News reports over the weekend on an unpleasant subject provided an example of what I would call the linguistic efficiency or creativity of Portuguese compared to English. By that I mean Portuguese has a very neat word for something – be it an action or notion – whereas English doesn’t, and has to use a comparatively long-winded description for it.
Even if you are an English speaker with no knowledge of Portuguese, you should be able to understand this headline from BBC Brasil:
Brasileiro é executado na Indonésia por tráfico de drogas
Yes, a Brazilian was executed in Indonesia for drug trafficking (along with five other people of different nationalities).
Some Portuguese websites, though, such as Exame.com, used a different wording:
Brasileiro é fuzilado na Indonésia
For a moment or two the word fuzilado puzzled me, but having read in English exactly how the Brazilian concerned, Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira, was executed, the penny dropped:
fuzilado = executed by a firing squad
(fuzilamento = execution by a firing squad)
There you can see the linguistic efficiency – Portuguese has one word where English has to use five (although English does have the word “shot”, which of course implies some sort of rifle or pistol being fired, but not a whole firing squad).
There may be instances in which the situation is reversed – when English is efficient and Portuguese is verbose – but I am often quite struck by the inventiveness of the Portuguese vocabulary. But can I think of another example right now to illustrate this? Of course not. I am racking my brains. There is probably a Portuguese word for that. Rackamento?
Reading between the lines: Dilma Rousseff’s reaction
In response to news of the execution, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who had pleaded for clemência (clemency), said she was “consternada e indignada“. Consternada (the feminine form of consternado) is translated in my dictionaries as dejected, depressed, heart-stricken, disconsolate, aghast, consternated, while indignada is translated as indignant, angry, vexed, sickened, provoked.
Perhaps consternada and indignada have stronger nuances in Portuguese than they do in English (I might consider using the word consternation occasionally but I would never say to anyone I am consternated!, while to me indignant sounds old-fashioned and lacks passion or feeling. But international diplomacy being what it is, maybe this is just Dilma’s diplomatic, veiled way of saying “I am very pissed off!”.
For the record, the BBC’s English news service report on Dilma’s reaction translated her words as “outraged and dismayed”.