Zona - Brazilian Portuguese Word of the Week - plus55
Wednesday, December 07, 2016

ZONA

[zˈo.nɐ] A total mess, confusion. While this word literally means zone, it can also mean brothel – hence its alternate meaning of “mess.”

Origins of the term

The word zona comes from the Greek zone (area, region). How it acquired the sense of brothel – and therefore mess – is disputed by linguists.

Some argue that it comes from urban policies to segregate prostitutes from city centers. In various cities, brothels were confined to neighborhoods in the outskirts of the center, called zona do meretrício or Prostitution Zone – shortened to zona. With time, the word came to define any brothel, not just neighborhoods housing sex workers.

As drinking and fighting were common in these neighborhoods, the word became synonymous with a lack of order and mess.

A similar thing happened to the word baderna. It currently means confusion, but the word comes from the name of a dancer who left a mark on Rio in the 19th century.

According to another interpretation, the term originates from the Hebrew word zoná (prostitute). However, both theories agree on how the term came to describe mess, confusion.

Right now, we can’t think of a better word to describe Brazil’s institutional crisis.

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