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Popular Expression

It is the people who make the language, adding terms and expressions.

Popular Expression

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 05/09/2013

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

[...] life doesn’t come to me from newspapers or books.
It comes from the incorrect language of people.
Correct language of people.
Because it is that spoken the delightful Portuguese of Brazil...

(Manuel Bandeira, Evocação do Recife – Evocation of Recife)

Research, records and the collection of vocabulary and popular expressions, particularly in the North and Northeast regions of Brazil, have always been a concern for researchers and folklorists like Alfredo de Carvalho, Pereira da Costa, Luís da Câmara Cascudo and Mário Souto Maior, among others.

It is the people who make the language, adding terms and expressions. It is important to note that the majority of the popular expressions in spoken Brazilian Portuguese have their origins in the North and Northeast, where spoken and written language was enriched by the colonisation process.

Being a country of enormous geographical proportions, Brazil possess many regional linguistic expressions: the gaucho vernacular in the South, with its border influences; the Portuguese influence in the Northern vernacular; the way people from the Northeast express themselves; Carioca slang in Rio de Janeiro; typical expressions from Minas Gerais and São Paulo. Today, with electronic technology and the facilitation of communication between people, popular expressions “travel” through the national territory, becoming more well-known. Even television soap operas use them.

Some typical popular expressions of the Northeast (with literal translations, where applicable):

a torto e a direito (crooked and straight) – indiscriminately;
abestado – stupid, beastly;
aboletar-se – move in, set up;
acocho – grip, squeeze;
amofinado – upset, unhappy;
aperreado – nervous, worried;
arretado – irritated, or something very good;
assim ou assado (as is or roasted) – in one way or another;
assobiar e chupar cana (whistle and chug whiskey) – do two things at the same time;
atanazar – bother, tease;
atirar pedra em casa de marimbondo (throw stones at a wasps’ nest) – mess with someone who is quiet, or to take a risk;
bagunçar o coreto (mess the bandstand) – cause anarchy, create disorder;
balela – rumours, gossip;
bater o facho (hit the torch) – die;
berloque – pendant, ornament;
birinaite – alcoholic drink;
bisaco – bag, sack;
botar as barbas de molho (put the beards in sauce) – take due precaution;
brocoió – mediocre, hillbilly;
bugigangas – things without value;
cabreiro – untrustworthy;
cachete – pills;
cafua – deposit, small place
cafundó – faraway place;
cascavilhar – search, investigate;
chamaril – something that draws the attention;
chinfrim – ordinary thing;
cutucar o cão com vara curta (poke the dog with a short stick) – mess with someone who is quiet, or to take a risk;
deforete – go outside for some fresh air;
degringolar – mess up, disorganise, something that goes wrong;
derna – since
destambocar – take a piece;
destrambelhada – crazy, too clumsy;
empeiticar – pester;
empiriquitado – ornamented;
encangado – together, stuck;
espoletado – fed up, angry;
estrambólico – extravagant, strange;
faniquito – faint, tantrum;
fiofó – behind;
fuleiro – without much value, ordinary;
fulustreco – some guy;
fuzuê – noise, confusion;
gaitada – hi-pitched laugh, giggling;
gastura – indisposed, feeling sick;
goga – vanity;
guenzo – thin, skinny;
inhaca – bad smell, stink;
inté – see you later;
jururu – sad, pensive;
labrugento or lambugento – badly serviced;
lambança – disorder, noise;
levar gato por lebre (take the cat for the hare) – be tricked, disappointed;
levar desaforo pra casa (take abuse home) – be cowardly, not react;
macambúzio – sad, pensive;
malamanhado – scruffy;
manzanza – laziness, delay;
mundiça – impolite people;
nadica – nothing;
nopró – difficult individual;
nos trinques – conforming;
oião – curious, nosy;
onde o diabo perdeu as botas (where the devil lost his boots) – deserted place, distant;
pantim – exaggeration, terrors;
peba – ordinary thing;
peitica – persistent bothering;
pendenga – unfinished business;
penduricalho – ornament;
pé-rapado – poor person;
pinicar – pinch;
pinóia – expression of annoyance;
piripaque – faint, feel sick;
potoca – lie;
rabiçaca – jerk, movement;
salceiro – noise, confusion;
samboque – piece;
sorumbático – sad, pensive;
sustança – strength, vigour;
trepeça – useless thing;
virar defunto - became dead, to die
virar o copo (tip the glass) – ingest alcoholic drink;

A verdade popular (The popular truth)
Nem sempre ao sábio condiz, (Not always pleases the wise)
Mas a verdade serena (But the serene truth)
Nas coisas que o povo diz. (In the things people say)

(Poet Adelmar Tavares, 1888-1936)

Recife, 31 August 2005.
(Updated on 28 August 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.


sources consulted

LIMA, Claudia. Expressões populares usadas na atualidade. In: ______. História do folclore. Recife: Prefeitura da Cidade, Secretaria de Turismo, 1997.

ROSSATO, José Carlos. Nosso folclore. São Paulo: Soma, 1987.

SOUTO MAIOR, Mário. A língua na boca do povo. Recife: Fundaj, Ed. Massangana, 1992.

how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Popular Expression. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at:  <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.