25 Brazilian Portuguese Words Impossible to Translate

Brazilian Portuguese is a rich and expressive language, brimming with words and phrases that capture the unique essence of Brazil’s diverse culture. Some of these words are so deeply embedded in the Brazilian way of life that they simply cannot be translated into other languages without losing their true meaning and cultural significance. In this article, we explore 25 Brazilian Portuguese words that are impossible to translate, offering a glimpse into the heart and soul of this captivating language. We will leave out foods like ‘farofa’ and ‘tapioca’ because they deserve their own article. And

girl walking on street with brazilian flag on wall. 25 Brazilian Portuguese Words Impossible to Translate

1. Ranço

Ranço is a word that conveys a complex mix of revolting emotions, including resentment, bitterness, and a lingering grudge. We often use it to describe a feeling of aversion towards a person or situation that has left a lasting negative impact. Ranço is more than just a passing annoyance; it signifies a deep-seated emotion that might have roots in past experiences.

2. Cafuné

Cafuné is an act of affection that involves gently running one’s fingers through someone’s hair, usually in a soothing and comforting manner. This tender gesture is often used to express love and care, making it a cherished part of Brazilian culture and relationships.

3. Saudade

Saudade is a word that is central to the Portuguese language, encompassing a nostalgic longing and yearning for something or someone that is absent or lost. It’s a deeply melancholic feeling that evokes a mix of happiness and sadness, encapsulating the beauty of cherished memories.

4. Desenrascanço

This uniquely Brazilian term describes the ability to improvise or find a resourceful solution to a problem or challenging situation. It reflects the Brazilian spirit of resilience and adaptability in the face of adversity.

5. Ginga

Ginga is a word that perfectly captures the rhythmic sway and effortless grace often associated with Brazilian dance and martial arts. It signifies a natural and smooth movement, a flowing and captivating rhythm that is synonymous with the vibrant Brazilian culture.

For examples this passage from the birth of a legend explains how Pele, famous for his ‘ginga’ on the field got his nickname:

Seu apelido : Pelé. O ‘batizado’ veio nessa mesma Copa do Mundo , onde o Rei mostrou ao mundo a famosa ginga que em nenhum lugar do mundo…

6. Axé

Axé is a word that holds great spiritual significance in Brazil. It refers to the life force or positive energy that is believed to flow through all living beings, bringing blessings and good fortune. Axé is often invoked to wish someone well or send positive vibes their way.

7. Caipira

The term “caipira” comes from the Tupi word “caaipura,” used to refer to someone who comes from the woods. The word was used by the indigenous people of the interior of São Paulo to refer to the settlers or colonizers.

Caipira is a term used to describe someone from the countryside or rural areas of Brazil. It embodies the rustic charm, simplicity, and authenticity of rural life, and it often carries a sense of pride in one’s rural roots. This word does not carry prerogative connotation like the word hillbilly.

A popular Brazilian cocktail made with cachaça (a distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice), lime, sugar, and ice. Cachaça is the most common and easy to make (think moonshine in rural America). Caipirinha is often considered the national cocktail of Brazil and is enjoyed by both locals and visitors alike. It has a refreshing and tangy flavor, making it a popular choice, especially during hot summer days. The name “caipirinha” comes from the word “caipira,” which refers to someone from the countryside or rural areas of Brazil, reflecting its rustic origins. It is a beloved drink that perfectly embodies the spirit of Brazil and is often enjoyed at social gatherings and celebrations.

8. Malemolência

Malemolência is a word that encompasses a laid-back, carefree attitude and a nonchalant approach to life’s challenges. It embodies the Brazilian spirit of taking things as they come and not sweating the small stuff.

9. Muvuca

Muvuca is a lively and chaotic environment, often used to describe crowded or bustling places, such as markets, festivals, or parties. It reflects the vibrant and energetic atmosphere of Brazilian social gatherings.

10. Apaixonar

Apaixonar translates to English as ‘to fall in love‘, yet there isn’t a commonly used verb in English that would translate perfectly from apaixonar. The act of Apaixonar is used in that stage between liking someone and being in love with them. It can also be used as an adjective, apaixonado(a), which would translate to ‘to be in love with’.

11. Bagunça

Bagunça refers to a state of disorder or messiness, but it’s also used in a more playful and endearing sense to describe fun and playful chaos, like a child’s messy bedroom or a joyful family gathering.

12. Xodó

Your xodó is your sweetheart, in a way that applies both to your significant other and also someone you have a special closeness with, such as a grandparent. A pet could be a xodó too (especially if it’s enjoying cafuné). You can also “have” xodó for someone when you have soft spot for them. This all-purpose term of endearment originated in northern Brazil and might be translated in some instances as the slang term boo. Another good match for this word (albeit in Spanish) is cariño.

14. Poisé

A debate with a Brazilian over how to translate the expression pois é can lead to a lively conversation. Does it mean “yeah”? Close, but not quite. Is it “well”? Maybe. Part of the problem is it takes a different meaning depending on the context. It can be used to show agreement (as in when English-speakers reply “exactly”) or resignation to a fact (perhaps negative) that can’t be changed (“that’s life”). It can also mean a form of “I told you so.” With so many meanings, this word just can’t be pinned down.

15. Caprichar

Caprichar is a verb that means do something well, the best way possible. Capricho is the act of trying really hard to make something look good. When going to a restaurant, for example, we may ask the chef to Caprichar while cooking our food. That means we are asking them to give them special attention and outdo themselves in their work.

People might also say “No capricho!“, which means they did their work the best they could to please you. 

16. Será

In Brazilian Portuguese, “será” is a rhetorical device often used to add emphasis or express uncertainty or surprise. It is equivalent to the English phrases “I wonder,” “could it be,” or “I guess.” When used in conversation, “será” implies that the speaker is contemplating a possibility or asking a rhetorical question, seeking agreement or confirmation from the listener.

For example:

  1. Será que vai chover hoje? (I wonder if it’s going to rain today?) Here, the speaker is expressing uncertainty about the weather and seeking confirmation from the listener.
  2. Ele ainda não chegou, será que se perdeu? (He hasn’t arrived yet, could he be lost?) In this case, the speaker is considering the possibility that the person got lost and is expressing surprise or concern.
  3. Será que você poderia me emprestar seu lápis? (Could you lend me your pencil, please?) Here, the speaker is making a polite request, using “será que” to soften the request and make it less direct.

17. Gambiarra

An improvised or makeshift solution to a problem.

18. Aperto

A feeling of being financially tight or facing financial difficulties.

19. Carioca

We use it to describe someone born in the city of Rio de Janeiro, the word “carioca” derives from the Tupi term “kari’oka.” In the indigenous language, it can be translated to “house of the carijós,” who inhabited the coastal regions of the country.

20. Lindeza

Meaning “prettiness” but something that is also used as a term of endearment. It now becomes a noun in certain instances, maybe even a verb. My mother used to call me lindeza when I was little.

21. Xará

In the ancient Tupi indigenous language, “aquele que tem meu nome,” the Portuguese word “xará” was born from the Tupi term “se rera” or “sa rara.”

22. Pereba

Another term coming from Tupi is the word “pereba” or in the original “pere`wa.” It means a wound and we use it to describe skin injuries or abrasions.

23. Guri

In Rio Grande do Sul, the term “guri” started to be used to refer to male children. This was a reference to the Tupi-derived terms “guirii,” “ngiri,” or “wyrí,” which meant “boy” or “young man.”

24. Chamego

“Chamego” is another Brazilian Portuguese term that can be difficult to translate directly into English. It refers to a warm and affectionate feeling or gesture, often expressed through physical closeness, cuddling, or hugging. It conveys a sense of intimacy, fondness, and tenderness between individuals.

The closest English equivalents to “chamego” would be “cuddle,” “snuggle,” or “affectionate gesture.” However, these translations may not fully capture the cultural connotations and depth of emotion associated with “chamego” in Brazilian culture. We use this term to describe a special and affectionate bond between two people, often in romantic or familial contexts.

25. Pirraça

“Pirraça” is a Brazilian Portuguese term that is somewhat challenging to translate directly into English because it refers to a playful teasing or taunting behavior. It involves poking fun at someone or engaging in light-hearted banter in a playful manner. The closest English translation for “pirraça” would be “teasing” or “banter,” but it may not capture the exact nuance and cultural significance of the term. We often use “Pirraça” among friends or in a friendly context, and it is not hurtful nor offensive.

The Brazilian Portuguese language is a treasure trove of words that go beyond mere translation. These 25 words offer a glimpse into the intricacies and richness of Brazil’s culture, reflecting the unique blend of emotions, experiences, and values that shape the Brazilian way of life. Embrace these untranslatable gems, and you’ll discover a deeper appreciation for the captivating beauty of Brazilian Portuguese.

%d bloggers like this: