Learning New Vocabulary Words with Portuguese Origins
You might be surprised at how many words from Portuguese are used in English! Some of them are specifically for talking about Brazilian culture, but many of them are everyday words that you’ll find useful to talk about many topics.
One of the best ways to remember new vocabulary is to connect it with something else. If you connect new words with words or concepts that you already are familiar with, that’s even better. If you have visited Brazil, or are familiar with Brazilian culture, some of these words will already be familiar to you. But you may not know they are also used in English!
I know a lot of Brazilians and even Portuguese people will find this lesson very interesting. You may be surprised that some of your native language is used in English. Even more surprising will be how to pronounce these words like a North American. I apologize in advance for how strange they sound!
Even if you are from somewhere else, if you are a language lover and interested in diversifying your English vocabulary, you’ll love this lesson too! And hey, it’s a great way to learn a bit of Portuguese at the same time.
And for the native English speakers who may be reading this, I found it really interesting when I was learning Portuguese to see so many words that I was already familiar with in English!
How English Vocabulary Words are Influenced by Brazilian Portuguese Words
You’ll notice most of these words are very close to the original Portuguese. Geographically we know they originated in Brazil and then entered the English language through trade. In fact, many of these words will be commonly used to talk about Brazilian food and animals in English. Because we do not have these traditional foods or indigenous animals in North America (or England), the word entered English in its original form and a translation in English was never created.
Please note that some of these words are very similar to Spanish words and it’s not really 100% clear if historically they came from Portuguese or Spanish first.
25 English Words with Brazilian Portuguese Roots
- Açaí – a berry made into a smoothie and sometimes other products, trendy with health nuts.
- Banana – is actually from African origins, but made it’s way into English via South America (same in Spanish).
- Caipirinha – the national drink. Really popular in the US now.
- Capoeira – a martial art made popular in Brazil and exported to the US and worldwide.
- Cashew – a kind of nut.
- Coconut – actually a fruit, not a nut.
- Creole – mix of cultures, usually European and Black, in the Americas.
- Dodo – unclear origins, but some say it is from the Portuguese doido, meaning crazy. It’s a kind of bird, and if you call someone a “dodo,” it means they’re not very smart, maybe a bit crazy.
- Feijoada – national Brazilian dish with black beans and pork.
- Farofa – toasted cassava that you put on feijoada.
- Flamingo – funny looking pink bird that lives in tropical climates, like Florida.
- Guarana – seed that gives natural caffeine.
- Lambada – a type of song and dance.
- Launch – in English “to launch” means to put a boat in water, or in a broader sense to begin a project. Lancha in Portuguese is a type of small to medium-size powerboat.
- Lingo – in English “lingo” means jargon, dialect or foreign language, which comes from the Portuguese lingua, meaning language.
- Mango – a fruit that comes from the Portuguese / Spanish manga.
- Manioc – a kind of starch vegetable like a potato that comes from the Portuguese mandioca.
- Mosquito – that annoying bug that drinks your blood and gives you an itchy bump.
- Negro – meaning person of African ancestry, really should not be used in English as now it is considered inappropriate.
- Piranha – fish with sharp teeth.
- Potato – from batata in Portuguese.
- Samba – a kind of dance from Brazil.
- Savvy – in English, means person who knows, originating from the Portuguese / Spanish saber “to know.”
- Tapioca – a kind of flour or pearl made from manioc / cassava.
- Zombie – a fictional character, a person who has died and is still walking, from the Portuguese/Congolese Zumbi. The origins of this word and how it got into English are kind of unclear, but it’s said that an English poet brought it into English with a history he wrote about Brazil.