Profanity in the Portuguese language – words and phrases considered vulgar, blasphemous, inflammatory or offensive – can be divided into several categories. Many are used as insults, and all express the utterer's annoyance. Considerable differences are found among varieties of Portuguese, such as those in Portugal and in Brazil.
The most common words of Portuguese profanity, the ones universally used in the different dialects and variants of Portuguese, originated from Latin radicals, as well from other Indo-European sources and often cognate with peninsular Spanish profanity. There are also Portuguese curse words that originated from South American Amerindian or West and Central African languages; these are found in other Portuguese speaking countries than Portugal, like Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, Angola or Mozambique even though some of these non-Indo-European-originated ones made it to enter the peninsular Portuguese.
In the case of Brazil, several neologistic curse words were borrowed not only from Amerindian or African languages but also from Italian, German or French, due to the Italian and Central-European immigration to Brazil in the late 19th century and due to the fact French used to be a lingua franca for intellectual Brazilians and Brazilian international diplomacy in the past. While the Spanish language abounds in blasphemous interjections, Portuguese lacks in this regard.
Portuguese profanity, just like in any other Western language, is much marked by its sexual and scatological character. Scatological terms are used either with negative or positive meaning, depending on the context in which they are used.
Profanities in Portuguese are referred as profanidades, impropérios, baixo calão, obscenidades, vulgaridades. Palavrão means literally big word which can be translated in bad or ugly word, and dizer/falar palavrões (to say/ to talk) is to use obscene language. Praguejar (Portugal) and Xingar (Brazil) is to swear, to curse.
Profanities by geographical region
Similarly to other internationally spoken languages, Portuguese profanities' offensiveness varies with context and geographical location, even within the same country.
Profanities in Portugal
In terms of offensiveness Portugal can be divide in two main areas: Northern Portugal and Central-and-Southern Portugal. Northern Portugal tends to be more prone to using curse words as manner of common informal speech with the vast majority of profanities being used as a way of conveying emotion rather than as way of insulting someone. The offensiveness of this words and expressions is thus dependent mainly on the tone and context. The center and south of Portugal, especially in urban areas, tend to have a more polished speech in regards to swear words with such expressions being used primarily with the intention of offending someone or simply as interjections when something bad happens.
Sexual related profanities:
- "Badalhoco(a)"(IU, internationally used, meaning it is used in more than one Portuguese-speaking country) is a less-than-nice word to refer to something or someone "dirty". It is similar to the word "nasty" in the sense that it can also be used to refer sexually-promiscuous men and women.
- "Cabrão" male-only term used for man who have been cheated on.
- "Caralho" is a swear word for penis and can be used as an interjection. Originally meant "crow's nest", and the negative connotation came from the expression "vai para o caralho", meaning "go to the crow's nest", because of the heavy rocking of ships in the high sea.
- "Como o caralho" means "as fuck", as in "Grande como o caralho/Big as fuck", and, while being profanity, is rarely insulting.
- "Cona" is equivalent to the word "cunt" in terms of offensiveness, though it can be used in the same situations as "pussy".
- "Foder" (IU) it is the Portuguese equivalent to "fuck" even though it can’t be used the same way as the English adjective "fucking".
- "Foda-se!" is comparable to the interjection "fuck it!"
- "Fode-te" or "Vai-te foder" means "fuck you".
- "Paneleiro" (IU) is comparable to "faggot" in terms of meaning, offensiveness and use.
- "Puta"(IU) is a pejorative term for a prostitute. It can also be used as a deprecatory term to refer to sexually promiscuous women (similar to "whore"). It remains as one of the most offensive words in the Portuguese language. It should be noted that the word "puto" (which would be the male counterpart of "puta" according to Portuguese rules of grammatical gender) does exist, however the meaning is totally different (it is used informally to refer to a young boy or man). In the north of Portugal, "puta" is also used as a common interjection (either positive or negative depending on the context).
- "Filho(a) da puta"(IU) is equivalent to "son of a bitch" and can be used for both males ("filho") and females ("filha"). Also used as a common interjection in the north.
- "Puta que pariu" (IU). It's an interjection and can denote surprise or emotional intensity.
- Other less offensive but still debasing words can be used to refer to women that are easy to get or have multiple sexual partners such as "oferecida" (also used for males in the form of "oferecido") or "vaca"("cow"). This last one in particular, though retaining the sexual meaning, has been slowly losing the negative connotation among educated young adults.
Scatological related profanities:
- "Cu"(IU) means "ass" as in a person's buttocks or anus, not the animal.
- "Merda"(IU) is quite a strong curse word and is equivalent to "shit" in every way.
- Black people. Though there is no equivalent to the word "nigger" (as in a word that is offensive in and of itself), "preto" is the most used pejorative word for black people. "Negro" is usually considered an amiable alternative, being the most used term in central-and-southern Portugal. In northern Portugal however, "preto" is commonly used without the negative connotation, especially among the younger population, with some few people going as far as to consider "negro" as overzealous political correctness. The offensiveness is thus determined mainly by the context. It is also the word for the color "black".
- Muslims. "Mouro" ("Moor") is an old debasing noun that can be used to refer to Muslims. It is primarily used, however, to refer to the "Moors" or to insult southern Portuguese people.
Profanities in Brazil
Many of the most used curse words and phrases of Brazilian Portuguese are the same as in European Portuguese. There are exceptions, however:
- "Viado" is a somewhat offensive word used to refer to an homosexual man. It's different from the word "Veado" which means "deer".
- "Bicha" is also a pejorative term for homosexual males and it is also used with a different connotation by other Portuguese speakers.
- "Corno" has the same meaning and applications as “cabrão”. It refers to a man that has been cheated by his partner (On female is "Corna").