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DIMINUTIVES IN BRAZILIAN PORTUGUESE – PART 2
In Part 1 of our journey into diminutives in Brazilian Portuguese, we saw that -inho/a and -zinho/a are the most common – but not the only – suffixes to express the notion of smallness in Brazil, and that these diminutives can be used in a range of contexts. Indeed, diminutives are deeply rooted in the Brazilian culture and are so widely used in every aspect of life that Brazilians might even sound childish to speakers of other languages at times. If you use diminutives in English as liberally as you use them in Portuguese, it will sound like baby talk at best. No way you can say “Vamos pegar um cineminha e depois tomar uma cervejinha no botequim?” in English
Interestingly, Brazilian adults don’t perceive themselves as being childish when they speak, and maybe one of the reasons that using diminutives is second nature to them is that they are exposed to them virtually from the time they are born.
When we are toddlers, we are encouraged to get some vital vaccinations by the iconic childhood character Zé Gotinha (‘Zé’ is short for José, and Gotinha is the diminutive of gota, which means ‘a drop’). Brazil’s vaccine mascot is called “Joe Droplet” in English (even The New York Times has used this term). Just as a side note, if Zé Gotinha had been created in the Brazilian Literary Society (the Academia Brasileira de Letras), he might have been called “Zé Gotícula” (-ícula/o is a kind of literary version of -inho/a).
My generation spent its mornings watching TV show host Xuxa, A Raínha dos Baixinhos (literally, the “Queen of Shorties”). Baixinho is the diminutive of ‘baixo’ (short), and because of the TV show this became an endearing way to refer to children in the 1980s. Nowadays, the term is back to its original meaning – it refers to adults who would not, for example, make it to a professional basketball team. A funny variation of baixinho is baixote.
I grew up reading comics, including Monica’s Gang, where Monica’s nemesis was Cebolinha. His name is the diminutive of cebola (onion), and this is because of his unique hairstyle with five strands of hair springing up from the top of his head (‘Jimmy Five’ is his name in the English-speaking world, which sounds like a very elegant solution). An addition to the Monica’s Gang series was Turma do Penadinho (Bug-a-Booo), where the creator Maurício de Sousa availed himself of diminutives copiously: Muminho (Moe the Mummy), Zé Cremadinho (Al Ashmore), Zé Caveirinha (Sid Skully), Alminha (Sally Soul), and Pixuquinha (Little Boy Boo). And let’s not forget O Menino Maluquinho (The Nutty Boy), by comics artist Ziraldo.
I was also an avid reader of the adventures of Huguinho, Zezinho, and Luisinho in the Disney universe. You guessed right – these are Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Ironically, the nickname for José in Brazil is Zezinho, not Josezinho (just remember ‘Joe Droplet’ above). Zezinho rolls right off the tongue and sounds nice too, even more so in the state of Minas Gerais, where -inho and -zinho are often pronounced as -im or -in and as –zim or -zin. Wouldn’t you agree that ‘Zezin’ is even nicer?
Just as a side note: Spain also chose to use the diminutive (-ito/a in the case of Spanish) to name Donald’s nephews, calling them Jorgito, Juanito, and Jaimito. Argentina followed suit, using Huguito, Dieguito, and Luisito.
Also in the Disney universe, if you belong to my generation, chances are that you will find it really odd that Never Land’s most cherished fairy is now called “Tinker Bell” – the original English name – instead of Sininho, her original name in Brazil. And we have another Disney character who’s been renamed in Brazil: Winnie-the-Pooh arrived here as Ursinho Puff, and then went on to become Ursinho Pooh. Well, at least we got to keep the diminutive!
And while we are in the realm of fairies, you might notice that the names of fairy tales are quite easy to translate into Brazilian Portuguese: Little Red Hiding Hood goes by the name of Chapeuzinho Vermelho in Brazil (they also chose a diminutive in Portugal: Capuchinho Vermelho), the Three Little Pigs are Os Três Porquinhos and The Ugly Duckling is called O Patinho Feio by Brazilian kids.
In the Looney Tunes universe, I was not a big fan of Ligeirinho (Speedy Gonzalez) or Gaguinho (Porky Pig), but I had loads of fun with Bugs Bunny, whose name in Brazil is more on the augmentative side: Pernalonga (literally, ‘long-legged’). But wait, Bugs Bunny’s irresistible catchphrase “What’s up, Doc?” is rendered as “O que é que há, velhinho?” (You didn’t expect Bugs Bunny not to be included in the diminutive club in Brazil, did you?).
Hanna Barbera brought us Batatinha (Benny The Ball, from Top Cat), Riquinho (Richie Rich) and Pedrita (Pebbles Flintstone), which literally means ‘small stone,’ with an addition to our collection of suffixes to express the diminutive: -ita/-ito.
I could go on and on and list a few dozen more of childhood and other characters with an ‑inho/a or -zinho name, but I will stop here for now and encourage YOU to think about other childhood character names that could be added to this list. This is not the end of our journey! I will soon share further insights into the use of diminutives in Brazilian Portuguese.
Marsel N. de Souza is a full-time interpreter and translator based in Brasilia, Brazil. He has a bachelor’s degree in English>Portuguese translation from the University of Brasilia and a certificate in advanced French studies from Alliance Française. He is also an ATA-certified English>Portuguese translator. He works primarily with the diplomatic and international organization community in Brasilia, but his interpreting and translation assignments have taken him to various parts of the U.K., U.S., Brazil, France, and Africa. He is a member of the International Association of Conference Interpreters.