Monday, March 19, 2018

Can You Tango with a Frango?

Even when languages are very similar, we can be tripped up by unexpected minor differences.

For instance, shortly after I first moved to England, I was asked by a young lady, "Would you like to pop 'round my flat this Saturday and knock me up?" (I've met a few other people with similar experiences)

"What a lovely invitation!" I thought, until I realized that she meant I should strike her door repeatedly with my clenched fist. As I was married at the time, my disappointment was mixed with relief.

I experienced some similar scenarios this past week on a business trip to Brazil. I met with salespeople from all over South America, about half of which spoke Portuguese and the rest, Spanish. And on some occasions, I smoke a pipe. On this trip I used my pipe as an excuse to go outside as often as possible to take in the mountain vistas and examine the botanical diversity. When I did, I was often accompanied by some of the salesmen, mostly the Spanish-speaking ones. They'd generally tell me, "You remind me of my uncle," in smooth, measured voices borrowed from Antonio Banderas. And they'd point to my pipe and tell me it was my pipa (pronounced "peep-ah").

So late in the week, when I'd run out of my own tobacco, I went to find a tabacaria to buy more. After a few false starts, I found what I was looking for in Barra... a little hole-in-the-wall cigar shop. I walked in fairly confidently (it was my seventh day in Brazil) and asked, "VocĂȘ vende tabaco para pipa?"

The vendor looked at me with a very puzzled expression and finally said, "Marijuana?" "No, no no!" I exclaimed, pulling the pipe from my pocket and showing it to her. "Ah! Cachimbo!" was her reply.

As it turns out, while "pipa" is Spanish for "pipe", in Portuguese it means "kite". I suppose she thought I wanted to get high. So I tried again: "VocĂȘ vende tabaco para cachimbo?"



Another word left me more puzzled than confused. It's the Portuguese word for "chicken".

In all other Latin-derived languages, the word for chicken is derived from the Latin "pullus". In Italian and Spanish, it's "pollo". In French, it's "poulet". Even in English we say "poultry" and "pullet" when we're not using the German-derived word.

In Portuguese, it's "frango" (rhymes with "tango").

I have no idea where this word comes from. Neither did any of my Brazilian guides. It just seems to have popped into the lexicon out of nowhere. Looking around the Web, I've seen suggestions that perhaps during the time of Portuguese colonization it was assimilated from some other language that has since gone extinct.

I suppose it's not important, but to me, not knowing the origin of this word is the intellectual equivalent of having a bit of sand in an inconvenient place. So if you have a good theory, please tell me in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. Well Latin has two words that describes "chicken "
    Pullus which is generic chicken.
    Gallina which is a feminine noun.
    Now I'm confused as we use Pullet for a young female and Gallus as a generic for the chicken family in classifications ( Gallus Gallus scientific name ).
    So my guess is the Frango is the Dance some drunk Portuguese fella did while drunk trying to catch a chicken and the whole country laughed at him and the name stuck.