Portuguese 101: The Best Literally Translated Brazilian-Portuguese Words

With over 2 years living in Brazil and speaking Brazilian Portuguese, I’ve reached the point of conversing where I have stopped literally translating in my head when I speak. I even find my instinctual reaction to come out in Portuguese. Nossa! Opa! At times, however, I have to chuckle realizing the literal translation of some Brazilian terms. I’ve compiled a list of common Brazilian words and sayings that in some ways exemplify Brazilian spirit but simply don’t translate (but I did my best).

1. “Saudade
Literal TranslationSaudade doesn’t really have a literal translation possibly because Americans simply aren’t as passionate as Brazilians.
Explanation: A common allusion and theme in the romantic Brazilian samba and Bossa Nova music, Saudade is a word that describes the quintessential Brazilian/Latino passion of missing someone or something. It describes the feeling of longing that is so strong your entire body aches for what was.
Example:  I had so much saudade of Brazilian beaches when I was forced to endure a North American winter.

2. ”Vai com deus
Literal translation: “Go with God”
Explanation: The predominately catholic country has incorporated this religious-influenced saying to bid adieu to one another. Religious and atheists alike will use this saying to wish someone well when saying goodbye.
Example: I should probably get going home now... Okay bye, go with God!

3. “Minha filha/meu filho
Literal translation: “My daughter/son”
Explanation: I’ve always been impressed by how welcoming and warm Brazilian culture is, but you can imagine my surprise the first time an older women referred to me as her daughter! Generally older people will say this as a loving way to refer to someone from the younger generation of no familiar relation.
Example: How was your day, my daughter?

4. “Gatinha
Literal translation: Little cat/Kitten
Explanation: The origin of this slang remains a mystery, but this can be used to sensually flatter a Brazilian you are attracted to. 
Example: My boyfriend is such a kitten.

5.  “Bom Dia Flor do Dia
Literal Translation: Good Morning flower of the day
Explanation: An affectionate way to wish someone dear good morning.
ExampleGood morning flower of the day, did you sleep well?

6. “Tranquilo
Literal Translation: Tranquil or calm
Explanation: This can be used as a command or as an adjective to describe a tranquil, calm place. Used on a daily basis, it epitomizes the laid-back, happy go lucky Brazilian philosophy of life.
Example: There’s so much traffic we will never make it on time! Stay tranquil, it will be okay.

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Life is tranquilo in Brazil, and when far away it's hard not to have saudade

About the author

Julian Guelig

Julian began her adventurous life roaming the backwoods of rural Pennsylvania on horseback, but discovered the allure of living abroad and international travel as a Rotary high school exchange student in Guayaquil, Ecuador. This formative year enabled her to step back and observe American culture through a different lens, shaping her nascent global view. She studied Economics and International Development at Tulane University, honing a tangible skill-set spanning business development and economic analysis. Wanderlust struck again; she spent a semester abroad in Rio de Janeiro, where she fell in love with all things Brazilian. After graduation, Julian taught English with Fulbright at a federal university in Cuiabá, Western Brazil, and later independently in Rio de Janeiro to young children. She first witnessed the power of microfinance while living in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro; the microcosm of life in a favela reinforced broader economic and development concepts she learned at Tulane. Dedicated to Kiva’s mission to alleviate poverty and improve people’s lives around the world in a sustainable manner, Julian is eager to return to Brazil as a KF28 Fellow. The opportunity to work as a Fellow will allow Julian to further her understanding of small businesses and the intricacies of microfinance in Brazil.