There are those who disapprove of the influx of English loanwords into Portuguese, especially when they appear to take the place of perfectly good homegrown words (e.g. deadline for prazo de entrega, HD for disco rígido, pet for animal de estimação etc.), but such borrowings have always been an important factor in the lexical development of all languages, including English, and Brazilian Portuguese has a number of ways of incorporating them into the language, often with remarkable creativity.
In all languages, the process of borrowing is really one of appropriation. This appropriation starts when the word is first ‘borrowed’, like a friend who ‘borrows’ an umbrella and never returns it. The reasons for borrowing a word in the first place are fairly well defined in general terms: either a cultural item (invention or concept) is imported and its name along with it (a good example is food truck, currently all the rage in Brazil), or the word is borrowed to fill a lexical gap in the language (e.g. bullying). This gap can be very small and specific, and sometimes not immediately obvious. One example is the word bike (pronounced [ˈbaiki]), now at least as common in everyday language as bicicleta. The borrowing bike is a response to the change in bicycle design to more mountain-bike inspired sporty models, while bicicleta conjures up a more traditional image or is used as the more formal and generic term, rather like bicycle as opposed to bike in English.
The bike example also illustrates the next step in the appropriation process: it’s pronounced in a Brazilian way, according to the rules of Portuguese phonology and with the addition of an extra final syllable since Brazilian words cannot end in a consonant sound other than r or s. This can render a word unrecognizable for English native speakers. Just consider the pronunciation of internet [ĩterˈnɛtʃi], webcam [uɛbiˈkã], thinner [ˈtʃinɛr] (for paint), notebook [nɔtʃiˈbuki], smartphone [izmartʃiˈfɔni], recall [heˈkɔw], to name but a few. These and other borrowed words have been given a total makeover, a whole new (sound) image.
Sometimes the word eventually takes on a Portuguese spelling which can disguise its origin still further. Who would ever guess that quitinete is the Portuguese spelling of kitchenette, an imported word used to refer to a studio apartment, now frequently abbreviated to quite?
The next step for nouns is to be assigned a gender. All nouns have to have a gender in Portuguese, so, for example, bike, internet and webcam are all feminine, while notebook and smartphone are masculine. The gender assigned is usually based on that of a Portuguese word with a similar meaning (in the examples bicicleta, rede, câmera, caderno and fone). Once nouns have a gender, they are fully-fledged Portuguese words.
It’s more difficult for an imported word to become a verb in Portuguese because it has to be possible to conjugate it in all its forms, but commonly used examples include hackear ‘to hack’ and stalkear ‘to stalk (on social media)’. Once the verb has been created, it can be used as inventively as any other verb in the language, e.g. vou dar uma stalkeada no crush ‘I’m gonna to do some stalking of my latest crush’.
But the appropriation process also operates in more subtle ways. I recently read an article bemoaning the fact that the English word delivery has taken root in Portuguese. After all, the writer claimed, Portuguese has the perfectly good term para viagem. But para viagem translates as ‘to take out’ or, in British, ‘to take away’. It’s not the same as delivery, because with delivery the food is delivered to you whereas with takeout/takeaway you often collect it yourself or buy it to take out. So there is a small semantic difference there which justifies adopting a new word. Ah yes, the writer of the article mentioned above would probably say, so then why not use the Portuguese expression entrega em domicílio? The reason is that delivery refers to the service as a whole, the business model itself: ordering over the phone or internet and having your food delivered. Just Google um delivery and take a look at the contexts in which the word is used: 7 passos para montar um delivery de sucesso, plano de negócios para um delivery de comida chinesa, como delimitar a área de entrega de um delivery etc. It would make no sense to use the word delivery alone when translating these sentences into English; evidence that the word has been fully appropriated and now has its own use and specific meaning in Portuguese.
Sometimes the appropriation process involves a change of part of speech. For instance, the English words fashion and punk have entered Portuguese as adjectives, meaning ‘trendy’ and ‘tough, hardcore’ respectively. And the English adjective bad is used as a noun in young people’s slang to refer to a period of depression, from bad trip, e.g. tô numa bad ‘I’m feeling down, I’m bummed out’. Notice that it’s feminine and is of course pronounced [ˈbɛdʒi].
There are some uniquely Brazilian coinages that mix English and Portuguese. For instance, uma cerveja long neck is a small (usually 355 ml) bottled beer. The term long neck may also be used on its own, e.g. comprei umas long necks “I bought some bottles of beer”. Another example is motoboy ‘motorcycle courier’, which combines the Portuguese prefix moto– ‘motor-’ with the imported word boy, which is a shortened form of office boy, the name used in Portuguese for the general dogsbody around the office who also runs errands and makes deliveries. One of the most inventive creations of this type has to be fast foda ‘casual sex’, a combination of the English import fast food and the Portuguese word foda ‘fuck’.
But probably the most interesting phenomenon in Brazilian word appropriation is the tendency to dispense with the second element of the word. Thus a shopping centre rapidly became just um shopping, a personal trainer became um personal and a notebook (computer) became um note. This is possible because in such cases the second element is not necessary in Portuguese as it is in English to specify the meaning. This extends to proper names too, so Brazilians talk about Face (also sometimes spelt Feice), Insta, Snap and Whats for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Whatsapp respectively. Whatsapp is hugely popular in Brazil and used in all walks of life. It is also generally referred to as zap or zap zap: te mando um zap depois “I’ll send you a whatsapp later.” Another example of an abbreviated proper name which no English native would understand is that of the band Red Hot Chili Peppers, very popular in Brazil and generally known as just ‘Red Hot’, pronounced [hɛdʒi hɔtʃi].
I cannot end this post about word appropriation without mentioning my personal favourite: x-tudo ‘cheeseburger with everything’. When cheeseburgers first came to Brazil they often appeared on menus as x-búrguer because the name of the letter x in Portuguese is xis [ʃis], which sounds identical to the way a Brazilian would pronounce the English word cheese. Meanwhile, Brazilians have created their own takes on the humble cheeseburger, including the one that comes with everything: the x-tudo, also known colloquially by the Brazilian coinage podrão ‘the big rotten one’, which actually refers to any kind of burger or hotdog stuffed full of as many ingredients as possible and usually sold by street vendors.
If you’d like to know what goes into a x-tudo while practising your Portuguese at the same time, watch the video tutorial below. Listen out for the slang expressions irado ‘awesome’, bagulho ‘stuff’, tá ligado? ‘know what I’m saying?’ and no esquema ‘all set’.