings cards or Hallowe’en-style costumes depicting the Spectre of Communism haunting Europe. It does seem to be a bigger deal on Portugal though, with its socialist tradition, dating back to the resistance to the Novo Estado. In fact, according to this tweet from the Assembleia da República, almost the first thing the revolutionaries did after overthrowing the Fascists on April 25th was to give themselves a holiday a few days later. Nice!

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A Crazy-Ass Moment

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this account in here before but it really is a great source of minor historical weirdnesses if you are a fan of Portuguese History. I mean, this for example.