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Lost in non-translation

Thinking of ordering an X-salada before finding a motel before getting your funk on? Perhaps you should consult a Brazilian linguist.

Order a "cheese"-salada in Brazil, and you'll get a hamburger with cheese and lettuce and perhaps other vegetables. (Ho New/Reuters)

SAO PAULO — Dieting, mall-hating vegetarians, beware of Brazilians who invite you to a shopping for a cheese-salada and a cappuccino.

That’s because when Brazilians use words from English and other languages, they have a tendency to tweak the meaning and make them their own. Let’s dissect that offer.

Shopping is the Portuguese word for mall, and in many Brazilian cities, malls are as ubiquitous or more so than in the United States, so the word is quite common. A cheese-salada, actually spelled X-salada because the letter “x” is pronounced something very close to “cheese,” is in fact a hamburger with cheese and lettuce and perhaps other vegetables. And cappuccinos always include chocolate. (The exception that proves the rule: In a Brazilian Starbucks, order a cappuccino and you are urgently reminded that cappuccinos there are just espresso, milk and foam.)

One of the funny parts of learning Portuguese in Brazil is how often you realize that the weird word you can’t quite make sense of is actually an English word, mispronounced and used to mean something other than what you thought.

There are many examples.

Perhaps the most obvious is what Brazilians refer to as a motel, which is in fact not a “motorist hotel” but a short-term hotel meant for romantic trysts. Well, in a sense it is a motorist hotel, because most are located on the outskirts of town, too far to walk, and each room comes with a private garage to shield your car and its license plate number from prying eyes. It’s just that the motorists always come in pairs and want to have sex with each other.

Sticking with sleeping quarters, there is also the flat (pronounced FLAT-chee). When Brazilians mention they are staying in a flat, that does not mean that 1) they have rented an apartment and 2) they learned English in London. Rather, it means that they are staying in a short-term furnished apartment where housekeeping services are provided. Actually, flat is a conveniently shorter way of expressing that, even with the extra extraneous syllable added on.