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There is a polemical issue in the halls of production at Uma Nota Culture. Is it Brasil with an “s” or Brazil with a “z”?

Essentially, in the English language, Brazil is normally and properly spelt with a “z” and in Portuguese it is spelled with an “s.” Our resident editor and word form stickler Jonathan Rothman insists that since the accepted form in English is with a “z” then we should stick with this. The argument: if people are to take us seriously in press releases and the media etc., then we have to show we can spell.

The more outlandish me thinks this is ridiculous and that language is an living form of expression, and as artists and authors of our own content we have the creative licence to push the accepted conventions in the pursuit of recreating symbolic associations and piqueing the interest of the public. I mean, c’mon, the name of our jam and festival is Uma Nota! I see it as a way of introducing a more worldly forms into the the Anglo camps of cool urban-ness.

But what exactly is the origin of this confusion of Brasil vs Brazi? Well, the name Brasil for the country comes from pau-brasil or brazil wood, which used to be the country’s main resource for export in early colonial times.

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Brazilian historical book using “z” in name; an old bank note also using “z”

OK fine, but what about the spelling? This was due to some historical confusion and a lack of (gulp) accepted form. I remember finding a coin once in Belo Horizonte that dated from the 1870s and the wording was “Brazil.” How could this be? well after some digging I found some info on the about page of the Brasilia municipality:

The Brazilian Academy of Letters was founded only in 1897; until then, there was not any official institution in Brazil to issue norms on orthograhy (the Academy took over that function); besides, only a small fraction of Brazilian society had access to education.

As a consequence, as there was not an “official” or “correct” definition on how to spell it, some people used to write “Brazil”, while others used “Brasil.”

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Above: The bill to the left dates back to 1917. Notice the inscription “Republica dos Estados Unidos” at the top, and the “do Brazil” right under it. However, this other bill to the right, printed in 1921, brings the inscription “Republica dos Estados Unidos do Brasil”. This confusion lasted until 1945, when Brazil and Portugal met and agreed on the first Orthographic Vocabulary of Portuguese Language; such vocabulary defined the form “Brasil.”

And there we have it: the Anglo world kept using Brazil with “z” because, , we suppose, that is what they were used to doing.

The debate inside Uma Nota Culture, and indeed among all lovers of Brazilian culture (the infamous “brasilphiles”) continues.

What do you think? Please leave your comments below.