From their artisan cheese to their coffee and cachaça, Mineiros (residents of Minas Gerais) are well-known throughout Brazil for their food and drink. Their habits extend to not only what goes into their mouth, but what comes out of it. Let’s take a little look at two terms that Mineiros made famous: uai and trem.
There are three explanations for “uai”. The first says it derives from the 1800’s when the English built the railways in Minas, though the idea that Brits frequently said “why” as a catchphrase just doesn’t add up. The second explanation says that at the time of the Mineiro Uprising, the way to enter a conspirator’s hideout was via three knocks and the word UAI, which meant Union, Love and Independence (União, Amor e Independência). The last and, what I consider to be the most likely, is that “uai” is just a mutation of the common Paulista exclamation, “ué”.
An uncomplicated explanation of the term would simply be, “uai é uai, uai!” Agreed, uai is uai…unless, of course, you happen to be an English teacher in Minas Gerais, never knowing if your students are asking “why?” or saying “uai”.
Together with “uai”, the word “trem” (train) is frequently used by people from Minas. The origin is said to be connected, once more, with the era of the construction of the railways in the state. Being that a locomotive train was completely new to most Mineiros, they began to associate them with vehicles that transported their goods. Eventually, the word was used more to speak of the goods and objects the train carried and not solely the railroad cars themselves. In this sense, it is easy to imagine how “trem” came to signify any and every object, despite if it were being transported on a train or not.
As to the question of why Mineiros never miss the train, the answer is they never miss it because they always take it with them wherever they go!
Watch and learn
Other articles you might like:
- 5 Slangs I Learned in Porto Alegre
- Why I Moved to Brazil to Teach English
- Pó pô pó? – Asking for coffee in Minas Gerais, Brazil
Schedule your Portuguese Demo Lesson.
Street Smart Brazil offers one-on-one and group classes online via webcam. We have a fantastic team of tutors, exclusive class materials, and complete programs from absolute beginner to fluent. See what our customers are saying.
I wonder if the English railway workers were Geordies, i.e. from the North East of England, where ‘why ai’ is a common expression, and it mutated over time.
That’s a good question
I dont think so unless tour from Ashington
Ah, for anyone still wondering what ‘uai’ means. It’s just an interjection to add emphasis to what goes before it or after it. Though I have the meaning in my head, it’s proving tough to put it in words. It’s best to wait until someone uses it. After a few uses, you’ll understand a lot better what its use is.
The Aurelio (most famous dictionary) gives the following example.
"- Vamos matar o bicho, conhecido? | – Não, senhor, eu não tenho costume – respondeu o outro. | – Uai! Costume a gente pega."