Some speculate that “chulé” comes from the English word “shoeless”
Portuguese has many words that describe very specific situations or phenomena. One such word defines the universal experience of smelly feet. Yes, in Brazil you can do better than just say someone’s feet stink. You can tell them that their feet have “chulé”!
Popular belief assumes that this word comes from the English word, “shoeless”. Indeed, the smell of sweaty feet is the worst at the moment that you just take off your shoes.
However, no etymologist has yet supported this belief. Particularly because the word in Portuguese dates back to 1881 before any English influences really reached the language. Moreover, those who aren’t wearing shoes would actually have more ventilation and thus less sweaty, less smelly feet.
Meanwhile, certain Brazilian and Portuguese etymologists have tracked the origins of “chulé” back to the Roma word “chulló” or “chullí”, meaning “the fat of rancid pork”. Another Brazilian etymologist, Silveira Bueno, argued that the word comes from the same group as “chulo” and “chula”, meaning “vulgar” in Portuguese. Brought together with the word for foot, “pé”, we get “chulé”.
Regardless of its origins, why exactly Portuguese speakers have a separate word designated for “stinky feet” also remains unresolved. Could it be, perhaps, that Portuguese speakers just have smellier feet? With approximately 250 million Portuguese speakers in this world – and 80 percent of them in Brazil – that is a whole lot of “chulé”!