Notes on Portuguese Vocabulary

Virtually all the words in Portuguese derive from Vulgar Latin. Almost no vestiges remain of the Celtic and Lusitanian languages that antedated the Roman conquest. Neither did the neighboring Basques contribute much to the vocabulary. But there are a few examples: "Cerveja," meaning "beer," appears to be of Celtic origin, not surprisingly. It is said that the word for "puppy" in Portuguese (also used as "cub") is of Basque origin. It is "cachorro," and appears in both Spanish and Portuguese. In Brazil it has become the standard usage for "dog," displacing "cão."

Approximately 1,000 words of Phoenician, Carthaginian or Arabic origin remain in the Lexicon, mainly having to do with foods, plants and geographical locations. For example, the town of "Setúbal" in Portugal is a Punic name. The "-bal" ending is a form of saying "son of." Other examples include "aldeia" (village) from "aldaya," "azeitona" (olive) from "azzaituna" and. "almofada" (throw pillow) from "almukhadda" (which comes from "khadd," meaning face), and "almoxarifado," a storage house, derived from "almushrif," inspector, who supervised government stores and later acted as a bailee of merchandise. The town of Fátima is named after one of Mohammed's five daughters. From the Moorish occupation, Portuguese (like Spanish) absorbed the useful expression, "Oxalá" which comes from the Arabic "in sha allah" or "if God wills." It is used mainly to mean, "I hope to God that . . . "

A few words have entered from Germanic sources, mainly "guerra" and other words of warfare, including "war" itself, and "spur" ("espora" from "spaúra") and "stake" ("estaca" from "stakka").

The era of navigation and world discovery also caused the importation of a few words into Portuguese from India, Asia and the New World. The most famous, is "chá" for tea, which comes from Chinese originally, and also Japan. A "catana" is a curved sword derived from the Japanese "katana." "Potato" ("batata"), "pineapple" ("abacaxi") and many other food and animal names came into the language from Brazil. Likewise, the years of slave trade cause Africanisms to make their contribution as well. For example, the youngest child in the family in Portuguese is the "caçula" (masculine or feminine), which derives from "kusula," a Kimbundu term from Angola. There is no cognate in Spanish.

The rest of Europe has also contributed to the rich vocabulary of Portuguese. Many French words are 20th century additions, for example "soutien" for brassiere, "paletó" for jacket, and "batom" for lipstick. English has contributed "futebol" and the vocabulary of soccer, as in "pênalti," as well as "folclore" and revolver and several other terms. Italians added "piloto," especially for racing cars, as well as all the varied culinary options from that country (starting with "pasta").