This is the first in a series of short articles about false cognates which tend to appear very often in the translation of football articles between English and Portuguese.
Even though it is not at all football-specific, “popular” is a good example of a word whose cognate is almost never the best translation choice. Let’s look at the following examples:
Inter are a popular club.
O Inter é um clube popular.
Understanding the English sentence is easy. Inter are popular, and that means they have many fans and supporters, can attract large crowds, and most likely are a rich club.
The Portuguese cognate, however, has a significantly different meaning. Even though the Portuguese sentence does imply that the club have a large number of supporters, it focuses on the type — or, better still, the income and social stratum — of such fans.
Even though lousy translators and writers have recently tended to use the Portuguese word to convey the English meaning, “popular” in Portuguese can be best understood when you remember that it is part of how the official name of the People’s Republic of China is rendered in Brazil: República Popular da China.
Aside from any political implications, “popular” in Portuguese means something pertaining to the people in general, or to the masses in particular, in contrast to something pertaining to the elite, and that’s where inadvertently using the cognate may fail to convey the whole truth.
In Brazil, saying that a club are popular implies that their supporters are mostly from the lower classes, and that’s where the stereotype lies. Even though such people’s clubs are usually the ones with the largest fan bases, using the p-word may carry negative meanings, especially if you support one of the elite clubs and want to look down on your rivals.
In conclusion, a good and positive way to render the English sentence in Portuguese would be “O Inter tem uma grande torcida”. On the other hand, the Portuguese sentence could be fairly accurately translated into English as “Inter are a people’s club”.