Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Untranslatable Words

If you ask a Brazilian for a Portuguese word that can’t be translated into English, he or she will probably think of the word saudade (sao-DAH-gee). Saudade is a feeling of longing for someone or something that isn’t present. When I say that I miss my family, for instance, I say,estou com saudades da minha família.

But the word has more meaning than that. Some argue that saudade occurs when what has been lost can never be recovered. Some assert that they feel saudades for people and places they’ve never known. The Portuguese poet Manuel Melo gave a clever definition, though, that sums up saudade as “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment that you enjoy.”

There’s a growing amount of scholarship that suggests that the languages you speak affect the way you process information and respond in certain situations. It is interesting to consider whether Portuguese speakers experience nostalgia differently than English speakers because they have saudade, a word that English lacks.

I’m not jumping into this debate, but I will look at some words in Portuguese that don’t have a simple translation in English. Here we go:


sitio is a piece of property outside the city. Is it a ranch? No, there don’t have to be animals. Is it a farm? No, the purpose isn’t to grow crops. It’s sort of like a cabin in that it’s a place for people to go to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. A lot of people host parties at their sitios because it’s pleasant to eat barbeque under the trees or string up a hammock on the porch.

Gustavo vai pedir mais uma saideira.


Drinking culture in Brazil is different than in other countries I’ve visited. Here, people split liters of beer to keep it from getting hot.

When conversation starts winding down at your table, you order the saideira, the last beer of the night. Here in Tersina, it’s common for people to go through two or three saideiras.


To get into Brazil’s public universities, which are better than their private counterparts, you have to get a good grade on the vestibular. No matter what major you’re hoping to do in college, your vestibular score is the sum of the points from all sections of the test: math, physics, chemistry, biology, history, geography, Portuguese, and either Spanish or English.

The majors that prepare you for high-earning careers like law, medicine, and engineering require higher scores. For that reason, most people in these majors are from wealthier families who can send their children to prestigious high schools.


concurso is an exam for a government job. After graduating, most of my students plan to spend a year or two studying for this exam. Why? Because jobs in the public sector, from nurse to professor, pay better than jobs in the private sector. For this reason, government positions attract some of the brightest young people in the country.

One problem, though, is that government jobs are granted for life. This rule was originally instituted to prevent a new office holder from Political Party X from firing and replacing employees hired under Political Party Y. But it also guarantees that public employees won’t lose their jobs if they cut corners here and there.

José e Marina estão namorando faz dois anos.


Brazilians have a lot of terms to describe different levels of romantic involvement. When you say that two people are namorando, you’re saying that they’re in a serious romantic relationship. It’s an interesting verb, though, because it can also describe actions within that relationship – for example, I’ve heard namorar used to mean canoodle.

I’ve been surprised at the large number of men and women my age in Teresina who have been in serious relationships for a long time. I sometimes have to remind myself that this isn’t the norm at home.


It makes sense that a language with lots of words to describe different levels of romantic relationships would also have lots of words to describe different levels of romantic feelings, right? Apaixonar is a useful verb that fills the space between like and love. Too bad we don’t have this one in English.

This isn’t at all meant to be a full list. If you come up with more Portuguese words that don’t have counterparts in English, please share in the comments!

Check out more posts and photos at http://erikstravels.wordpress.com/


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