July 30, 2004

Not Joao Euro

Fernando Pereiro emailed to explain that the Portuguese "John Doe" equivalent, given in the list that Robin Stocks copied from Blick Online who copied it from funnyname.com, is not just "Joe Euro" at all.

The Portuguese "João Ninguém" from that list has yet a different meaning from John Doe or Joe Bloggs. It's not (AFAIK) used in legal proceedings, nor does it refer to the average Joe. Instead, it has a picaresque meaning, going back at least to sixteenth century play "Auto da Lusitânia" by Gil Vicente. In it, "Todo o Mundo" ("everybody") is a rich merchant, and "Ninguém" ("nobody") is a poor man who discuss what they wish for in this world, while two demons (Berzebu and Dinato) joke for the gallery playing on the double meaning of the characters' names:

Ninguém Buscas mais, amigo meu?     What else do you seek, my friend?
Todo-o-Mundo   Busco a vida e quem ma dê.   Life and who will give it to me.
Ninguém A vida não sei que é,
a morte conheço eu.
  Life I don't know, but death I do.
Berzebu Escreve lá outra sorte.   Write down this finding.
Dinato Que sorte?   What finding?
Berzebu Muito garrida:
Todo-o-Mundo busca a vida,
e Ninguém conhece a morte.
  Very colorful: Everybody seeks life, and nobody knows death.
Todo-o-Mundo E mais queria o paraíso, quanto devo para isso.   I also want to get to heaven without anybody getting in the way.
Ninguém E eu ponho-me a pagar quanto devo para isso.   And I am paying what I owe to get there.
Berzebu Escreve com muito aviso.   Write (this) down carefully.
Dinato Que escreverei?   What?
Berzebu Escreve que Todo-o-Mundo quer paraíso,
e Ninguém paga o que deve.
  That everybody wants heaven, but nobody pays what they owe.

"Ninguém" is the traditional honest loser who will not get his reward in this world. Later, "João Ninguém" seems to have acquired a more comical or tragicomic cast in Brasil, but I don't know about that in detail.


Posted by Mark Liberman at July 30, 2004 01:49 PM