January 31, 2005

Not everything that passes

A friend in network engineering side of things at UC Santa Cruz wrote on Saturday to ask me a linguistic question:

Yesterday the Internet2.edu web site got hacked. In place of their home page was a single line:


It's all fixed now, but I was wondering exactly what their message was. Does this mean anything to you?

Well, Language Log does not offer a universal free translation service. We have so many other duties, covering the entire field of the language sciences — monkeys, gibbons, parrots, eggcorns, snowclones... God, the work, the pressure...

But Mark and I (he happened to be visiting here at the Santa Cruz branch office) were sort of intrigued, so we did take a lingering look at this cryptic message. Clearly Romance. Not Latin, not Spanish. It didn't take long to see that it was Brazilian Portuguese, and "H4ck3rsBr Group" is a Brazilian hackers' group (Brazil's suffix is .br). We are not by any means Portuguese-competent, but we developed the hunch that the quoted sentence might mean something like, "Not everything that passes you signifies that you're stationary", i.e., just because someone goes by you, that doesn't mean you're standing still. What we can't do is provide a context or a deeper interpretation. Is this a quotation? A proverb? Does it suggest something else in the context of the Brazilian computer world? Anyone who knows can send a tip to pullum (the site is ucsc, the domain edu). Sources will of course remain protected by the journalist's code of confidentiality: if you're a Brazilian hacker, we won't tell.

[Added later (January 31 and February 1): OK, we have many responses (thanks to all): Brazilians and others alike agree that the meaning is roughly "Not everything that goes slow means that it's stopped." It's as ill-phrased in Portuguese as this translation is in English. A more fluent presentation of the meaning might be "Just because something's going slow doesn't mean it's stopped." Devaga is not spelled in a standard way: the word is devagar, but Brazilians generally don't pronounce the final r at all, and the hackers have left it off the spelling. Ta is a very informal spelling of esta. One guess at what this highly colloquial slogan is trying to say would be that the hackers group is telling us that just because they're going slow (they're not very active) that doesn't mean they've stopped altogether. My first guess was actually that they might be making an announcement about Brazil: that it may not be a major player in cyberspace yet, but not everything that goes slow is stationary. But that turns out to be nonsense. Francisco Borges has pointed out to me that Brazil is developing a worldwide reputation in cybercrime: note "Brazil Becomes a Cybercrime Lab", "Brazil Leads Hacker Pack", and older stories like this one and this one. The latter story notes that "As a result, Portuguese has now become the lingua franca of the hacking underground." That is something we should have known here at Language Log Plaza!

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at January 31, 2005 01:13 AM