If you are fortunate enough to be one of those exceptionally lucky visitors to Brazil during the World Cup now in full swing there, you will have noticed two inescapable things about the country. One is the Portuguese language. Portuguese is the national tongue and is spoken over the majority of the country. A legacy of the Portuguese empire that once ruled over Brazil until the 19th century, the local flavour of the language has its own expressions, spellings and idioms. Coupled with the distinct sing-song accent, Brazil’s Portuguese is very different from the Portuguese used in its former colonial ruler. It is rather like the differences between American and United Kingdom English.
The other thing that will not have escaped your attention is their love affair with football. From the battered favelas of Rio to the beaches of Porto Alegre, its football that helps keep the bars ticking over, keeps children busy in their spare time and has helped keep a nation behind one of the best football teams in the world.
Not surprisingly these two modes of expression, the spoken and the kicked, have come together in a way that is very unique to Brazil and may well be very convenient for football fans learning Portuguese who want to get the inside story on what the locals think of their chances of making it to the quarter-finals.
The life and culture reporters at the Wall Street Journal have put together a glossary of Brazil’s football lingo to celebrate the World Cup.
Just as it is said that the Inuit (Eskimos) have dozens of words for different kinds and states of snow, the Brazilians have a cornucopia of nuanced football terms for every kind of player, set piece or ridiculous situation that could ever happen in a match. However, it is not just about figuring the literal meaning while quickly through a bilingual pocket dictionary, it is very much about the context too. The Half-Eaten Mind presents the WSJ guide to Brazilian footballing expressions.
You might well see yellow and green clad supporters shouting out loud for the popcorn guy “o pipoqueiro!!”, but no it is not because they are trying to get his attention for that urgent refill of Butterkist. It is a reference to any show-off or overhyped players who just seem unable to deliver the sweet goods on the pitch and end up popping up around the game aimlessly. Much like your popcorn bag splitting open and bouncing about in the microwave. Either way, it is not a good outcome.
If you hear fans muttering under their breath about lettuce and chickens, it is not because they got lost on the way to a farmers’ convention and they are not complaining about what has wound up in their McDonald’s chicken sandwiches. Oh no, it is just their way of expressing contempt for players with slippery feet and fingers. A goalie who just about touches the ball with the tips of his gloves before it slams into the back of his net is dubbed “lettuce hands” – “mão de alface” , as his goalkeeping skills soon seem to be as soggy and limp as an old leaf of the green stuff (an unfortunate goalkeeper in an English Premier League match may well be called ‘butter fingers’ among the printable nicknames heading his way along with the ball). Goalies who just cannot seem to stop a ball and let in goal after goal are said to be like clumsy farmers “chasing chickens”. Anyone for a half-time Caesar salad?
There are other terms that are hard to translate suitably into English and reflect the unique culture and psychology that Brazilians bring to the beautiful game. If a player does loads of fancy moves which do not seem to mean any goals being scored, he could be described as engaging in a bit of pointless “firula“, which roughly translates as ‘showing off’ or ‘razzle dazzle’.
If fans start calling out for a “sheriff” it’s not because they are looking for security guards to escort rubbish players off the pitch. This is a term of respect for a defender who seems to be running matters and is playing more strongly than his teammates.
Likewise, a “thief” is no allusion to someone in the stadium connected to the high crime rate in many of Brazil’s big cities. It is a player who seems to appear out of nowhere to tackle the ball from an opponent.
Some more “termos do futebol brasileiro” – Brazilian football terms :-
* “Futebol arte” – the art of football, what England supporters and pundits devoutly refer to as the ‘beautiful game’. In Portuguese, this would be “o jogo bonito“!
* “Chocolate” – the same word in English and Portuguese, but pronounced differently. This is not people handing out Quality Street to struggling players in need of a glucose boost, but an expression for when a team utterly slaughters the other side. The winners have handed the losers a ‘chocolate’. A rather bitter one.
* “Salto alto” also known as the ‘high-heel shoe’. It is rather problematic to play footie with kitten heels, but this Brazilian term is in fact a playful, but painfully accurate, moniker for a side that goes into a match thinking they will own the place, only to see their high expectations crushed under the heel of a well-aimed stiletto. Rather like anyone unfortunate enough to get on the wrong side of a party of ladettes on a Friday night in Romford.
* “Fazer cera“, this means ‘to wax’. A term for players who just dribble the ball around the pitch to pass the time and use up the extra minutes. Not an allusion to the alleged vanity of certain big names in top flight clubs.
* “Frangueiro” – the infamous ‘chicken guy’. A goalkeeper who has a hard time keeping balls out of nets. Just like a farmer trying to round up her chickens, the errant goalie is said to “tomou um frango“…take a ‘chicken’.
* “Tapete” – literally ‘carpet’. This does not refer to the red carpet treatment that Brazil’s megastar footballers never tire of receiving, but refers to pitch turf which is in mint condition.
* “Drible da vaca” – a cow’s dribble. When a player runs toward an opponent and kicks the ball to one side of his opponent while running around the opponent’s other side, regaining possession of the ball again behind the opponent’s back. A very artful move and one the Brazilian national team is fond of employing. It leaves the opposing side fuming like a bull in front of a red rag…or red card.
* “Peixinho” – a small fish, like a guppy or a minnow. Not because of a player’s size, but because of his slipperiness in diving, sliding and heading the ball effortlessly into the back of the net, while the sharks in the little pond of the pitch are caught unawares.
* “Amarelou” – to turn ‘yellow’. While Brazil’s team kit is heavy on this hue, this is nothing to do with switching sides. This term is used to describe a team that lives in such awe and respected fear of their opponent that they just cannot help but lose.
* “Na gaveta” – in the drawer. Alternatively you can say “onde a coruja dorme” (where the owl sleeps). These very peculiar quips both describe a well-aimed shot on goal that the keeper has no chance in Hell of stopping. Among British fans, it is a bit more literal “[slotting it in] the back of the net”.
* “Na banheira” – in the bathtub. This is not Neymar getting locked in the shower room after a match, but is Brazilian slang for an offside position, which no-one ever really likes. Unlike Neymar. Who is very likeable.
* “Cavar uma falta” to dig a hole – this one is for those players who just love dramatics, faking fouls, rolling over in mock pain; to deceive the referee.
* “Do meio da rua” – in the middle of the road. A shot on goal from halfway down the pitch, which seems, and often turns out to be, a futile exercise.
* “Caneta” – pen. A move where a player on the ball slides said ball between the legs of an opponent and retrieves the ball to continue onwards. In UK terms, a ‘nutmeg’. At its best when a player uses the ‘pen’ to scribble in a good aim on goal.
* “Gol relâmpago” – flash score. One of those amazing quick-fire goals that happens in the first few minutes of play and takes everyone by surprise. Brazil’s weapon of choice.
A useful glossary of terms prepared by the Wall Street Journal to help you negotiate the seemingly impenetrable Brazilian football culture and avoid dropping words like chickens while your newfound Brazilian friends think you have a tongue made of lettuce.