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Just as a preface, I understand this is a quite subjective question, but the subjective parts of language are the parts that it is most difficult for a non native speaker to understand...

As a speaker of a language without gender (English), I find it difficult understand how the gender of a word "feels" in a gendered language. For example, I wonder how using a noun as a pet name for someone comes across when the noun's gender doesn't match the gender of the person.

I see pet names that can change like querido/querida, querido/querida etc. , but what if it's based on something that doesn't inflect for gender? Obviously couples often have unique pet names for each other, but it inherently unflattering to, for example, use a masculine noun for a female?

For example would it be strange to be called something like... meu solzinho , meu brócolisinho etc. (regardless whether you think little sunshine or little brocolli are appropriate nouns to call someone haha). Does a masculine noun "feel" at all masculine outside of the grammatical sense?

Do people ever incorrectly inflect a noun deliberately to emphasize gender. Could you call someone something like... minha açúcarzinha? Is gender ever deliberately bastardised for effect, or does it always follow the strict grammatical rule?

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It’s funny how foreign speakers of Portuguese make me think for the first time about the rules underlying my own speech. Ok, here is what I think. No matter whether you’re referring to a male or a female you say:

Meu amor; és a minha paixão, o meu tormento, a minha cruz; és o sol/a luz da minha vida; meu amorzinho, onde estás?

What’s going on here is that these nouns have something, even if only metaphorically, of their meanings, so you stick to their grammatical gender. But when the noun is deprived of its literal meaning I’d say we have a little more flexibility. All of the following sound natural to me.

Calling a male minha laranjinha, meu laranjinha, minha bananinha, meu bananinha, meu pestinha, minha pestinha. If anything, meu sounds better.

Calling a female meu martelinho, minha martelinha, meu broculinho, minha broculinha. But minha solzinha sounds weird to me.

So, to me at least,meu + feminine noun sounds good, but minha + masculine noun (minha martelinho) does’t sound so good. And minha + feminised version of a masculine noun sounds good, but I’m more unsure about the reverse (meu bananinho). But maybe it only takes getting used to it. If nouns no longer keep their original meaning, I think we’re quite free to do what we want. Maybe solzinha does not work because if we call someone little sun we are thinking of them as a metaphoric little sun, the light of our lives; So the original meaning is there, and we need to keep the original grammatical gender. But if we can call someone broluquinha or biliquinha or any such made-up word, why not broculinha? We should bear in mind that when couples start calling such names to each other they are basically being deliberately silly. I’ve known of a couple where the husband would use estúpida as a word of endearment for his wife.

Now with nicknames without the possessive, you generally go with the person’s sex. So you can call a man o Barbas, o Banana (can be derogatory), o Águia, o Luas, o Corneta; and a woman a Trombone, a Escadote (both sound very uncomplimentary). But again you can keep the noun's gender to stress the original meaning. Say you could nickname a man A Barata Tonta, A Raposa Matreira. Actually, A Raposa dos Balcãs was a man, King Carol of Romania. And I found this about nicknames in Alentejo, southern Portugal. They are very inventive and use about every possible combination of noun and gender.

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Olá... I'm a Brazilian native, let me see if I can help you with this.

When we give a pet name to someone using a word that doesn't inflect for gender, such as "o açúcar", for example, the correct form would be to keep the gender as it is. If you want to call a girl little sugar, you would say: "Meu açucarzinho." Since Portuguese is a very flexible language, you could also say: "Minha açucarzinha", but then you are creating something out of the grammar rule, which could be acceptable as a original creation, sounding a little bit funny with some words, but at the same time, it can sound too weird or incorrect (as in the example above).

You could say: "minha princesinha, minha lindinha." Since "princesa" is the feminine of "príncipe" and "linda" the feminine of "lindo". But if you have: "sol, chaveiro, chapéu", then the correct is "solzinho, chaveirinho, chapéuzinho". If you change them to "solzinha, chaveirinha e chapeuzinha" it will sound weird and grammatically wrong.

Here is a good example. The Red Riding Hood story in Brazilian Portuguese is called "Chapeuzinho Vermelho", thus the gender of the word chapéu doesn't change.

About the "sounding subjective" question, not really. I think it depends on the context. If you say to a girl: "Você é meu solzinho", no one will think it should be feminine, "o sol" is "the sun", it's not related to a masculine figure. But there are cases which may suggest a gender, such as "formiga, barata, lagarta".. Feminine names that we have for insects sometimes give the impression that the insects are female, even though we know that this may not be the case. The same for masculine insects: grilo, besouro, etc. Sometimes we have the impression that they are male.

  • I agree with everything you say, except when it comes to the grammaticality of nicknames like chaveirinha, chapeuzinha. I agree chapeuzinha sounds horrible, but maybe I could get used to chaveirinha. When used as a nickname, it is so far from the meaning of chaveiro, that I'm not sure the gender of chaveiro still matters. Maybe that's why solzinha sounds wrong to me: the person is metaphorically a little sun, so it has to be solzinho. – Jacinto Sep 25 '15 at 12:45
  • would you Brasileiros would care to comment on the answer from Jacinto, see if it's the same for you? – Some_Guy Sep 25 '15 at 14:37
  • O que é um chaveiro? É um porta-chaves? (Ou seja, um aro ou estojo para transportar chaves.) – ANeves Sep 25 '15 at 15:08
  • @ANeves "Móvel com ganchos numerados para dependurar chaves." – Jorge B. Sep 25 '15 at 16:43
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    @ANeves There's no telling what a lover will call his or her beloved. But how about: "Meu chaveirinho, guardiã das chaves da minha vida"? – Jacinto Sep 29 '15 at 13:48
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These pet names are often used when a couple are in the privacy of their bedroom, so people don't really care about grammar and gender agreement. Anything that is acceptable by both partners, can be considered "correct" in that context.

We tend to use the masculine possessive (meu) for males and the feminine possessive (minha) for females. I once heard a woman call her husband "meu paixão" ("paixão" is a feminine noun in Portuguese and would be preceded by "minha".

In Brazil we coin these nonexistent genders to fit our loved ones: wife, parent, child, strange as they may sound. Examples: meu laranjinho, meu laranjinha, meu torta de chocolate, minha brocolisinha, minha açucarzinha, minha tesourinha (not "scissors" but "little treasure"), minha sorvetinha, etc.

N.B. "brocoli" is masculine in Portuguese. It would sound strange and wouldn't make sense to call a man "minha brocolisinha". Likewise, "laranja" is feminine and it wouldn't make sense to call a woman "meu laranjinho" The possessive adjective usually agrees with the gender of person addressed.

These are just examples. I haven't heard all of them. But it's my opinion that someone, somewhere may well be using one of them right now.

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