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Portuguese Words Difficult to Translate

Many Portuguese students have come across the difficult-to-translate-into-one-word saudade, which conveys a feeling of nostalgia or longing for someone or something left behind. 

Example: Eu tenho saudade dos almoços de domingo em família. I miss Sunday lunches with the family.

Estou com saudade de casa. I feel homesick.

Here are some other common Brazilian Portuguese words that also defy direct translation:

Mordomia. This noun derived from mordomo, butler, can have positive or negative connotations. It mostly refers to a whole host of benefits or advantages offered to people or enjoyed by institutions. 

Esse hotel oferece muitas mordomias, como serviço de babá para crianças e massagens no quarto. This hotel offers many amenities, such as baby-sitter services for children and in-room massage

O governo precisa acabar com as mordomias para funcionários públicos, como motorista particular e viagens em primeira classe. The government needs to end benefits for pubic workers, such as private drivers and first-class travel.

Chilique. Usually used with the verb ter, to have, this noun means to have a fit, throw a tantrum or have an argument with someone. It’s used informally and typically involves drama.

Eu tive um chilique com os meus filhos para eles pararem de jogar vídeo game e começar a estudar. I had a fit with my children so they’d stop playing video games and start studying. 

Namorar. This verb is used to describe a romantic relationship. It comes after dating and before engagement. It is used for first relationships. People who namora, go steady, are called namorados, a general term for namorado/a, boyfriend, girlfriend. Valentine’s Day in Brazil, celebrated on June 12, is called Dia dos Namorados, literally boyfriend/girlfriend day.

Nós começamos a namorar quando tínhamos quatorze anos. We started going steady when we were fourteen. 

Gambiarra. This noun refers to mechanisms, contrivances or workarounds used to solve a problem temporarily. 

Eu não tinha pilha do tamanho indicado, então fiz uma gambiarra usando uma pilha menor e papel de alumínio. I didn’t have a right size battery so I improvised using a smaller battery and some aluminum paper.

Cafuné. This noun is used to describe when someone runs his or her fingers through someone else’s hair or gently strokes someone else’s head, especially at the back near the neck. 

O meu filho só dorme com cafuné. My son only sleeps if I run my fingers through his hair

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