Once upon a time in the ’70s, there was an eccentric philologist named Reinhold Aman, and he had a thing for dirty words. And also insults. And blasphemy and scatology and ethnic slurs.
So Dr. Aman founded Maledicta, “The International Journal of Verbal Aggression.” Which was always fun to read, and informative about the culture of language.
In Maledicta 8 (1984-1985), Dr. Aman published an article by Hannes Stubbe, a German-born psychologist and ethnologist who taught at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. The article was titled “Dialectics of Brazilian Negro Proverbs.”
“The racial problem in Brazil,” Dr. Stubbe wrote, “as far as it is at all noticeable, is a social problem. Since the Negro slaves were freed from slavery by the imperial decree of Princess Dona Isabel on 13 May 1888, their belated social start in Brazilian society was mainly noted by their marginality.
“Social tensions between whites and Negroes can clearly be seen in the dialectics of the ‘Negro proverbs,’ i.e., the proverbs of whites about the Negroes, and vice versa.”
Basically, Euro-Brazilians came up with a bunch of folk sayings that belittle Afro-Brazilians. And the blacks developed sayings of their own in response.
Dr. Stubbe provided many examples. Here are a few...
White proverb: Negro só tem de branco os dentes. (“The Negro has only the teeth of the white man.”)
Black proverb: Sangue de negro é vermelho como o de branco. (“The Negro’s blood is just as red as that of the white man.”)
White proverb: Em negocio de branco negro não se mete. (“The Negro should not interfere with the white man’s business.”)
Black proverb: Trabalha o negro para o branco comedor. (“The Negro works so that the white man can lead a glutton’s [parasite’s] life.”)
White proverb: Negro em festa de branco é o primeiro que apanha e o último que come. (“At a white man’s party, the Negro is the first to help himself to food and the last to stop eating.”)
Black proverb: Branco não faz festa sem negro. (“The white man never has a party without Negroes.”)
White proverb: Negro ensaboado, tempo perdido, sabão esperdiçado. (“Lathering [soaping] a Negro is a waste of time and a waste of soap.”)
Black proverb: Suor de negro dá dinheiro. (“The Negro’s sweat provides money.”)
White proverb: Negro quando não gosta de mel é ladrão de cortiço. (“If the Negro does not like honey, he steals the beehive.”)
Black proverb: Negro furtou é ladrão; branco furtou é barão. (“A Negro who steals is a thief; a white man who steals is a baron.”)
White proverb: Negro só é gente quando está no banheiro. Quando batem na port, ele diz: “Tem gente.” (“The Negro is only a person [human being] when he is in the toilet. When someone knocks at the door, he says: ‘There is a person inside.’ ”)
Black proverb: Papel higiênico também é branco. (“Toilet paper is also white.”)
Any Brazilians out there reading this? I’d love to hear what you can tell me about the state of race relations in Brazil.