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Terms of endearment are a national pastime in Brazil.
You can’t bottle cuteness, but the Brazilian Portuguese language has the next best option. The diminutive form in Portuguese has nearly cornered the global market for endearing nicknames (apelidos) in addition to being a common useful way of describing the tiny form of common nouns.
As a primer, it is imperative that one know how to form the common diminutive form of any noun. There are a few rules, but it ought ot come quite naturally. The dimunitive is formed through the use of a suffix, frequently-inho or -inha. When the word ends in a consonant, dipthong, it is proper to add-zinho or -zinha to the end of the word instead.
Casa: house; Casinha: little house
Pouco: a little; Pouquinho: a very little
Churrasco: barbecue; Churrasquinho: barbecue (endeared)
Pai: father; Paizinho: father (endeared)
Café: coffee; Cafezinho: small coffee (espresso)
more after the jump…
Here’s where o diminutivo becomes most common and distinctly Brazilian: when it is used to create a nickname. It seems at times that everyone in the country has some sort of nickname, and perhaps that makes things much easier than referring to people by their four (or more) given names. Currently, the most famous diminutive on the planet might well be the soccer star Ronaldinho.
Thank goodness for Portuguese! English really has limited capacity for the diminutive form, which surely renders us less affectionate people as a whole. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. Maybe.
While getting a haircut from a Brazilian woman, I was asked how to form the diminutive in English. I couldn’t give a good answer, except that it is less common, and sometimes practically impossible, especially with names. The other barbers’ names, I explained, could to varying degrees be formed into the diminutive; Steve could be Stevie, and Tim could be Timmy, but calling Josh Joshie may not be such a great idea, as he is no longer five years old and would find it quite patronizing.
English also borrows the French diminutive suffix -ette.
Proper use of the diminutive in Portuguese will put you on the fast track to cultural savvy and will earn you many thumbs up of approval. If you’re lucky, some Brazilians may even give you an apelido of your own!