Cachaça Folklore

Cachaça Folklore

In English, for the most part, we like to get right to the point. I don’t mean to imply that we don’t have our own euphemisms or various ways of expressing ourselves, merely that Portuguese is a circuitous language. When one speaks, it’s easy to see the destination, but not always easy to reach it.

 Often that can be a pain in the ass. But sometimes, it leads to inventive linguistic expressions. Cachaça has developed, over nearly five centuries, a vocabulary all its own. In addition to the more than 2,000 euphemisms for the sugarcane spirit, associated acts, such as drinking and being drunk, have also found themselves ripe for description.

I’ve been reading a book recently, the Dictionary of Cachaça Folklore (Dicionario Folclorico da cachaça by Mario Souto Maior), which lays out the byzantine, humorous, and sometimes nonsensical descriptions, which cachaça consumption has long been served by. This book is a treasure on many levels. Besides providing an incomplete (yes, incomplete because there are more than 2,000 names for cachaça) list of cachaça euphemisms, there are also various interesting names for people who are drunk and people who like to drink.

The introduction is a straight-on, rollicking look at what drinking means in Brazil and how it touches the lives of people across race and class, including the following:

 “And why do the rich drink? The “poor” rich, they drink because they’re rich; rich in money and enormous problems. They drink because the minimum wage has gone up. They drink because their company has gone down in value. They drink because everyone in their home needs something, which always happens to be expensive.  “



 The meat of the dictionary probably makes the most sense to people who’ve actually used these euphemisms. For the rest of us, though, humor can still be found within its pages. It is a letter by letter distillation of alternatives for cachaça, drinking, and drunkenness, with sources and regional usage. I’ve included just a few here because not only would many of them not make sense, but many of the words can’t be translated without major explanation.

Euphemisms for cachaça


  • Agua que gato nao bebe = Water the cat won’t drink

  • Agua que passariho nao bebe = Water the little bird won’t drink

  • Engasga gato = Choke the cat

  • Espanta moleque = Amazing Punk

  • Lagrimas de virgem = Tears of the virgin


Euphemisms for drinking


  • Empinar a coruja= Cram the owl

  • Estar pombinho= Being a little pigeon


Euphemisms for drunkenness


  • Andar cercando frango = Walk around the chicken

  • Andar trocando as pernas = Walk while changing your legs

  • Beber agua com garfo = Drinking water with a fork

  • Chamando-cachorro de meu tio = Caling my Uncle’s dog

  • Estar com o gato no trole = With the cat on a trolley

  • Estar montado no porco = Mounting a pig

  • Farejar o tigre = Sniffing the tiger


Now, this isn’t a universal sample of the book. There are plenty more entries. What I did notice was just how many of these euphemisms have to do with animals. Maybe that’s because cachaça was associated with rural areas for so long.

What’s great about the book is its effort to emphasize the folkloric nature of cachaça and drinking culture. Perhaps these descriptions are merely tall tales. Because, after all, it’s clear that the author of this book has not been present for the utterance of every single one of these. He cites a number of sources for his inclusion. Are those sources reliable? Maybe some of them are. But even if these euphemisms are merely echoes or the result of a long game of telephone, they’re still wildly entertaining.

 Sometimes we need to tell ourselves stories because we know the truth. Other times we don’t know the truth and need an explanation. But sometimes the stories are just part of a larger tapestry, part reality, part myth-making. In certain circumstances this might be a problem. But when it comes to cultural phenomena like cachaça, I’m all for pushing a myth.

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