Do you speak Carioca?

rio600by Colin McIntosh

The Rio games are over! Unless you’ve been hiding under a stone for the past few weeks, you can’t fail to have noticed that the city of Rio de Janeiro was taken over by thousands of runners, cyclists, gymnasts, and other athletes putting on a show for the world for a couple of weeks.

And what a show! Aside from the colourful opening ceremony and the superhuman efforts of the athletes, I also enjoyed the attempts of our BBC presenters at getting their tongues around Brazilian vowels and consonants, who made valiant efforts to source the local Carioca pronunciations, including the sh sound in Crissshhhto Redentor, the famous statue on Corcovado mountain. Not many managed to pull off the guttural sound in the middle of Barra, though, or the nasal grunt at the end of Maracanã­ – the mark of a true Carioca. Incidentally, Carioca properly refers to anything that belongs to the city of Rio de Janeiro; people or things from the state of Rio are termed Fluminense (both Rio and Fluminense mean “river”). Carioca itself means “white man’s house” in the indigenous Tupi language, the source of many Carioca place names, including Ipanema “bad water” and Maracanã “green bird”.

One of the highlights for me was Charlotte Dujardin and her horse Valegro sambaing their way to a gold medal in the dressage event. Who knew that a horse could samba? And who knew that samba could be a verb? And Adam Peaty, described as a “human piranha” by one commentator, tore up the pool on his way to gold. Piranhas (the Amazonian kind) don’t deserve their fearsome reputation, by the way: apparently some are even vegetarian. Piranha is Tupi for “toothed fish”. And if you want to sound Carioca, say pi-ran-ya, not pi-rah-na.

Every Olympics is concerned about its legacy, which is how politicians refer to the hoped-for long-term benefits of hosting the Olympics that may or may not materialize. Such benefits usually include the regeneration of run-down areas and renewed public interest and participation in sport. With the huge amount of money spent, the Brazilian public expected to benefit from infrastructure improvements. The centre of Rio was certainly spruced up; but did the favelas benefit from the huge spending on the Olympics?

Favela was certainly one Brazilian word that was on everyone’s lips. Referring to the areas of cheaply built housing that spring up on the periphery of Brazilian cities, and also the communities who live there, it was used frequently in newspapers and TV coverage in English-speaking countries. A decent amount of coverage was also given to athletes such as Rafaela Silva, who overcame her disadvantaged background to win a gold medal for Brazil in judo. Interestingly, the word favela is often disliked in Brazil because of its negative associations, and there is a tendency to replace it with the more politically acceptable term comunidade or “community”.

Another legacy of the Rio games was linguistic. Millions of people around the world will have become familiar with new words from Brazilian Portuguese, including a fair few that have become firmly fixed in English. Some are already fairly familiar, like favela and samba, but others will be new to many. Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, was on display at the opening ceremony. The caipirinha, the Brazilian national cocktail, made from the spirit cachaça, was mentioned a few times; and now everyone knows that the place where Brazilian carnival parades take place is called a sambódromo.

So it’s all over for another four years. At least we still have the Paralympics to look forward to!

Study, practise, or test yourself on words from this post

One comment

  1. Alice Herminia Serpentino · September 2, 2016

    Amei, Colin!! Vou compartilhar por aqui. Você já virou brasileiro!