Brazilian football language: English roots, native flowers

Babbel discusses the roots of Braziliian football and the influence that it has on the language.
Brazilian football language

With the World Cup in full swing, everybody is brushing up on their Brazilian football language and throwing around words like jogo bonito! and golaço!.

Brazilian football language

These words are part of every football fan’s vocabulary, testament to the vibrancy of Brazilian footballing culture and its impact on the world.

Yet we need only step back a century, to the birth of Brazilian football, and we have to acknowledge the influence of a small island nation that has only won one World Cup compared to Brazil’s five – England.

Two footballs, a pump and a rulebook

Brazilian football language
Two men in particular were instrumental in bringing football to Brazil.

Charles Miller (above left), son of a Scottish railway engineer and a Brazilian woman of English descent, was sent to study in Southampton, England. Here he learned how to play cricket and football, and returned to his native São Paulo with two footballs, a pump and a rulebook.

In his biography of Miller, author John Mills quotes a bemused São Paulo journalist, who wrote about how British sportsmen were getting together on weekends, “to kick something around that looked like an oxen’s bladder, which gave them great satisfaction and displeasure when this kind of yellowish bladder got into a rectangle formed by posts.”

Miller played a major role in setting up São Paulo Athletic Club. Naturally he installed himself as striker.
Meanwhile, in Switzerland, a young man called Oscar Alfredo Cox (above right) from a wealthy English-Brazilian family was also discovering the joy of football. Upon coming home he organized the first match in Rio de Janeiro, in September 1901. Word had spread of what Miller was doing in São Paulo, so Cox lead a group of friends south, and the two men finally met on the field of battle. They played twice: both matches were drawn. One year later Cox founded the Fluminense Football Club, at the age of 22.

The echoes of English can still be heard today in the language of Brazilian football. A centre-back is still sometimes called a beque. A really good player is a craque, a ‘crack’. You have to chutar (shoot) if you want to score a gol, and if you score enough of them, your time (team) will lift the troféu.

Life’s a pitch: How Brazilian football language dribbled into everyday life

Brazilian football language
By 1919, author David Goldblatt notes in The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football, the local Rio derby was drawing 18,000 people with another 5,000 locked outside the stadium without tickets.
Why was football such a runaway success in Brazil?

Accessibility was certainly a factor. All you needed was a flat space (and not even that, sometimes) and a ball, without any special equipment. Yet this does not fully explain why it caught on to the extent that it did: just look at India and China, countries of comparable size which have not adopted football to the same extent. In Brazil, it became a religion, a philosophy, an identity – and a language.

In Brazil, the ball – bola, which is feminine as opposed to the masculine German Fußball – is something to be treasured and caressed. The worst thing you could do is pisar na bola, to stamp on the ball. You might as well pendurar as chuteiras, hang up your boots, and tirar o time de campo, give up because all hope is lost (forfeit). If it’s catastrophically bad you might even have suffered a maracanaço – a reference to Brazil’s loss to Uruguay in the Maracanã Stadium in the 1950 World Cup final, still a collective national trauma over half a century later.

But let’s stay positive. The word golaço is not reserved for spectacular goals: it can be used for any remarkable feat, like wowing a client with your dazzling powerpoint presentation. It’s important to make a good impression when you vestir a camisa (wear the jersey), when you’re representing your company, so well done you.

And if you end up stealing that client and starting your own company, well, we all need to be a bit selfish – to take the corner kick and head it yourself, bater o escanteio e cabecear a bola – from time to time. After all it’s a pontapé inícial (kick-off), a new beginning.

Extra time

You don’t want your team to be ‘in the lantern position’, estar na lanterna – last in the table.
Everyone wants to ‘eat the ball’, comer a bola – to play excellently.
No goalkeeper wants to ‘get roostered’ – levar um peru – to make a terrible mistake.
Now that you’re down with the lingo, try our Brazilian football sayings quiz!

Photo 1: ‘World Cup football – Soccer ball with flags of different countries’ © / andresr
Photo 2: Charles Miller & Oscar Alfredo Cox | CC0 1.0
Photo 3 ‘Maracana Stadium’ © / CelsoDiniz