In the process of writing Coffee Crash, I came upon many instances where I needed to use Portuguese words or phrases and their English translations for events set in Brazil. I don't speak Portuguese, although out of necessity I picked up bits and pieces of it researching the book. As I learned, translation isn't an exact science.

Some words and phrases have different implications in different cultures, irrespective of the languages. For example, the English phrase for an overnight plane flight is "red-eye." In Brazil, however, the word for an overnight flight is "corujão," which literally translates as "big owl." The next time you want to fly overnight from the west coast of the US to the east coast, tell the airline agent you want to take the big owl flight and see the puzzled look you'll get.

Colloquial sayings don't always survive literal translation. For example, in Coffee Crash, the VP of Sales at the Brazilian company Delcese Agricola says a Portuguese equivalent of "A bird in the hand is worth two in the burning coffee bush." In Portuguese, the figurative equivalent of the common English saying that I butchered is usually expressed as "Mais vale um pássaro na mão do que dois voando," which literally translates as, "A bird in the hand is worth more than two flying." But in the case of Coffee Crash, the statement was actually referring to burning coffee plants, so I had to adapt it as "Mais vale um pássaro na mão que dois na cafeeiro ardente." That translates literally into the desired English, but it doesn't make sense to a native Portuguese speaker.

And languages can use multiple words to refer to something that might only be represented by a single word in another language. (A commonly cited example is the numerous Eskimo words related to snow.) In Coffee Crash, a parrot plays a role in the plot. In Portuguese, the generic word for bird is "ave," but the language also includes the word "pássaro," which specifically applies to birds of the order Passeriformes, i.e. songbirds. A parrot is not a Passeriforme, nevertheless, the Portuguese phrase "cocô de pássaro" (bird poop) is commonly used to refer to the excrement of all aves, even non-pássaros to which it technically shouldn't apply.

All this made the writing of Coffee Crash more complicated than I would have liked, but I learned a lot about Brazil and the Portuguese language in the process. Just don't ask me to pronounce the Portuguese.
 


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