Brazilian Portuguese Words with Many Meanings: Riding the "Word Bus"

In Brazilian Portuguese, there’s a noun called a palavra-ônibus (literally, word-bus) which is a linguistic term that covers colloquial words that “have many meanings, or that are used to express various vague ideas, in different situations”. Some examples are legal, bacana, troço, and coisa, among others. There’s even the notion of a so-called verbo-ônibus (see examples in Portuguese here) for those kinds of verbs that serve any situation, like pôr, dizer, fazer, ter, coisar and ver.

While extremely useful for native speakers and non-native speakers alike, the use of these all-purpose words and verbs take away from the poetic heights that Brazilian Portuguese can arrive at, if used thoughtfully and paciently. One thing I love about English, being a native speaker, is that I can be extremely specific and nuanced if I so wish. It’s something I aspire to in any language I learn but, I admit, it’s a tough goal to reach. It all depends on what you need the language for and, if you prefer, to be able to take in the beauty of a language and culture without necessarily being a person who actively uses all the vocabulary they know.

Fortunately or unfortunately (I’m not sure which), I’m going to keep riding the word bus, whether or not there’s a cobrador (fare collector). The important thing is to know the rules before you break ‘em.

Portuguese Video Lessons You Might Like:

Verbo Pegar and Street Smart Expressions 

Pedir vs. Perguntar: Get It Right with Street Smart Brazil 

To Get: Pegar versus Comprar 

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