In my ongoing quest to learn Portuguese, there have been certain words and phrases that have proven difficult to pick up and use with confidence. A commonly cited ‘tricky’ Portuguese word is “saudade“, that profound feeling of wistful longing; sadness offset with a wan smile. But in my experience, although saudade is a tricky word to explain (see previous sentence), it’s an easy word to feel, to understand and therefore to use.
The words I find most tricky are the ones that have multiple meanings depending on context. Gírias (slang words) and Palavrões (swear words) are probably the main culprits.
One such word that I still find a little bamboozling is moleque (sounds like “mul-ECK-y”). The dictionary on my phone lists the following translations: (nouns) urchin, scoundrel, young person; (adjectives) mischievous, funny. Google Translate gives me 2 nouns: kid and imp.
OK, so we’re building up a picture here of a rather naughty little child (moleque for a boy, moleca for a girl). However, I get the feeling that although this word has negative connotations, it seems like we’re talking about a cheeky kid, a rascal, a scamp, rather than a devil-child destined for a correctional facility.
But there’s another usage. I remember a year or two ago hearing a work colleague on the phone, asking for help with a technical problem from a workmate in another office. The guy on other end of the line was making suggestions and my colleague was trying each one without success. Then there was pause as he tried one more piece of advice. Suddenly he exclaimed with a laugh “Ah moleque!” with a big smile. The problem was solved! But ‘moleque’?
It seems that moleque is not just a word for a naughty boy – it can also be used as slang term that might fit the place taken up by ‘dude’ or ‘kid’ in English. I guess I kind of get it, but not 100%. Certainly not enough to use it out in the field…
Here’s something I do know though:
Pé-de-Moleque is what we in England call Peanut Brittle: hard caramelised sugar surrounding delicious toasted peanuts. The origin of the name (which translates literally as “boy’s foot”) is explained in Wikipedia:
The origin of its name lies in the fact that most paved streets of colonial Brazil were made by laying down various odd rocks in a loose layer of sand, and having street children stomp on them to flatten the surface… Since the appearance of the peanuts stuck together by molasses was found to be similar to that of this type of street, the candy took the same name.
For me it’s a great snack to keep for an emergency. Snacks I like too much get finished off in an afternoon – once they’re gone I look at the empty bag and feel greedy/guilty… What I like about pé-de-moleque is that it’s pretty tasty and staves off hunger but not so delicious that I eat the lot!