Friday, October 1, 2010

Elections Glossary

In the spirit of the elections being held all over Brazil tomorrow, I put together a Portuguese-English glossary dealing with a good scope of terms related to voting and the election campaign.

It is important to note that because of the peculiarities of the election system of each country, it is not always possible to find equivalent terms and jargon used to describe the process of choosing political leaders in Brazil and in English-speaking countries.

My glossary is therefore meant to cater to the Brazilian audience discussing their political system in Brazil.

This is a work in progress and more terms will be added in the future. As usual, questions are always welcome!

  • apartidária (A Veja diz ser isenta e apartidária, mas eu tenho minhas dúvidas) - nonpartisan (Veja claims to be unbiased and nonpartisan, but I doubt it)

  • apuração dos votos - vote counting

  • cabine de votação - voting booth; polling booth

  • campanha de difamação - mudslinging (see 'propaganda suja')

  • cédula de voto - ballot (AmE); ballot paper (BrE)

  • comparecimento às urnas - voter turnout

  • debate na TV - TV debate

  • dia de eleição - election/polling day

  • difamação - mudslinging (see 'propaganda suja')

  • discurso (num discurso curto, a candidata atacou seu principal adversário) - stump speech (in a shot stump speech, the candidate attacked her main rival candidate)

  • distrito eleitoral - (electoral) precinct

  • eleições governamentais - gubernatorial elections // eleição presidencial - presidential election

  • eleitor (geral) - voter // eleitor (de um candidato) - constituent

  • eleitorado (com sua ascensão da pobreza à presidência Lula conquistou um enorme eleitorado) - constituency (with his rise from poverty to presidency, Lula captivated a large constituency)

  • índice de aprovação - approval ratings // índice de popularidade - popularity ratings

  • ir às urnas (os brasileiros irão às urnas no dia 3 de outubro para eleger um novo presidente) - to go to the polls (Brazilians will go to the polls on October 3 to elect a new president.)

  • local de votação - polling place (AmE); polling station (BrE)

  • margem de erro da pesquisa - the poll's margin error

  • maioria esmagadora (...foi eleito com uma maioria esmagadora) - a landslide (...was elected by a landslide)

  • partido político - political party

  • pesquisa (de opinião) - (opinion) poll // pesquisa de boca-de-urna - exit poll

  • pesquisador de opinião - pollster

  • primeiro turno - first round // segundo turno - second round

  • propaganda (na TV, no rádio - Em sua propaganda na TV, Serra mostrou imagens de arquivo em que aparecia com o Presidente Lula) - ads (Serra ran ads showing archive footage of him and Lula together)

  • propaganda suja (A campanha girou mais torno de propaganda suja e de acusções retóricas) - mudslinging (The campaign was more about mudslinging and rhetorical accusations)

  • realizar uma eleição - to hold an election

  • segundo turno - second round // primeiro turno - first round

  • urna - ballot box

  • urna eletrônica - voting machine

  • votação (o assunto foi decidido por votação) -  voting (the issue was decided by voting)

  • votar - to vote; to cast a vote

  • votar nulo - to cast a null vote / votar em branco - to cast a blank vote

  • voto eletrônico - electronic voting

  • voto em branco - blank vote

  • voto inválido - invalid vote / voto válido - valid vote

  • voto nulo - null vote; spoiled vote (anulado)

  • voto obrigatório - compulsory voting

  • voto secreto (...estão pedindo o fim do voto secreto no Congresso) - secret ballot; secret vote (...are calling for the end of secret ballot in the Congress)

  • zona eleitoral - (electoral) precinct

Friday, August 27, 2010

Variety is the spice of life - part II

This is a follow up to my previous post.

As well as nouns and verbs, you can also apply to adjectives the idea of exploring similar and opposite words. For example, you can describe an idea as being new, but you can alternately describe it as innovative, original, fresh, brand-new or cutting-edge. Conversely, an idea can be tired, conventional, ordinary or worn-out.

Likewise, you can qualify an idea as silly, but the same idea can be ridiculous, asinine, preposterous, absurd or lame. On the other hand, an idea can be sensible, reasonable, or suitable. All these adjectives, synonymous and antonymous alike, are close in meaning.

As far as adjectives, another good idea is to arrange continuums of intensity from one extreme to the opposite extreme. Take the adjectives hot/cold. You can insert a number of other adjectives in between, and even beyond, those two extremes and end up with a wider selection of words:

hot > cold

hot > warm > cool > cold

hot > warm > tepid > cool > cold

boiling > hot > warm > tepid > cool > cold > freezing

This exercise provides with more nuances of meaning to your target words, and consequently a richer vocabulary. Another example:

embarrassed > proud

embarrassed > pleased > proud

humiliated > embarrassed > pleased > proud > boastful

Similarly, you can apply continuums to basically any class of words in English. Take the verb "to talk":

talk > whisper

scream > talk > whisper

scream > talk > murmur > whisper

shriek > scream > talk > murmur > whisper

In the future, I’ll be providing more continuums. It’s up to you now. This can be done either mentally or in writing. Start by thinking of antonyms and synonyms of the words you are learning. Then move on and try to come up with a continuum using those words.

The most important thing is to keep a curious, inquisitive mind. See? I too am using synonyms! As I pointed out in the previous post, it’s an easy and fun exercise to do. Start now!

I’ll be writing more about ideas to help you boost your vocabulary. This is goodbye for now!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Variety is the spice of life

I am of the opinion that an essential aspect of acquiring a foreign language has to do with how well you master the vocabulary of your target language. And by vocabulary I don’t mean separate words only, but entire phrases. In the future I will be writing more about word combinations in English. For now, let’s focus on the word level.

There is a lot to be said about the importance of vocabulary in English language learning. Especially considering the fact that English has arguably one of the largest vocabularies in the world.

In my experience, when compared to Portuguese, English vocabulary does seem to be a particularly tricky point for students. And it’s not only about the sheer number of words that learners have to cope with, but the fact that, more so than Portuguese, English language allows for a variety of ways to say exactly the same thing.

Take the verb ‘to walk’. In English, you can not only walk, but you can stroll in the park on a sunny day or step into your boss’s office for a minute, you can saunter out of your house and into the sunlight, or stride across the room to open the door, you can pace back and forth or tread a tightrope.

Similarly, you can run, but you can also bolt, hurry, rush, dash, jog, speed, scurry and scramble. It is possible to look at something, but also stare, gaze, gawk, goggle or glance at it, and even eye someone.

These are all common verbs used to describe everyday activities. Their synonyms are equally important and frequent, providing various shades of meaning that are useful and fun!

So, here's a piece of advice for those looking to enlarge their English vocabulary: pay special attention to the words that have similar meanings to the words that you are learning. Conversely, try to come up with words with opposite meanings. This kind of exercise is interesting and easy to do, and will hopefully help you build what I like to refer to as vocabulary networks.

I believe that organizing vocabulary items in this fashion (=in this manner) is one sure way to make it easier for you to pull up words from your memory when you need them.

In English, variety is the spice of life. Keep that in mind!

On this blog, I will be providing more examples of similar/opposite words. In the meantime, I will just leave you with that thought: when working on your English vocabulary, take a minute or two to consider the synonyms and antonyms of the words that you are learning or have learned.
That's it. Till next time!

Sunday, August 1, 2010


At a certain point at the café (see this post), a server stepped up to the plate and shut off the TV show, much to the joy of the customers present, many of whom (myself included) cheered and thanked the good soul who had saved us all.

A lady sitting next to us then turned and said in English, “They’re so boring!” My student/friend and I had been talking in English all along, and that was the lady’s way to let us know that she too was relieved that Chitãozinho & Xororó had finally been shut off.

The only problem was her word choice. I understood that she meant to say that the music was ‘chata’. As it turns out, the adjective ‘chato’ in Portuguese has a multitude of meanings, each calling for a different translation in English.

Let’s look at some possibilities:

1. chato = entediante; monótono; desinteressante; sem graça.

What a boring class. I almost fell asleep.
[Que aula chata. Eu quase dormi.]

I don’t like the living room. It’s boring. We need to get some decoration.
[Não gostei da sala de estar. Ela está sem graça. A gente precisa arrumar alguns enfeites.]

2. chato = irritante; enervante; incômodo; azucrinante.

I have this annoying pain in my feet. (to annoy = irritar)
[Estou com uma dorzinha chata nos pés]

3. chato = embaraçoso; desconcertante.

I couldn’t remember her name. What an awkward / embarrassing situation!
[Eu não lembrava o nome dela. Que situação chata!]

4. chato = exigente; difícil de satisfazer.

My daughter is a picky eater.
[Minha filha é chata para comer.]

5. chato = pessoa inoportuna.

What a pain that guy is. Why does he always have to tell his stupid jokes?
[Que cara chato! Por que será que ele sempre tem que contar uma piada sem graça?]

As for the lady sitting next to us at the café, what she probably meant to say about Chitãozinho & Xororó was that they were annoying. A possible phrase she could have used is:

“How annoying they are!”

That’s it, folks! Till next time!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

To Tune Out

A couple of days ago, I was teaching a class over brunch at a café near my place. The TV was on, showing a variety show where Brazilian country music stars Chitãozinho & Xororó were performing apparently in celebration of the duet’s 40th career anniversary. And it was kind of loud, too, to the point where you could hear some customers complaining under their breath.

My student/friend (or should I say friend/student – well, you get the point!) joked that she might have trouble concentrating. I told her that maybe we should try to just tune out the music.

To tune out means to ignore or stop paying attention to what is happening around you. It is an informal verb.

We proceeded to have a class, trying as hard as we could to tune out the music blaring out from the TV set.

You can say that you tune something/someone out, tune out something/someone or that you just tune out. Here are more examples:

  • Most kids will just tune out when their parents start to preach.

  • Many paulistanos tune out the city by tuning in to iPods and cellphones.

  • I knew he was tuning out because when I asked his opinion he had no idea what I was talking about.

  • Once Mark gets going about cars, I just completely tune him out.

  • A bored student will simply tune out.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

To Pick

So we have a World Cup winner! Or should I say two winners.

Eight picks, eight correct, eight tentacles. Paul the Oracle Octopus achieved worldwide stardom after breaking a prognostic record during the 2010 World Cup. Let's be honest, all Paul really knew or cared about was grabbing a bite to eat when he picked his meal from flag-covered boxes. His mark is impressive nonetheless, and it makes Paul a true winner.

Let's just hope our new celebrity does not end up on someone's plate in Spain or Italy, two of the countries competing to buy the Oracle Octopus.

The verb to pick is commonly used to mean the same as to choose. In my experience as a teacher of English, I have noticed that Brazilian learners tend not to, well, pick the verb to pick when they want to say "escolher" in English. I can't quite explain why this is so.

The verbs to pick and to choose are very close in meaning. Some speakers would argue that to choose is more formal in tone than to pick and that it involves more careful consideration than to pick does.

For example, a man asking a woman to marry him would probably say, "I have chosen you to be my wife, will you marry me?" This sounds more appropriate than "I have picked you to be my wife."

Conversely, it would probably sound more appropriate to say, "As a kid, I was always the last one to be picked to play soccer with my friends."

Again, this is just a general rule and different speakers are likely to have different opinions on this. It is always a good idea to pay attention to the context in which this verb is being used.

In the example of Paul the Oracle Octopus, there is a tendency to use the verb to pick when we are talking about who we think will win a competition. For example: 

  • I picked Carlos to win Big Brother right during the first week of the show because he seemed to be a very diplomatic person.
As with most structures in any language, context is king here. All you have to do is observe attentively. It's easy and fun!

additional information:

The noun form of the verb to pick is a pick, as in the sentence talking about Paul the Oracle Octopus:

  • "Eight picks, eight correct, eight tentacles."
The noun form of the verb to choose is choice, as in:

  • You have to do this now. You don't have a choice!

We can use both verbs together and have the expression to pick and choose, meaning to choose with great care or to be selective. For example:

  • I love to go to the clothes store early in the morning when it's quiet, so I can take my sweet time and pick and choose what I want to buy. 

  • In this world you have to take what life gives you, you can't pick and choose.

  • Martha is so beautiful that she can pick and choose her boyfriends.

Cick here for other meanings ot the verb to pick.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Much of the blame for Brazil’s World Cup exit has been placed on Juventus midfielder, Felipe Melo. During Brazil’s defeat against The Netherlands, Melo was sent off following a disgraceful stamp on Dutch winger (=ala), Robben.

The adjective disgraceful derives from the noun a disgrace. This is a false cognate in English. The word disgrace may look like it means “desgraça” in Portuguese, but it translates as “vergonha” instead. Synonyms include ‘dishonor’, ‘discredit’ and ‘shame’.
  • Felipe Melo faced public disgrace after the incident.

The word disgrace is also used to refer to something that is not acceptable or right.
  • The country’s health care system is a national disgrace.

These are other ways we can use disgrace in a phrase:

bring disgrace on -> He brought disgrace on his country.

in disgrace -> The team arrived in Brazil in disgrace after their World Cup exit.

an absolute disgrace -> It is an absolute disgrace that the government does nothing about this social problem.

no disgrace -> There’s no disgrace in not winning the World Cup. // It is no disgrace to be poor.

to be a disgrace to -> Politicians are a disgrace to this country.

The adjective disgraceful therefore translates as “vergonhoso”. These are the words we normally use with disgraceful:

We generally talk about a disgraceful behavior, a disgraceful conduct, a disgraceful situation, a disgraceful mistake, a disgraceful act, disgraceful manners – and similar ideas. Synonyms include dishonorable, shameful and infamous.

Words in English that mean “desgraça” include misfortune and catastrophe.