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.