I want to translate 'black panther', as in the Marvel character, but I'm having difficulty understanding which translation of 'black' would be appropriate. As I understand it, preta refers to things (and animals), but it's rude to call a person that. But given that, in this case, 'black' refers to the fur colour and not skin colour, would it still translate to 'pantera preta'?
The black panther translates as "pantera negra". Certain uses of "preto" and "negro" are idiomatic. There are no rules and one has to learn them.
- a pantera negra está ameaçada de extinção.
- tu és minha asa-negra, estás sempre a dificultar tudo para mim.
- nuvens negras no céu são um prenúncio de temporal.
- o quadro-negro na sala de aula.
- a nação rubro-negra. (os torcedores do Flamengo Futebol Clube)
- a peste negra foi a pandemia de peste bubônica que assolou a europa no século XIV
- a África Negra é uma outra denominação da África Subsaariana
- magia negra é o uso de forças sobrenaturais para propósitos maléficos
- ela é a ovelha negra da família
- vou trocar meus Euros no câmbio negro.
- humor negro faz piada com situações consideradas de mau gosto ou politicamente incorretas
- mercado negro é um mercado clandestino e informal
- vou por teu nome na minha lista-negra
- o Mar Negro
- o ouro negro (petróleo)
- a viúva negra é uma aranha extremamente venenosa, do gênero Latrodectus
- o feijão preto
- em preto-e-branco
- azeitonas pretas
- gato preto
- chá preto
- cerveja preta
- a caixa preta de uma aeronave
- Ouro Preto é uma cidade no interior de Minas Gerais
- O rei preto (no xadrez)
From these examples you can easily perceive that "negro" tends to have a negative connotation whereas "preto" refers more frequently to color. Yet, "negro" has been chosen as the politically correct word to refer to Afro-Brazilians whereas "preto" is considered a racist word in such contexts.
I don't have the right personal experience to comment on the animal vs. human, or rude vs. polite distinctions.* But you probably can't go wrong with Pantera Negra, because this is how whoever originally translated the name of the Black Panther Party translated Black. In Portuguese, they're o Partido dos Panteras Negras, or "os Panteras Negras" for short.
Checking Wikipedia again, this is indeed how they have translated the comic book character: Pantera Negra.
(*In Cape Verde, the natural way to refer to people's color is with preto and preta, even when used as a noun. But there most people's mother tongue is a Portuguese creole, not standard Portuguese.)
It could have been called pantera preta. After all, we generally say that a cat is preto, because preto is the most common word when describing the color.
On the other hand, negro is more used in other senses, which tend to be of a more evaluative nature: in some set expressions, like lista negra, viúva negra; to mean something close to sad/adverse, like in futuro negro, realidade negra, and also to mean dark (nuvens pretas are just nuvens escuras) and black people. With respect to this last point, I'd risk saying preto is the most common word, even if people might hesitate to use it in public.
So why pantera negra and not pantera preta? It possibly just happened; some people preferred that word. The evaluative nature of negro could have played a part, but note that the animals (not the comic character) are also called negro, but only the leopards, not the jaguars (onça preta).
«Preto» is objective and prosaic, «negro» is subjective and poetic. This is just a rule of thumb, as language isn’t exactly black and white (pun intended) :)
- If something is indeed of the colour black, you tend to say «preto». A black car = «um carro preto»
- If you are being very matter-of-fact, you say «preto». The situation is bad = «A coisa tá preta»
- If you are being poetic, you say «negro»: «Com mãos de veludo / negras como a noite» (“With hands like velvet / dark as the night”)
- Panthers are not exactly completely black, they are very dark but you can still see the spots, hence maybe why it has to be «pantera-negra»… although there are other dark brown animals such as the Common Swift, whose Portuguese name is «andorinhão-preto».
So, go figure… My rule of thumb helps, but you still have to memorize which is which.
The poetic vs. prosaic registers can be demonstrated by translating “a man dressed in black”:
- «Um homem de negro» = evokes the semantic connotations of “dark”: mysterious, associated with the night, maybe dangerous, psychologically charged with meaning, wistful
- «Um homem de preto» = evokes quite simply the colour black. ‘Does what it says in the tin’ :)
Enjoy the Portuguese language!
Both adjectives are correct and are idiomatic. You can use one in place of the other without problems, since there are not rules about it. However, in each case there is a preference defined by the constant use in day to day.
This means that you can say "pantera preta" and you will get the same result. However, in the Portuguese language, the use of the adjective "negra" with the word "pantera" is preferable. The same goes for specifying hair color. You can use "cabelo negro", but it is to be expected that many people will not understand you and therefore it is preferable to use the adjective "preto" in this situation.
To know when each adjective should be used, it is necessary that you read Portuguese books or live in countries whose official language is Portuguese, because only with life experience you'll learn.