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I was wondering why in Brazilian Portuguese, the word "nossa" is used as an exclamatory remark similar to "wow".

I found that "nossa que legal!" may be interpreted as "wow, how cool!".

However, the literal meaning of "nossa" is our, which puzzled me further... So how did this expression came to be?

  • In Portugal we said "nossa que violência" or "nossa mãe do céu" like "Oh my god" in English. – Jorge B. Oct 9 '15 at 11:04
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    I disagree with @JorgeB. specifically about "nossa que violência" - I think that is a brasileirismo. (But I agree about "nossa mãe do céu".) – ANeves Oct 9 '15 at 11:19
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    Minha Nossa Senhora! que pergunta! – Jacinto Oct 9 '15 at 12:13
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    Minha Nossa :) – ANeves Oct 9 '15 at 12:33
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    Did you check a Portuguese dictionary? This one gives what seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable explanation, which matches my personal experience. – Dan Getz Oct 9 '15 at 12:50
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"Nossa" (short for "Nossa Senhora" = Our Lady) is an exclamation expressing surprise or astonishment. It's current usage in Brazil. Here are some examples with context where it is frequently used:

(a) "Aqui está a cerveja. Eu trouxe 40 latinhas."

(b) "Nossa! Não precisava tanto."

(a) "Dê uma olhada lá fora. Devem ter caído uns 40 centímetros de neve."

(b) "Nossa! Nunca vi tanta neve."

(a) husband - "Não gosto da tua mãe."

(b) wife - "Nossa! Não precisa ser grosseiro."

Similar interjections in English: "wow", "holy cow", "gosh" or even "Jesus." In ptBR there are quite a few informal or slang words expressing the same as "nossa": "caramba", porra ¹, "Deus do céu", "minha nossa", "Nossa Senhora", etc.

¹ A four-letter word.

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    I would not add the asterisks, I feel they are unnecessary "political correctness". In this specific case, the reader might not know what they replace, at all; or she might find words that fit there, and be unsure whether those are the correct words or not. – ANeves Oct 9 '15 at 19:44
  • @ANeves It should be censored or not being cited at all, because the answer is very clear and the reader would already understand the meaning, not needing to include it. It only should remain and uncensored if the question is specifically about it or if directly relates to it. – Yuuza Oct 11 '15 at 9:06
  • @BrunoLopes I would like it if you added your point of view to this discussion in meta. :) – ANeves Oct 11 '15 at 15:14
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I am not able to historically trace back the use of the term, so I will answer your "why" with an "intuitive common sense" or a "first step before further investigation". I am a native Brazilian.

As an interjection, "nossa" is a contraction of "Nossa Senhora" (Priberam dictionary, 2008-2013, accessed in 10-10-2015). In turn, "Nossa Senhora" ("Our Lady") is a contraction of some of the titles given to Maria (the "Blessed Virgin Mary"). There are different titles given to Maria (Mary) and their uses will vary with the location or origin:

  • Nossa Senhora de Nazaré (Belém, PA)
  • Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida (São Paulo, SP)
    • Nossa Senhora das Flores (Ilha das Flores, Sergipe, SE)
  • Nossa Senhora da Medalha Milagrosa (Miraculous Medal)
    • Nossa Senhora das Graças;
  • and so on...
  • There is also "N.S. da Conceição". (not "da Conceição Aparecida) – Centaurus Oct 11 '15 at 16:41
  • N.S. da Conceição is a contraction of N.S. da Conceição Aparecida. N.S. da Aparecida is also used. – cpicanco Oct 11 '15 at 23:28
  • google.com/… – cpicanco Oct 11 '15 at 23:38
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It is one of the many derivatives of «nossa senhora», meaning our lady, a reference to Mary, mother of Jesus.

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