1996 financial statement indexation was officially extinguished. That
supposedly sounded the death knell for inflation. Inflation may be
dead, but it has left its marks on our language—and they still haunt
translators and users of translations alike. I have this hunch that
dictionaries will never cope with them effectively.
The most egregious mark of inflation is Correção Monetária (CM),
the indexation system introduced in the mid 70s. Now most professionals appropriately translate that as indexation
. However, you will also find the terms monetary correction
or monetary restatement,
which are improper because their meaning is difficult to pinpoint, as well as price level accounting,
is a misnomer because official CM indices seldom reflected anything
like a price index. In fact, they were tools of economic policy. In
other words, the index did not reflect past inflation, but was what the
government thought convenient at the time. Often one or more increases
were considered “abnormal” and thus excluded from CM computations. This
was called inflação expurgada—expurgated inflation.
Any accountant will tell how tax revenues could be manipulated in this way.
After CM came to life, corrigir,
which literally means to correct,
began to be used with the meaning of to apply indexation,
thus creating a trap into which many a worthy translator fell.
Then, workers began to distinguish between aumentos
(merit increases) and reajustes
(cost of living adjustments). Everybody was protesting against increases
became an ugly word. Consequently, everybody began to use reajustes
to refer to their pay/price hikes—and aumento
to refer to increases in what their neighbors received or charged. Union leaders demanded reajustes salariais (salary adjustments)
to face aumentos de preços (price increases);
employers justified their reajustes de preços
as compensation for aumentos de salários.
Unfortunately, the prices we paid always seemed to
increase a lot faster than the prices we could charge. Everybody
claimed that their prices (or salary, wages, pension, or whatever) were
(literally: out of phase)
meaning they lagged behind inflation.
This, of course, called for a reajuste para contrabalançar os aumentos—an adjustment to offset the increases.
Which, in turn... well, you get the idea.
Once a year, a pay increase was decreed. That, of course, was o aumento
or o reajuste,
depending on which side of the fence you were on. However, during the
year workers usually demanded an extra increase. Since at times the
government tried to control inflation by putting a lid on wage
increases (o arrocho—the squeeze),
such an increase was plainly illegal, so workers and their employers usually agreed on an antecipação (advance)
a pay increase that would be deducted from the official increase to be
decreed. Later on, pay hikes above inflation rates were allowed if
productivity increased. So, workers began to demand their produtividade,
which does not mean productivity,
but a pay increase attributed to an alleged increase in productivity.
Prices were often controlled, and approved price lists were published. These are referred to as tabelas de preços (price lists). Preço tabelado
then means controlled price.
When controls were lifted, the price was said to be liberado (decontrolled,
literally: released [from controls]).
Occasionally prices were congelados (frozen),
in which case goods would disappear from the market (desabastecimento—
literally lack of supply)
and could only be bought at higher-than-official prices (com ágio).
To evade controls and freezes, some products appeared under slightly new guises, a practice referred to as maquiagem
(make-up). This should not be confused with the cognate term used in Mexico with a very different meaning.
This traditional meaning of tabela
should not be confused with another meaning, current for a short period, and copied from the Argentine tablita.
This was the tabelinha,
little table, one of the many panaceas attempted to cure the country of
inflation. This was a table used to reduce the value of payments. For
instance, you bought a widget on credit, to be paid in installments of
$100. Under the tabelinha,
the amount of each instalment was to
be reduced so as to eliminate the effects of inflation from it. This
resulted in many disputes, because those who paid wanted to pay under
the tabelinha, and
those who received claimed that they had
sold for credit without interest or inflation or nothing, to their
great loss and all, and now comes that tabelinha
to reduce their already meager earnings. Well, it did not work, and inflation went on as usual, tabelinha
or no tabelinha.
Often indexation was based on official indices, but this was sometimes awkward. So we invented correção monetária pré-fixada, (set in advance),
is indexation based on a rate agreed on by the parties in advance
without government interference. If you are a purist in matters of
spelling, notice that prefixada
i.e. provided with a prefix, whereas pré-fixada
means agreed in advance.
Of course, correção monetária embutida
means indexation built into
the price on credit sales. In such cases, there was a discount on cash payments.
Indexation was introduced as a cure for inflation, but
it failed mainly because it was habit-forming. Inflation rates
accelerated and we had to index practically everything: salaries,
installments, rent. This was done by pegging prices to something the
price of which was widely publicized. For instance, Treasury Bonds.
Treasury Bond par values were indexed and most people could tell you
what the day’s value was. Those Bonds were called Obrigações Reajustáveis do Tesouro Nacional (ORTN)
and all prices were quoted in ORTN terms. Many translators, for
instance, charged 1 ORTN per standard page. Salaries were also quoted
in terms of ORTN, of course. Household help was paid in ORTN. ORTN
values were translated (convertidos)
into ordinary currency at
the time of payment. Of course, most people never saw an ORTN, we used
ordinary money, and the indices were just “money of account.” I am not
mentioning the name of the actual currency unit in use, for we had half
a dozen different units during the period.
With time, the ORTN was replaced by the Obrigação do Tesouro Nacional (OTN),
and that in turn (mis)begot otenizar
(to quote using the OTN as a unit).
Informally, prices were also quoted in dollars. Since
there were stringent exchange controls, most people had never seen a
greenback, but almost everybody knew how much it was worth. Exchange
controls brought the black market with them. This is referred to as o black
and black-market dealers are called doleiros.
Because the official rate of exchange was also a
tool of economic policy, it did not reflect market conditions. And
because it was widely believed that such conditions were reflected by
the black market, its rates became so important that even respectable
newspapers quoted them—even the Central Bank was forced to follow suit
in due time and discuss those rates in its bulletin. To avoid using mercado negro,
which always reeks of something that nice people should not be associated with, we coined mercado paralelo,
which was perceived to be a more appropriate term to be used by the authorities.
Then, CVM, the Brazilian counterpart to the American
SEC, decreed that all organizations subject to its regulations—which
included all financial institutions and publicly-held companies—had to
apply indexation to practically all of their assets and liabilities.
This deserves an explanation. Under the 1976 Business Corporation Act,
only Property, Plant and Equipment, Long-term Investments and Deferrals
were to be indexed, with contras to Shareholders’ Equity. But when
monthly inflation threatened to reach three digits, that was plainly
not enough. I will spare you an explanation of how the new rules
worked. As far as translators and readers are concerned, however, they
meant introduction of another term: correção monetária integral,
which may be rendered as full indexation.
Because those organizations still had to publish their ordinary balance sheets with what should now be termed partial monetary correction
, in practice they published statements with two columns of figures, one pela legislação societária (pursuant to the Business Corporation Act,
that is, partially indexed)
and pela correção monetária integral (fully indexed).
has led many a translator to despair. Of course, foreign financial
analysts, confronted with two columns of different figures did not feel
There were at least 30 different inflation indices
going. Pitched battles were fought about what index should govern an
operation. The longest and most complex clause of any contract dealt
with indexation. Most businesses subscribed to a periodical that
published all the indices ever used for the previous ten years or more.
Cash management became all-important. Businesses kept
enormous cash balances which were reinvested every day. This was often
considered a better use of money than investing in production and was
referred to as ciranda financeira. Ciranda financeira
could perhaps be translated as financial merry-go-round,
is a dance in a circle. It did very little good to the economy.
The eroding power of inflation was so strong, that
nobody could afford to wait for payments. Traditionally, wholesalers
sold 30 d.f.m. (30 dias fora o mês),
which means 30 days, not counting the current month.
other words, if a retailer bought, say, cooking oil from a wholesaler
on April 10, the bill was expected to be settled on May 31. This was
gradually reduced to one week after delivery. Banks offered 7-day
collection services. Checks were (and still are) cleared within 48-72
hours. Although inflation is now very low, we have kept this healthy
custom. My clients still settle my bills within two weeks at most, to
the envy of many colleagues abroad who must wait a couple months for a
Small grocers also sold on credit on the hallowed caderneta
(booklet) tradition: customers had a caderneta
took it to the store whenever they wanted anything. The storekeeper
sold them what they wanted and entered the price of the purchase in the
Once a month the account was settled. Gradually, caderneta
started to reflect descriptions, not prices. At the end of the month,
the account was settled based on the prices current at the date of
settlement, not on the prices current at the time of the purchase.
Supermarkets never offered cadernetas.
offered lower prices. But as inflation became higher and higher, the
busiest person in the supermarket was the one carrying a little
hand-held contraption that printed price labels. This hated and
unfortunate person went up and down alleys altering prices, always up.
Sometimes you would find three or four labels with different prices on
the same article. This was called remarcar (marking again).
The strange side of it is that remarcar
had always meant to mark down,
during a sale, for instance, but it slowly became to mark up.
Even now, when inflation seems to be over, it is difficult to know when remarcar
means to mark up
Traditionally, salaries were paid once a month. People in financial straits could ask for a vale (advance—so called because the employee signed a “vale,” that is, an IOU).
Growing inflation made the vale
automatic and the right to a vale
part of collective bargaining agreements. Often, bargaining failed and
the parties went to court. The technical name of such a disagreement is
Slowly o dissídio
became the name for the labor agreement itself or the pay hike it brought. By the way, salário
and salário mínimo
is the minimum wage. Mínimo
was perceived to be demeaning and was slowly abandoned in colloquial language. Today, when people say o salário,
they often mean o salário mínimo—the minimum wage.
Certain services are still priced in terms of salários mínimos.
My bookkeeper, for instance, charges um salário mínimo,
that is, a monthly fee equal to the monthly minimum wage.
Some people, however, could not get vales.
included, for instance, the retired, who were—and still are—paid once a
month. With inflation at 80%+ a month, purchasing power vanished so
quickly that people who got paid once a month went straight to the
supermarket and spent as much of their pay as they could before the
bills became valueless. Someone then said that inflation was the cruelest tax of all,
because it ate up the earnings of the poor who could not play in the ciranda financeira.
That was the imposto inflacionário,
which may be translated as the hidden tax represented by inflation.
Unable to play in the Ciranda, the poor put whatever they could spare in cadernetas de poupanca (passbook savings account).
This was considered sacred, something for a rainy day. Those accounts paid interest of 0.5% a month,
plus correção monetária.
Unfortunately, many people never noticed the difference between the two. All they knew was that income on savings accounts (rendimento da poupança)
high and on the increase. And they were happy. Too happy. Once a month,
the eight o’clock news reporter told us that inflation for the month
had reached 80% and that income on savings accounts would be 80.5%.
Happy that their savings had almost doubled within a month—and unaware
that most of that was just a paper gain—people felt wealthy and freely
spent their “income.” They took care to leave the principal untouched
and in due time, inflation eroded their savings to nothing.
As time went by, more and more prices were quoted in
dollars. The government tried to stop it as a matter of national pride,
but it was to no avail. That was the dolarização informal.
Then the Government created the URV (Unidade Referencial de Valor—
something like Value Reference Unit),
for a time all prices were quoted in URV terms. URVs were never issued,
so they were solely money of account. The government never said the URV
was equal to US$1, but the “exchange” rate was always 1:1. So this was
referred to as dolarização envergonhada.
Literally—and in broken English—this would be embarrassed dollarization,
which, I think, needs no further comment.
In July 1994 the URV became the Real, inflation
disappeared seemingly by magic, and all those absurdities described
above are slowly becoming a thing of the past. The nightmare is over—or
so we hope—but we will long remember it in our language.
© Copyright Translation Journal
and the Author 1997