Friday, May 28, 2010

Turtles and Monkeys

I woke up at 9:00 this morning intending to set the world on fire. Instead I wasted a lot of time browsing various entertainment blogs and by 11:30 had washed the dishes, satisfied for having at least done something useful to somebody. It's only 2:30, now, so I have the rest of the day ahead of me. Perhaps genius will strike. I have been dividing my free time among various little projects--studying Shakespeare's plays (right now I'm plodding through A Comedy of Errors and am not impressed, having just spent weeks immersed in the Henry IV plays), studying Latin (I'm on my way to completing Wheelock's by December), and of course practicing and studying Portuguese.

While I was picking up a sandwich for lunch, I had the idea to watch the copy of the original Ninja Turtles movie dubbed in Portuguese that we acquired the other day. That way, I'd be able to indulge in some infantile nostalgia while also improving my listening skills in Portuguese. And it was a blast. Some of the dialogue was over my head, but I was able to comprehend a surprising amount of it. We don't get television in the apartment--we detest Brazilian TV so much that we didn't even bother hooking up the antenna. The down side to that is that we only watch DVDs, and they are almost always in English. Television and movies are a great way to study a language, of course, and I have been depriving myself of this invaluable tool. No longer. I'm going to make it a daily habit to watch one movie in Portuguese a day.

Most of the people I see on a daily basis at the school where I teach are only interested in speaking English with me, and I don't blame them. So, I don't have many conversations in Portuguese, not as many as one would think since I am living in Brazil. My wife and I have always spoken English to each other, and it's difficult to break that habit. Someone recently told us that there have been studies on bilingual couples, and that they usually stick with one language when talking to each other, finding it very difficult to change. Our experience jibes with that. Still, this week I have forced myself to start conversations with my wife in Portuguese, and it's been very helpful. And funny.

I wish I had some specific little mix-ups to mention, but I haven't made any translatable mistakes lately.

There is an expression here, "Pagar um mico." To pay a monkey. When you make a mistake, you have to pay a monkey. When they taught me this expression, I said, "Já pagei muitos micos!" I have already paid many monkeys.

There are a lot of expressions involving my favorite animal here... the word for coveralls is macacão, meaning "big monkey." In English, "monkey suit" denotes a tuxedo, which in Portuguese is "smoking," likely borrowed from the English "smoking jacket." Back to monkeys, the word for "jack," i.e. the device one uses to lift a car to change a flat tire, is called "um macaco." A monkey. And, when one becomes an expert, one is then um macaco velho, an "old monkey."

I have hopes that I have only scratched the surface of monkey references in Brazilian Portuguese. I knew that I would love learning this language.


  1. How would you translate, "Our experience jives with that." into Portuguese?

    to be in harmony or accord; agree: The report does not quite jibe with the commissioner's observations.

    deceptive, exaggerated, or meaningless talk: Don't give me any of that jive!


  2. Eita! It's hard to learn a new language when you can't even speak your own. Thanks for the distinction--I'm changing the post now.

    Reminds me of how I learned the expression "to get one's goad." For years I had been saying "That really gets my goat!"

    I'm really hoping there's some truth to the old notion of wisdom being born of folly and all that.

  3. Goat/goad? That's the first I've heard that one. Neither of these two investigations of the origins of the phrase refer to "goad." Another guess I just came across -- some Pacific Islanders stole Captain Cook's goat and, boy, was he pissed!

    Sometimes word confusions are so general they change the language -- and thus become the standard rather than a mistake. Back in Shakespeare's day they didn't have standardized spelling and everyone wrote out words the way they sounded, thus "jive" would have been a perfectly acceptable version of "jibe" as your meaning is pretty clear.

    But say it was a typo. Those can be accidentally felicitous. A recent favorite I spotted in a book published by a university press: Because it was so hot & muggy the writer had to sit directly under an old "art conditioner."

    -- and thanks for reading some of "Thousand". I'm going to be living that sucker for some time!

  4. I never bothered to investigate the goat/goad issue, just took my friend at his word. Interesting. Language surely does open many labyrinths.

    I have always been jealous of Shakespeare's age, when the language was in such a radical flux, and before the grammarians of later centuries came along to ruin all the fun. Although I have a feeling that we have entered a similar age now, due to globalization and all the variant Englishes out there. I certainly try to play along with "redneck" variants in my writing.

    Your "Thousand" project is an enjoyable read, although I do need to catch up!

    Thanks, as always, for the comments.