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 Portuguese


Another practice text. Thanks to redditor ansanttos for helping correct my mistakes

A minha filha e a minha esposa visitaram o IKEA hoje. Queriam comprar umas cortinas mas voltaram com 1 300 251 bolachas, 8 formas* de gelado, uma escovilhão de loiça, um candeeiro e várias flores e decorações inesperadas. Juro que aqueles suecos põem drogas nas almôndegas para hipnotisar os clientes e fazê-los comprar coisas de que não precisam.

*=ice cream moulds. I originally said “moldagens” here. I get so confused even over the English word give that there are jelly moulds and moulds that grow on old food and I always have to pause and think is mold is the right spelling for either? It’s not, it’s the American spelling of both but in UK English we don’t use mold at all. Anyway, forma is apparently the right word in Portuguese. but molde is also OK. Not moldagem (which is the act of moulding something) or moldura (a picture frame). And certainly not moulde. I’d like to blame the Americans for that last one but I can’t make the charge stick.

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 Portuguese

O Novo Normal Existe?

Description in Portuguese of the course I wrote about earlier in English. Thanks to redditor teafvigoli for helping root out the errors.

People photo created by -
Red and Green Dyed Lockdown Hair Goes Back To The Office

Participei num curso online. O título era “O Novo Normal Existe?” e faz parte dum conjunto de cursos chamado “O Café Filosófico”. Experimentei um curso online português anteriormente mas saí quando entrei em pânico porque percebi que teria de falar!

Ora bem, gostei muito deste. A professora começou por mandar-nos escrever as nossas próprias respostas (no meu caso “O nosso novo normal é igual ao velho normal da Coreia do Sul” (porque já costumam de usar máscaras lá)

De sequida, havia três vídeos com outros pontos de vista e depois, o grupo partiu-se e todos nós participámos em discussão em grupos pequenos. Confesso que não compreendi verdadeiramente o terceiro (uma comédia brasileira) mas fiquei influenciado pelas opiniões dos outros participantes.

Um afirmou que a normalidade em si nem sequer existe. Isso é verdade até certo ponto: cada um tem uma vida única e a situação muda constantemente. Mas cá para mim, o normal é o que não nos faz exclamar de surpresa. A estação de ano muda, o tempo muda, o governo muda, mas permanecemos dentro do espectro do normal. Mas de vez em quando algo realmente imprevisto (tal como uma pandemia) acontece que nos perturba. Está tudo estranho, e neste momento reconhecemos a normalidade perdida. Mas passado um ano e meio, será que o esquisito tornar-se-á normal? Achava que sim mas uma mulher no meu subgrupo foi céptica.

Acabei por crer que o novo normal pode existir se quisermos. Ou seja a maioria de coisas vão voltar um dia ao normal mas aprendemos muito em termos de modos de trabalhar e de viver e somos capazes de manter uns aspectos do normal temporário nos nossos próprios novos normais pessoais.

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 Portuguese

O Jogo

A minha filha está a ensinar a mãe a jogar um jogo baseado na série The Walking Dead. No início ela era cética. Não gosta de jogos. Prefere ver a televisão mas acabou por aproveitar o diálogo.

Estão as duas sentadas no sofá, a mãe a tricotar e a filha a controlar o protagonista. Cada vez que ela precisa de tomar uma decisão, a mãe é que manda.
“Vamos matar o Ben” ela diz.
“Mais tarde mãe, teremos uma hipótese em breve. Agora precisamos de roubar esta bateria”
E assim por diante…

Posted in Portuguese

Um Trocadilho Inglês

A minha filha marcou uma consulta com a dentista ontem às duas e meia da tarde. Para nós, uma família que adora piadas (ou melhor dois de nós adoramos), este facto é mesmo engraçado porque em inglês, “as duas e meia” (two thirty) soa igual a “dorzinha de dente” (tooth hurty).
“two thirty” diz a macaquinha
“sim” respondo eu
“tenho de ir ao dentista” diz ela
“ah ah ah ah” respondo eu.
Coitadinha da mãe.

Posted in Portuguese


Today’s text is a bit of an odd one, following a train of thought from the last one. Thanks to Butt_roidholds for the corrections. I made a lot of silly mistakes in this text but there are some notes about the non-silly ones at the bottom.

O amor não nos é desconhecido*
Conheces as regras e eu também
Um compromisso completo é aquilo de que estou à procura
Não receberias isto de outro gajo qualquer

So quero explicar-te como me sinto
Tenho de te fazer entender

Nunca vou desistir de ti
Nunca te vou desiludir
Nunca vou andar às voltas e abandonar-te
Nunca te vou fazer chorrar
Nunca me vou despedir**
Nunca vou mentir e magoar-te

*=”We’re no strangers to love” just doesn’t work in Portuguese. “Love isn’t unknown to us” is better.

**=nunca vou dizer adeus Would have been more idiomatic (and literal) but this is a verb I keep forgetting about so I wanted to crowbar it in.

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 Portuguese

Uma Dádiva de Células da Medula Óssea

This text was written about a news story. Actually I can see I got some details wrong but hey ho, I’m learning Portuguese, not writing a column in the Telegraph, so my fact checking department is limited. Dani Morgenstern corrected it (thanks!) and gave me some good tips which I have added as footnotes at the bottom

Escrevi uma anedota* ontem sobre a minha dádiva de sangue (uma operação fácil que praticamente não doi de todo) mas hoje ouvi uma notícia de alguém que fez um sacrifício heróico.

O Sam Astley é um adepto da seleção inglesa que se tinha registado no rol de voluntários que oferecem células da Medula Óssea para quem precise de tratamento contra a leucemia. No dia antes do jogo o serviço nacional de saúde contactou o senhor Astley para informá-lo de que havia alguém com o mesmo tipo de tecidos, portanto ele deveria ir ao hospital para doar células naquele mesmo dia e entrar em cirurgia porque senão o doente morreria.

Ficou ligeiramente chateado pela coincidência de datas, claro, mas não havia hipótese** de recusar. Aceitou sem hesitação.

O Sam e a sua namorada foram entrevistada na televisão. A namorada disse que ela o admirava e o considerava um herói por causa do seu sacrifício. O apresentador concordou e eu também. Mas o Sam não se quis vangloriar. Respondeu que “Não sou eu o herói. Eu fiz isto num dia só, mas a minha namorada é enfermeira. Ela salva vidas dia após dia.”

E eu pensei “OMG 😭” ou seja, como se diz em português “OMD 😭”

O casal recebeu*** dois**** bilhetes para a final da competição. Merecem.

We're no strangers to love
You know the rules and so do I
Need a bone marrow transplant? Nobody with this surname is going to give you up or let you down.

*=I’m stubbornly resisting correction on this one. It was s suggested I change it to “piada” (joke) but I feel like the text I wrote about the blood donation was more of an anecdote and the Portuguese word has roughly the same meaning in Portuguese (“Pequena narração ou dito que provoca ou pretende provocar o riso” – Priberam) although I notice that piada is given as a synonym for anedota so maybe the two concepts aren’t as distinct in PT… Hm… Maybe time for a follow-up question. Watch this space.

**=I put “não havia questão” but I don’t think that sense of question works in Portuguese. Não havia hipótese seems to be the right option

***=recebeu (received) sounds a bit off in English, but the English equivalent “they were given” (foi dados) doesn’t work in Portuguese, so recebeu it is.

****= I used “um par” (a pair) but this isn’t commonly used in place of English words like couple, pair. If you mean two, say two!