It is often said that a country’s language is the mirror of its society.
In Brazil, football is considered an art form, so it is no surprise that nuances and expression related to the beautiful game ring as though they were inspired by a work of poetry.So if you are lucky enough to be travelling to Brazil this month to revel in the celebratory atmosphere of the World Cup, we have put together a handy list of Brazilian Portuguese expressions and their translations that you are bound to hear in the street and in the terraces.
The obvious place to begin is the with phrase craque, meaning ‘the ace,’ which refers to the team’s outstanding star player, the one whose skill the crowd’s dreams rest upon and whose impact can make all the difference to his team’s hopes. Think the likes of Neymar, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.
The origin of this word is believed to come from the English “crack” or more specifically, the phrase ‘ a crack horse,’ which up until the early 20th century in Britain referred to the fastest horse on the track.
After all, British influence and engagement within South America throughout the 19th century and early 20th century was prolific, especially when it came to steel and textile trade.
You can expect a number of craques to strike the ball in the in the ‘canto onde dorme a coruj,’ (‘the corner where the owl sleeps) meaning the top corner of goal during the World Cup.
But if the craque has a stinker of a match and fails to live up to the expectations placed upon him by his adoring fans, then his celebrity status is damaged and his ego suddenly becomes too big for his boots. That player has gone from being the craque to being the “mascardo”.
Translated roughly as ‘masked man,’ the expression implies that the player needs a mask to cover his overriding ego. Fans may even go a step futher and say that the player as wearing salto alto – diva-esque high-heals – to match their unmerited ego.
Perna de Pau
But while the mascardo will experience a bad game here and there, his generally remains beloved by fans for his moments of brilliance. The perna de Pau, however, has fans asking themselves what he is even doing in the team.
“Perna de Pau” translates as “wooden leg,” and stems from the notion that the player plays football precisely as though he should have one.
Mao de alface
This is a term reserved for goalkeepers. Should the goalkeeper gets his hands on a powerful shot but fail to keep it out, he’ll be labelled having a mao de alface, meaning a ‘lettuce hand’.
The term captures the image of a powerful shot striking a lettuce and passing right through it – leaving a heap of leaves in its path.
Another phrase that paints a funny picture, again at the goalkeepers expense. Um frango, meaning “chicken” refers to a simple shot that goalkeeper mistakenly fumbles. The terms sarcastically implies that the shot was particularly difficult to catch, just as a chicken would be.
Jack Langs article The Beautiful Language in Road and Kingdoms mentions a handful of other phrases that require a much more nuanced knowledge of Brazilian culture (for example, why a shock result is known as a “zebra”).
Online dictionary bab.la has also produced this handy guide of everyday Brazilian Portuguese expressions.
If you know any other football-related expressions in Brazilian Portuguese or any other languages, email them to me at [email protected], and I’ll share the best ones.
We hope you enjoy the World Cup, and c’mon England!