Posted in English

Obscure Word of the Day

The book I’m reading is pretty hard. I judge these things in how often I have to reach for the dictionary and this one is about three times per page. I’ve just come across a really surprising word: “pechisbeque”.

Duas camisolas de malha iguais, de cores diferentes, um pólo cor-de-rosa, uma caneta, um par de brincos de pechisbeque, dentro de uma caixinha acolchoada, dois perfumes em miniatura

As Telefones – Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida
Pinchbeck jewelry
Pinchbeck / Pechisbeque

Not only is it unfamiliar, but what it’s describing isn’t even something I’ve come across in my half century of life. The English equivalent is Pinchbeck and its an alloy of copper and zinc that resembles gold. Is it just me? I’d never heard of it.

Posted in English

Don’t Risk it for the Biscate

Episode 8963 of the series “words that mean wildly different things on different sides of the Atlantic”

Biscate seems like a useful word to have in your back pocket, but use it with care. In Portugal it refers to a side job, side huddle, or short term job. In the world of the gig economy, it seems like a good one to know.

Olha, aquele é mecânico nos estaleiros, mas faz uns “biscates” de electricidade por fora!

When this came up in online discussion, some Brazilian contributors found this funny because that’s not what it means in Brazil at all. Over there it refers to a woman who has lots of sexual partners – so equivalent to slut or slag or other derogatory terms.

A menina que ficava com todos garotos do colégio era chamada de biscate.

Navigating slang is more complicated in Portuguese than in English because there seem to be quite a lot of examples of differences like this.

Posted in English

The Heels Are Alive

We tend to learn body parts early on in our language journey and we think we’ve got them all mastered because we’ve mastered how to sing “heads, shoulders, knees and toes” in Portuguese but there are all kinds of other body parts that don’t get a look-in: armpits (axilas), kidneys (rins), calves (panturrilhas ou “barriga de perna“), and so on.

One I came across today and probably should have known was “calcanhares” meaning heels. There are a few expressions involving heels, some of which are familiar and some less so

Calcanhar de Aquiles – the Achilles heel can be used figuratively to mean a person’s weak spot, just as in English

Dar aos calcanhares – is like the English expression “to show a clean pair of heels”, in other words, escape or run off quickly.

Não chegar aos calcanhares de alguém doesn’t really have an equivalent in English. If you don’t reach someone’s heels it means you are vastly inferior. A minha filha gosta de David Tenant mas na minha opinião, não chega aos calcanhares de Tom Baker.

And an English expression that doesn’t have a direct match in Portuguese would be “high heels”. In Portuguese the heel of a shoe has a different name: salto, so a salto alto is a high heel shoe. It’s a bit confusing because salto can also mean a jump, so salto alto sounds like it should mean a high jump, but the athletic event we call a high jump is “salto em altura” in Portuguese.

Posted in English

Tips So Hot They’re (In)Flammable

I asked on the Reddit about why Desempenhar wasn’t the opposite of Empenhar. Empenhar means “to make an effort”, and the prefix “des” is like “dis” in english and it usually reverses or negates the meaning of whatever word it’s attached to and makes it into an antonym. So for example, “Fazer” means to make or do, and “Desfazer” mean to take something apart; “Cansar” means to get tired, “Descansar” means to rest, “Ordem” means “Order” and “Desordem” means “Disorder” and so on. So desempenhar looks like it should mean “make no effort” (“Hoje é dia de folga, pá. Vou me desempenhar o dia inteiro!”) but it doesn’t, it means “to perform”.

Why? Is there some sort of mysterious etymological tale to tell here? Same question for their noun forms, empenho (effort) and desempenho (performance).

Joe Desempesci discovers the difference between flammable and Inflammable

As it turns out, it’s just one of those things like Flammable and Inflammable in english, where the prefix just doesn’t really have any effect. A few interesting points came up in the comments

Butt_Roidholds listed some other examples of this sort of thing:

  • Abrir = open / Desabrir means leave off doing something… hm… I’m not absolutely sure about this one. Abrir can mean “Open the proceedings” – ie, start something, so desabrir meaning cease doing something actually does seem to be an antonym
  • Obstinado = obstinate / Desobstinado = something like “disoriented” but it’s not very clear – it isn’t defined in Priberam and Infopedia just says “ver desaustinado”. It seems like an odd fish and I won’t be using it!
  • Inquieto = disquieted / Desinquieto = exactly the same as inquieto! Why does this even exist though? They already have the word “quieto”, so why the double negative?
  • Aliviar = alleviate / desaliviar = alleviate.

And other users, TheSingingBowl and Vilkav chimed in with

  • Abrochar = to fasten with a brooch, or to button up / Desabrochar = open or unbutton, can also refer to the opening of a flower. These seem like pretty decent antonyms but the person who suggested them added a laughing emoji so I think it might have to do with the other (rude) meaning of “broche”.
  • Largar = let go / Deslargar = let go. Yep, definite example.

As for theories about how the words got like this, the most interesting one was from Grenarius who suggested maybe Desempenho came from the word “penhor” which is like “pawn” in the sense of something given as security for a high interest loan, and when you would “se empenhar” you were incurring an obligation which you would then discharge, so desempenha is an antonym of “se empenha” in that sense: you are performing some work to pay off your debt. It’s a minor stretch but not out of the realms of possibility

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Swimply the Breast

I went swimming yesterday for the first time since before the age of covid. Since a long time before, in fact. I recorded the workout in my fitness app. Yes, I’ve become one of those people! Anyway, like most things on my phone, it’s in Portuguese so I had to try and figure out what this lot meant. They’re not words I’ve ever needed before. So here’s the scoooooop:

  • Natação =swimming
  • Braçada =stroke. “estilo” and even “movimento” can be used instead.
  • Costas =backstroke
  • Bruços =breaststroke (aka “de peito”)
  • Mariposa =butterfly – also called “borboleta” and “golfinho”
  • Estilo Livre =crawl actually called “crawl” in Brasil and “crol” in portugal, and these seem to be more common names than “Estilo Livre” as far as I can see.

Posted in English

Children of the Corno

I see the word corno a lot on social media in different contexts so I thought I’d dig into it a bit.

Me so corny

Ordinary, standard meanings are pretty straightforward:

  • A horn – ie, what a cow has on its head (you’ll also see “chifre” and “galho” especially in relation to a deer’s antlers, but the distinction between horns and antlers seems a little permeable…?)
  • By extension, various other things that are a bit like horns (antennae, tentacles, bone spurs and so on) will sometimes be referred to as cornos. You’ll also see “corno de abundância” or “corno de Amalteia” for cornucopia, or corno de sapato for shoehorn, for example.
  • A horn on a car (I’ve never seen this in the wild – buzina is the more usual word – but this definition exists in priberam).
  • One of the points at either end of a crescent moon.
  • A kind of plant – careful though, its not what we call corn (that’s milho), but a family of shrubs in the cornacea family.

But when I see it on social media, it usually means one of two things, depending on whether its singular or plural.

When it’s in the singular, it usually means cuckold, either in the original sense of a man whose wife is unfaithful, or the more modern one of someone who enjoys watching his wife be unfaithful. So when you see it online it’s often by the sort of person who would use the word “cuck” as an insult in English. They tend not to be the loveliest people, I’m afraid.

And in the plural, it usually means the face or head – so “um tiro nos cornos” =a bullet in the head, “levou uma pá nos cornos” = he got hit in the face with a shovel, and you’ll see various combinations of levar/ apanhar/ dar + nos cornos meaning various types of damage being inflicted above the neckline. In some cases it’s figurative – if someone loses a war or an argument or a football match, say.

There’s also “passado dos cornos”, gone in the head, meaning maluco or doido.

Calm down, lad!

So there you go. I hope you have enjoyed this dose of hardcore cornography. I feel like I should set homework for you. Try going in twitter now and searching for the expression “nos cornos”. Browse through a few examples and see if you can work out what the tweeter is trying to imply – whether they’re describing an actual physical injury or just some sort of defeat. Tell me your favourite example in the comments.

Posted in Portuguese

That Bad Mother, Ficar

Ficar is one of the verbs that can be used in lots of ways, so you’ll often hear it followed by a preposition and the combination of ficar +preposition makes a compound verb that has its own meaning. Some examples for today’s homework. Thanks to Dani Morgenstern for the corrections.

Ficar a (1) = “to stay around” (Não fiquei a assistir à conclusão do discurso)

Ficar a (2) = “to be somewhere” (Slough fica a cerca de 30km de Londres)

Ficar com = “to keep”, “to get” (Fiquei com o livro após o incêndio na biblioteca) – can also be used to mean keeping hold of a feeling (Fico sempre com medo quando ouço aquela canção)

Ficar de = “to commit to” (ele ficou de consertar a bicicleta)

Ficar em = “to stay in” (Fiquei em primeiro lugar até ao final da corrida quando Mo Farah me ultrapassou. Bolas!)

Ficar para (1) = “to be for” (Este livro fica para ti)

Ficar para (2) = “to be delayed” (A reunião fica para a próxima semana)

Ficar por (1) = “to support” (Nas eleições, ele fica sempre pelo partido do Roderick Spode) (This one seems to be pretty rare. Consensus seems to be that “ser por” is better in these kinds of cases. “…é pelo partido…”

Ficar por (2) = “To stand in for” (Não consigo participar na reunião mas a minha colega fica por mim)

Ficar por (3) = “To cost” (O livro fica por 100 €)

Fico por (4) = “To stop” (Hoje ficamos por aqui; preciso de um copo de vinho)

Ficar por + infinitive = “to not be done yet” (O meu trabalho de casa fica por fazer porque sou preguiçoso)

Ficar sem = “To go without” (Ficámos sem papel higiénico durante as primeiras semanas da pandemia porque uns idiotas entraram em pânico e compraram os pacotes todos)

Ficar-se por = “To limit oneself to” (Sendo incapazes de derrotar o governo, os apoiantes do presidente ficaram-se por gamar portáteis e tirar selfies no escritório de Nancy Pelosi)

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!

Posted in English

Trolling Mark Zuckerberg

Just to demonstrate the incredible educational potential of social media, how else would I have learned this new word?


(origem obscura)
nome feminino

[Portugal, Calão]  Esperma.

“meita”, in Dicionário Priberam da Língua Portuguesa [em linha], 2008-2021, [consultado em 29-10-2021].

Selada De Fruta had a take on it too, but I already knew this word so it wasn’t as useful