Volume 17, No. 1 
January 2013


Danilo Nogueira


Front Page


Index 1997-2013

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
Translation Can Be Fun
by John C. Alleman

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant and Worker Bee
Found in Translation by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche
reviewed by Gabe Bokor

  Translators and the Computer
Human Translation vs. Machine Translation: Rise of the Machines
by Ilya Ulitkin
Friendly Files and Fancy Formats
by Jost Zetzsche

  Medical Translation
Hints and Links for Medical Translators
by Palma Chatonnet-Marton

Translation Theory
Translation Strategies: A Review and Comparison of Theories
by Zohre Owji, M.A.
TTR Changes in Different Directions of Translation
by Sergiy Fokin, PhD, AP

Business & Finance
Terminology for the English ⇔ Spanish translation of mercantile documents used in international trade
by Karina Socorro Trujillo

The Challenges of Interpreting Humor (a.k.a. “Don’t Kill the Killjoy”)
by Paula J. Liendo

How to Challenge a Brazilian Rear Admiral to a Duel
by Danilo Nogueirao

Translator Education
Methods of Enhancing Speaking Skills of Elementary Level Students
by Yulia Morozova
Looking for New Methods to Study the Regulation of Reading Comprehension
by Christian Soto, Valentina Carrasco
La innovación del Espacio Europeo de Educación Superior vs. la tradición educativa: la terminología y la fraseología del ámbito académico (español ⇔ inglés)
Esther Vázquez y del Árbol

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal
Sugar Loaf

How to Challenge a Brazilian Rear Admiral to a Duel

by Danilo Nogueira

t was a tense moment. The powerful voice of Governor Carlos Lacerda, entrenched in the Government Mansion in Rio de Janeiro, was heard over the radio, provoking Admiral Aragão, challenging him to a duel: “Aragão, covarde, incestuoso, venha decidir comigo essa parada! Quero matá-lo com meu revólver” (Aragão, you incestuous coward, come have this out with me! I want to kill you with my gun). It was April 1, 1964 and Admiral Aragão was said to be marching his marines to storm the Mansion and put the rebel governor under arrest. Had Admiral Aragão done it, Brazilian history might have been different.

One of the strongest epithets you can throw at a Brazilian man is to join the three words and call him a veado, corno do caralho!
The point I would like to develop here, however, is not historical, as this is the Translation Journal, not the Journal of Recent Brazilian History. What interests me here is the use of the word incestuoso (incestuous). Incestuoso, as its English cognate incestuous, is a learned word, not a dirty word a boy would hurl at another in the course of a street fight.

In addition, in Brazil at least, calling someone incestuous is not a common insult. You can insult a man by calling him a cuckold or a homosexual, but you do not call him incestuous. In fact, there is no good translation for mother fucker in these parts. Having sex with one’s own mother is beyond the imagination of any Brazilian. Or at least, of most of us.

In other words, Governor Lacerda, opted not to use a vulgar insult to provoke the Admiral. God knows why, for he could be as foul-mouthed as the next man. Perhaps he thought a translated English insult, however unusual in Portuguese, would be more appropriate, given the circumstances. He is dead now, too late to ask.

It doesn’t mean what it means

Not that those things mean what they mean, so to say. When you call someone a mother fucker it does not mean that you believe he is incestuous; if you believe the guy had sex with his mother, you would call him incestuous and that is that. Same go for other words. What the fuck is this? does not have any sexual connotations. Decidedly, it is not an inquiry concerning the nature of a sex act.

In fact, it is a less elegant substitute for what the hell is this? which, in turn, also doesn’t mean what it means either. Both the fuck and the hell contribute nothing to the meaning of the phrase: they are expletives that just help demonstrate how strongly we feel over the damned thing.

That creates a lot of problems for the translator. For instance, it is easy to translate they were fucking in her mother’s bedroom, wherein fuck means having sex. Translating what the fuck were they doing in her mother’s bedroom is not so easy, because fuck is just an expletive that helps convey the admiration of the speaker regarding the fact that John and Jane were in Jane’s bedroom at a certain moment.

The problem lies ahead

The problem lies in that, although there are several ways to refer to acts of sex in Portuguese, we would not use any of them in this context. Expletives cannot be translated literally.

You can say Que porra / caralho / cazzo eles estavam fazendo no quarto da mãe dela? Porra is cum, in the sense of sperm, not in the sense of cum laude. Caralho is the penis, cazzo, is also the penis. Cazzo, actually, it is an Italian import which entered Brazilian Portuguese though São Paulo.

“OK,” you could say, “there are three idiomatic translations: take your pick.” Very good. And what if the answer to the question is “Well, they were just fucking”? You can translate it as Bom, estavam só fodendo, but the play on the two fucks would be lost.

Caralho and porra are probably the expletives in widest use nowadays, judging by the Greater São Paulo Area, where I live. Some people can hardly articulate a phrase without using at least one of those words: Porra, está fazendo calor pra caralho (Literally, Cum! It is hot for dick or (as the Bowdler siblings would put it) it is terribly hot today).

Insulting a gentleman in Brazilian Portuguese

As I said above, we do not insult a man by accusing him of incest: we accuse him of being homosexual (veado) or a cuckold (corno). Why veado, which is a red deer, should be associated with homosexuality in Brazil is beyond the limits of my comprehension. Also beyond my comprehension is why corno (horn) came to be associated with being the victim of an unfaithful wife, an association which seems to have originated in Italian. The fact is that closing a fist and raising index and small finger can get you into trouble in Brazil. Of course, referring to a man as a veado or corno does not imply that the he is homosexual or has an unfaithful wife.

One of the strongest epithets you can throw at a Brazilian man is to join the three words and call him a veado, corno do caralho! or, literally, a red deer horn of the penis, or, more figuratively and, perhaps, more precisely, gay cuckold. Don’t ask me how to translate the do caralho, in this connection, but believe me when I say this is a very common expression.

Provoking a Brazilian Rear Admiral

Perhaps, if Governor Lacerda had said Aragão, seu veado corno do caralho… Rear Admiral Aragão might have become puto da vida (literally: male prostitute of his life; idiomatically: fucking angry) and walked into the palace gardens, gun in hand, taken the challenge and Brazilian history might have been different, for he was probably a better shot than Lacerda.