Monday, May 31, 2010

To Step Up

If you were born in Brazil, chances are you just can’t seem to understand baseball and what makes it so popular in the US.

However, knowing just the very basics of baseball might be useful when communicating in English. One such case is the baseball move that originated the phrasal verb to step up, in fact a short form of the phrase to step up to the plate.

In baseball, the plate, or home plate, is where the batter ("rebatedor") receives the ball thrown in his direction. You can see the home plate at the bottom of the baseball field below:

This picture shows a batter getting ready to hit the ball. Behind the batter is a catcher, and behind the catcher is an umpire ("juiz").

See a white five-sided mat set at ground level right below the batter? That's the plate. It is made of rubber, mind you, and is used to identify the batter's position.

A batter stepping up to (=moving near) the home plate is the equivalent of a soccer player stepping up to the penalty spot in a shootout ("cobrança de penalty"). As the crowd cheers on and the spotlights are all on him, the batter needs to have quite a lot of confidence under the pressure of trying to hit the ball and score points for his team.

This level of confidence when stepping up to the plate in baseball is used in other areas of life to mean "assumir responsabilidade", "não se omitir", "não se furtar da responsabilidade". For example:
  • Casas Bahia's Customer Service really stepped up to the plate for me and solved my problem. Their staff was respectful and in two days they shipped me a brand new TV set.
Often times, people use the short form to step up:
  • He finally stepped up and asked her to marry him.
  • If you want this promotion, you're going to have to step up. [mostrar que é capaz; fazer por onde]
In this video, candidates of The Apprentice use the phrase to step up to say that they can "tomar iniciativa", "vestir a camisa" or "chamar a responsabilidade para si."

That's it. Till next time!


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Planta Ovo

Whenever I tell a student that the word for "berinjela" is eggplant in American English, an expression of amused surprise invaribaly comes over their face. I have to explain then that I'm absolutely not kidding.

It is indeed quite comical to think of a vegetable (or a fruit, strictly speaking) as an egg.

The variety of eggplants that European traders first got in touch with in the Middle Ages were the shape and the size of chicken eggs. The name eggplant is therefore just a prosaic description.

Eggplants come in a number of different colors, including a yellowish variety and a whitish variety. The egg-like variety of that vegetable can also be found in Brazil, and (surprise surpise!) is referred to as "planta ovo".

I was inspired to write this post after I came across a "planta ovo" (also called "pé de ovo") at the MASP street market, in São Paulo today. I wish I had a camera (or better still, an iPhone!) handy. Here's a pic I found on the web:

I learned from the lady selling those that "planta ovo", though edible, is not normally cooked as it tastes pretty bland. It is more commonly used as ornament.

By the way, the word for eggplant is aubergine in British English.