By Jo Pires-O’Brien
In drafting this edition of PortVitoria [no 18, Jan-Jun 2019], which talks about corruption in Brazil and the recent destruction of Brazil’s National Museum, I experienced a long flow of thoughts that intercrossed all the areas of knowledge I am familiar with, including linguistics and history. I decided to take advantage of this experience by compiling my vocabulary of administrative probity and corruption and to wrap it into a didactic narrative that would be of use to the readers of PortVitoria.
The empire where the sun never sets
The British Empire and its designation of ‘the empire where the sun never sets’ exists only in history, but for all its rights and wrongs, it left as its main legacy the English language. English is the third most spoken language in the world after the Mandarin and Spanish, and the most important language in international relations. According to Guillaume Thierry, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Bangor University, English is the first most widely spoken language in the world, when people who speak it as second or third languages are included. Regardless of the ranking of English language, the Anglophone world includes 54 sovereign states and 27 non-sovereign states, all sharing the same historical and cultural roots. The most important Anglophone countries are the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
TheUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or United Kingdom, has considerable experience in administration, which included governing domains, colonies, protectorates, warrants and territories. The largest territorial extension of its history occurred after World War I, when on June 28, 1919, the newly created League of Nations, through the Treaty of Versailles, created the British Mandate for Palestine, covering a vast in the Middle East, which included Transjordan, which was confirmed by the Council of the League of Nations on July 24, 1922, and entered into force on September 29, 1923. The incumbency did not come in good time for the UK, because its economy was in ruins due to the war and it had already lost its old position of greatest industrial and military power of the world. And as was to be expected, the British empire declined and ended with India’s independence in 1947. Its last protectorate was Hong Kong, which was returned on June 30, 1997, as stipulated in the leasing agreement of 99 years, with China, signed in 1898.
Language and cultural values
Language is much more than a collection of communication signals, for words and expressions carry cultural values and perceptions. Language and culture are closely linked, and one influences the other. For example, the high number of English idioms of nautical origin has to do with the fact that the British navy dominated the world for almost three centuries. Britain’s long imperial experience taught it not only to deal with the most diverse cultures, but also to develop a sophisticated system of administration, from which came many idiomatic expressions of pride in administrative probity such as ‘not in my watch’ and ‘the buck stops here’, which are explained below. Thus, whenever someone interacts with another language, it ends up interacting with the culture that speaks the language.
In the ranking of countries by the level of corruption of Transparency International, the predominance of the Anglophone countries is remarkable. Among the 10 least corrupt countries are New Zealand, Canada and Great Britain, while Australia and the United States rank among the 20 least corrupt.
Not on my watch
The expression ‘not on my watch’, whose literal translation into Portuguese is ‘não na minha vigia’, is of nautical origin, as it comes from the phrase ‘officer of the watch’, the officer responsible for everything that happens on a vessel during a certain shift. The expression connotes administrative probity and responsibility. However, the word ‘watch’ alone means sentinel, shift, or administration. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) the sense of observation of the word ‘watch’ evolved from the periods in which the night was divided. The Israelites divided the night into three periods, the Greeks into four or five, and the Romans into four. From that sense of observing the passage of time, the word ‘watch’ gained the sense of ‘clock’.
A similar phrase in Portuguese that comes closest to the English phrase ‘not on my watch’ is ‘Eu jamais aceitaria esse tipo de coisa na minha gestão’ (I would never accept this kind of thing in my administration).
Table 1. English expressions using the word ‘watch’ in the sense of ‘to oversee’ or ‘overlooker’.
|English||Translation into Portuguese|
|not on my watch||não no meu turno; não na minha administração; de maneira alguma;|
|it happened on his watch||aconteceu no turno dele|
|keep watch||mantenha-se de sobreaviso|
|be on the watch||ficar de sobreaviso|
|watch one’s mouth||tomar cuidado com o que diz|
|watch the pennies||tomar cuidado com o gasto|
|watch this space||fique de olho nesse espaço|
|watch the time||fique atento para o tempo|
|watch your step||olhe onde pisa|
|watch your back||proteja-se|
|watch the President’s back||proteja o Presidente|
|watch the world go by||ver o mundo passar|
The buck stops here
The phrase ‘the buck stops here’ translates literally as ‘the responsibility stops here’, or in a more natural translation, ‘the ultimate responsibility is mine’. This expression became well known after President Harry Truman of the United States placed a small wooden plaque engraved with it.
The word ‘buck’ has Germanic origin, and in Old English, it means ‘deer’, or any male cervid. The most common meaning of ‘buck’ in modern English is ‘dollar’. The earliest reference to the use of ‘buck’ in the sense of dollar is 1748, about 44 years before the manufacture of the first dollar coin. It is clear from this reference that in trade between the American settlers and the Indians, the exchange rate of a box of whiskey was ‘5 bucks’, a reference to 5 deer skins. There is another reference dating from 1848, when a fellow named Conrad Weiser, during a trip through the present state of Ohio, noted in his journal that someone had been ‘stolen for 300 bucks.
However, the word ‘buck’ has several other meanings, besides deer and dollar, such as price, responsibility, guilt, black man, deviation, bucket, etc. as shown in Table 2.
Table 2. English expressions using the word ‘buck’ (responsibility, money, etc.).
|English expressions||Natural translation into Portuguese|
|passing the buck||culpar outras pessoas|
|pass the buck||jogue a batata quente para outro|
|bucks the system||ir contra as regras que os outros seguem|
|bucked the trend||fazer algo diferente dos outros|
|big bucks||dinheiro à beça|
|buck up your ideas||organize suas ideias|
|making more than a quick buck||ganhar uma boa quantia de dinheiro|
|bang your buck||obter algo de qualiade por um preço baixo|
|buck up (v.)||ganhar coragem; passar a responsabilidade para um superior;|
|Buck’s Fizz||coquetel feito com vinho espumante ou champagne e suco de laranja.|
|bang for the buck||valor para o dinheiro|
Several expressions denoting administrative probity use the word ‘accountable’, which means having an obligation to account for something. See examples in Table 3.
The English words ‘accountable’ and ‘responsible’
‘Accountable’ is usually translated as ‘responsible’, but this translation recalls that ‘responsible’ has a cognate in English: ‘responsible’. The English words ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’ have distinct meanings but with overlap. In the New Oxford Dictionary (NOD), the ‘accountable’ entry shows two meanings. The first sense is that of person, organization, or institution required or expected to justify actions or decisions. The second sense appears as ‘explicable’ and ‘understandable’. In the first sense, but not in the second, ‘accountable’ is synonymous with ‘responsible. Yet in NOD, the entry ‘responsible’ shows a single sense: having an obligation to do something, have control over someone, or have a duty to care for someone. In legal language, ‘accountable’ means ‘liable’ or ‘responsible for liabilities.’ A ‘liability’ is an obligation, or a debt, of a legal person governed by public or private law. The Portuguese translation for ‘liability’ is ‘passivo’, although the word is normally used in the plural (passivos). Therefore, the translation of the words ‘responsible’ and ‘accountable’ into Portuguese depends on the context. One tip is to examine the original English idiom: ‘accountable for’, ‘be accountable’, ‘accountable to’, ‘responsible for’, ‘be responsible’, ‘responsible to’, ‘responsible party’, ‘solely responsible’, etc.
Table 3. English expressions with the word ‘accountable’ or similar.
|English phrase||Translation into Portuguese|
|Parents cannot be held accountable for their children’s actions||Os pais não podem ser responsabilizados pelas ações de seus filhos|
|The directors are held accountable by the shareholders.||Os diretores são obrigados a prestar contas pelos acionistas.|
|Senior managers are directly accountable to the Board of Directors.||Os administradores sénior respondem diretamente ao Conselho Administrativo.|
|Local authorities should be publicly accountable to the communities they serve.||As autoridades locais devem prestar contas publicamente às comunidades que servem.|
|Ministers are accountable to Parliament.||Os ministros prestam contas ao Parlamento.|
|Accountability is a cornerstone of the human rights framework.||A responsabilização é um dos pilares da estrutura de direitos humanos.|
The English word ‘right’
As NOD shows, the word ‘right’ has several connotations in the English language, not only as a noun, adjective, adverb and verb, but also as a component of several idiomatic phrases. The Collins Portuguese Dictionary & Grammar provides the following translations for ‘right’:
Adjectives: certo, correto, justo;
Adverbs: bem; corretamente;
Nouns: direito; direita (o que não é esquerda);
Verbs: corrigir, endireitar.
The word ‘right’ in many English idiomatic phrases connotes probity, as shown in Table 4.
Table 4. English idiomatic phrases with the word ‘right’.
|English phrase||Translation into Portuguese|
|to do the right thing||fazer a coisa certa|
|to hire the right person for the job||contratar a pessoa certa para o emprego|
|be in the right||estar certo|
|do right by||tratar com justiça; fazer justiça|
|in one’s right mind||em sã consciência|
|not right in the head||não está bem da cabeça|
|on the right track||Na rota certa|
|put something to rights||corrigir algo|
|right-minded||de princípios corretos|
|too right||é claro; é isso mesmo|
The vocabulary of corruption
Corruption is a plague that exists everywhere, and tables 5 and 6 list words or expressions of corruption in English and Portuguese.
Table 5. Words or expressions of corruption in English and Portuguese.
|English – Natural translation into Portuguese|
|Birds of a feather. Farinha do mesmo saco|
|Blacklist. Lista negra; colocar na lista negra|
|Bribe; bribery. Suborno; subornar|
|Blackmail. Chantagem; extorsão|
|Cook the book. Adulterar o livro caixa|
|Coterie. Círculo social próximo;|
|Covert. Secreto; encoberto|
|Cozy up. Engraciar-se|
|Cyber crime. Crime cibernético|
|Deflect. Defletir; desviar (a atenção)|
|Embezzlement. Desfalque; fraude financeira|
|False accounting. Fraude de contabilidade|
|Fickle spirit. Espírito volúvel|
| Figurehead. 1. Uma pessoa com um título ou cargo mas sem muita|
responsibilidade; 2. Figura na proa de embarcação
|Forge; forgery. Falsificar; falsificação|
|Hush money. Dinheiro pelo silêncio|
|Jobbery. Agiotagem; especulação; velhacaria|
| Kickback. 1. um pagamento a alguém que facilitou uma transação ou |
nomeação, em geral ilícito; 2. recuo forte e súbito
|Maladminisration. Má administração|
| Malfeasance. Má administração (tem a ver com a falta de motivação|
para fazer o que precisa ser feito, ou adiar o que precisa ser feito; não é necessário haver ações ilícitas)
|Misappropriate. Apropriar indevidamente|
|Misinvoicing. Fatura errada; fatura fraudulenta|
|Money laundering. Lavagem de dinheiro; branqueamento de capital|
|Pay off. Saldar algo como suborno (por algo)|
|Perjury. Perjúria; perjurar|
|Pilfer. Furtar; abafar|
|Pot shot. Provocação; provocar|
|Prevaricate. Evadir-se, esquivar-se, ou furtar-se de compromissos|
|Skimming. 1. forma de evasão fiscal envolvendo não declarar dinheiro recebido; 2. tirar a nata|
|Slush fund. Caixa dois (p. ex., para campanhas eleitorais)|
|Tax evasion. Evasão fiscal|
|To shop. Denunciar|
|Turpitude. Torpeza; maldade; baixeza;|
| Venality. Venalidade. 1. condição ou qualidade do que pode ser |
vendido; 2. natureza ou qualidade do funcionário público que exige ou aceita vantagens pecuniárias indevidas no exercício do seu cargo.
(D. E. Houaiss).
|Whitewash. 1. caiação; 2. fazer com que o caso acabe em pizza|
Table 6. Portuguese words and phrases describing corruption.
|Portuguese words and phrases||English translation|
|acabar em pizza. Resultado danão apuração de uma acusação de corrupção.||to end as pizza (to end as something easily digestible)|
|caixa dois. Prática financeira ilegal, envolvendo um caixa paralelo onde determinadas entradas ou saídas não são registradas, e, com algum objetivo ilícito.||cashier two; slush fund|
|clientelismo. Maneira de agir envolvendo uma troca de favores ou benefícios; p. ex., quando um político ou partido político emprega processos demagógicos e favoritistas para ganhar votos.||clientelism|
|corrupção ativa. É o crime cometido por particular que dá propina a funcionário público em troca de vantagem indevida.||active corruption|
|corrupção passiva. É o crime cometido por funcionário público que, em razão de sua função, ainda que fora dela ou antes de assumi-la, solicita ou recebe, para si ou para outrem, vantagem indevida, ou aceita promessa de tal vantagem.||passive corruption|
|delação premiada. Sistema empregado pelo Ministério Público para obter a colaboração de réus, oferecendo uma diminuição da pena em troca da delação.||rewarded accusation|
|laranja. Indivíduo cujo nome é utilizado por um terceiro para a prática de ocultação de bens de origem incerta e outras formas de fraude||front. A ‘laranja’ usually hides a white-collar criminal by helping him to commit crimes such as money laundering, misuse of public money, cartel between concurrents, tax evasion, etc.|
|peculato. Crime de apropriação, desvio ou roubo de bens públicos por um funcionário público.||pecuniary misappropriation|
|pixuleco. Sinônimo de propina, dinheiro sujo ou dinheiro roubado||bribe; dirty money or stolen money|
|propina. Antigamente propina era um sinônimo de gorjeta, mas hoje em dia refere-se aos ‘agrados’ oferecidos por cidadãos para funcionários públicos, em troca de favores indevidos.||bribe; bribery.|
|testa de ferro. Indivíduo que aparece como responsável por um determinado negócio ou firma, enquanto o verdadeiro líder se mantém no anonimato, controlando a empresa.||figurehead|
Language is much more than a collection of communication signals, for it also expresses values. The wealth of English in expressions of administrative probity suggests that administrative probity is a value recognized by English-speaking peoples. The Transparency International’s perception of corruption in the organization’s 2017 corroborates this, showing that among the 10 and 20 most respected countries, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom are in the first group, while Australia and the United States in the second.
Among the Portuguese speaking countries, Brazil was in position 96, among the more corrupt half, but Portugal was in position 29, among the less corrupt. This shows that although there are moral values correlated to language, language alone does not determine the moral values of a society. Administrative misconduct and corruption exist all over the world, but all societies can evolve and improve.
After I finished this article, a new stream of thoughts came to me, about the new mentality of judging history on the basis of contemporary ethics, such as those manifested in Cape Town, Charlottesville, and Oxford. Therefore, I want to clarify that the purpose of this paper is simply to offer an English lesson on the vocabularies of administration and corruption. I also point out that the short historical narrative was included only for didactic purposes. In compiling this article, it was not my intention to support the British Empire or to rejoice with the power it exercised over the most diverse peoples. The fact that this work deals with the English language in no way means that I do not recognize the difficult situation of the native languages of the colonized peoples. The relationship between colonizer and colonized has always been fraught with conflicts of interest, which I believe can continue to be solved peacefully by the exchange of ideas and common sense.
1. Guillaume Thierry, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Bangor University. The trouble with speaking English as a second language. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/04/the-english-language-is-the-worlds-achilles-heel
Jo Pires-O’Brien (BA, MSc, PhD) has been an English teacher, translator and botanist. In 2010, she created PortVitoria, a biannual magazine about the Ibero-American culture.
I thank Jackie
Meikle (UK) for revising the terminology in corruption in English and Portuguese,
and Carlos Pires (Br) for revising the overall text.
 Guillaume Thierry, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Bangor University. The trouble with speaking English as a second language. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/04/the-english-language-is-the-worlds-achilles-heel;