At the Tip of Your Tongue or the Back of Your Head?

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First Published: 9th of June, 2021 by Patrick Carpen.

Last updated: June 9, 2021 at 13:32 pm

Do you remember those moments when you are trying to find a word but…it’s the back of your head? That is, you know it but you just can’t pull it to consciousness right about now. In the English world, we would say that the word is “at the back of my head,” or “somewhere at the back of my head.”

However, in Portuguese language and culture, they would say that the word is “no ponto da lingua.” That is, “at the tip of the tongue.”

So, if we tried to use the Google translator to translate the expression, “at the back of my head,” it would return the literal, word for word translation: na parte de trás da minha cabeça (tested on Google Translator on 9th June, 2021).

And that’s correct, isn’t it! Yes, “na parte de tras da minha cabeca” is a correct translation for “at the back of my head.” But not in the context discussed above. This is a good example of misunderstandings based on context.

If I were to say in English that the brick hit me “at the back of my head,” then the expression, “at the back of my head,” would be correctly translated as “na parte da tras da minha cabeca.”

However, in the idiomatic expression, “at the back of my head,” as in “I’m trying to remember the name…just a second…it’s at the back of my head,” then the translation, “na parte de tras da minha cabeca” would be wrong! That is because the Portuguese use the expression, “at the tip of my tongue” to express the idea that the English express with “at the back of my head.”

Here is an example: So um momento…tentando lembrar…o nome esta no ponto da minha lingua.”

The word for word translation for this in English would be: Just a moment….I’m trying to remember…the name is at the tip of my tongue.

That’s a word for word translation, but not necessarily a correct translation! The correct translation is: Just a moment…I’m trying to remember…the name is at the back of my head.

The English do use “at the tip of the tongue” as an idiomatic expression as well, but in a completely different meaning. In the English world, “at the tip of the tongue” means that you were just about to say something when something stopped you. Example: It was at the tip of my tongue to tell you about that when your father interrupted us.

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