After living here for six years, I have finally learned the Portuguese term for “pet.” This is probably because I’ve never heard anyone talk about pets before. Cats, dogs, birds, yes, but not the general term “pet.”
So I was quite charmed to find that a pet is an animal de estimação — an esteemed animal. That’s so polite and respectful! And it tracks perfectly with the habit some owners have of speaking to their pets in the respectful “você” verb form, rather than the familiar “tu.”
Suddenly it makes sense that one of our friends calls our first cat “Senhora Dona Gata.” Dona is an honorific, originally used for nobles, and Senhora Dona is even more respectful. Our cat is our esteemed animal, the Senhora Dona Gata.
I will try to remember that the next time she’s washing her belly with one hind leg pointed high into the air.