Say it in Portuguese: “chavalo” and “fixe”

This week’s post on unusual Portuguese vocabulary will zoom in on words related to the younger generations (or is it?). Chavalo and fixe are among the most common slang words in Portugal and that is why they’re particularly useful for those already living or planning to live in the country.

I know I’ve said it before but it’s always good to remember that these words are used only in informal situations. Beware however, because some may have different meanings in different parts of the country and, particularly in cities, some words may have an added meaning stemming from their use in Brazilian Portuguese. Also, please bear in mind that, generally speaking, Portuguese love to use words ironically – kind of like hipsters of semantics.  

Chavalo

Noun (o chavalo (m.), a chavala (f.))

cha.va.lo – ʃɐˈvalu

Chavalo means a young person, not necessarily a child. Contrary to what you may think, this word can actually be very useful for those planning to spend their retirement in Portugal. You can say, for example, “Quando eu era chavalo não andava sempre cheio de dores no corpo”, meaning “When I was young my body didn’t ache all the time”. Convenient, right?

Chavalo can also be used, rather ironically however, by people who are not so young anymore when referring to someone else within their age group: “Ele é um chavalo da minha idade!” (“He’s a kid/lad my age”).

It’s interesting to note that chavalo, like other words that will appear further ahead on this series, is of caló origin. Caló is a language spoken by Romani people of Portuguese and Spanish origin, which in practical terms means you can find speakers of caló outside of the Iberian Peninsula.

Fixe

Adjective

fi.xe – ˈfiʃ(ə)

As a rule fixe means something or someone that is nice and cool. You can use it when talking, for example, about a nice person (pessoa fixe), a cool song (música fixe) or a nice trip (viagem fixe). The thumbs up is a gesture that often goes along with saying the word.

Especially when applied to people it can also have the slight nuance of meaning the person plays it cool and can be trusted: “Achas que o João me empresta o carro?” “Sim, ele é um fixe!” or “Sim, ele é fixe!” (“Do you think João will let me use his car?” “Of course, he’s a cool guy”).

You can also use it as an interjection. If, say, your funny Portuguese neighbour says “Arranjei bilhetes para o Quim Barreiros” (“I got us tickets for Quim Barreiros”) you can reply with an enthusiastic “Fixe!”. If you don’t know who Quim Barreiros is I highly suggest you look him up – and yes, he’s on Instagram, too.

Like I said before fixe is among the most common slang you’ll come across in Portugal. So common, in fact, that in 1986 it was used in the catch phrase for a candidate for the presidential elections: “Soares é fixe” (“Soares is cool”). And yes, Mário Soares did win the elections, although I doubt the use of the word fixe had much to do with it.

Fixe has rather mysterious origins and although today it is adopted mostly by younger people it has been used since at least the 18th century!

This amazing word has a couple of variants, fixol and fixolas, which can be used in the exact same way as fixe, but they’re not as common.

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