It seems in keeping with the pre-World Cup spirit at fever pitch here in host-country Brazil to talk about the way sports expressions seep into a language until they become so popular that people don’t even know where the expressions came from. English has tons of sports idioms, to the despair of people trying to learn the language. Native English speakers know that when you’re responsible for something you’re the one who has to carry the ball (football); that when you say or do something wrong you’re out of bounds (basketball); that when something happens at the last moment to keep you from doing an unpleasant task you’ve been saved by the bell (boxing); everyone hopes to ace (tennis) a competition and win it hands down (horse racing); anyone who has all the power is holding all the cards (poker); and when you’ve dealt successfully with every possible angle of a situation, you can relax because you’ve covered all your bases (baseball). I always tell my Brazilian students that if you can memorize just some of these expressions, your English will be all the richer, and whoever you talk to will be very impressed indeed!
No surprise that the Portuguese language is also peppered with sports expressions, though from what I can see they all seem to come from soccer (which I guess is also no surprise). Here are a few, which I try to use in casual conversation, just to show off. Coming to the World Cup? Or maybe you’re already here? Learn them! You might be rewarded by a huge smile, or maybe even a bear hug!
Botar para escanteio [bow-TAHR pra ess-kahn-TAY-oh] — Literally, to kick the soccer ball to the corner, or out of bounds. It has come to mean to ignore or stop talking to someone.
Driblar [dree-BLAHR] — Don’t confuse this dribbling with any basketball maneuver! In soccer, you "dribble" forwards, backwards, sideways, and upside-down, showing off your amazing footwork, to get around your opponent and get that ball down the field. In everyday living, driblar has come to mean getting around something, anything — legally or not!
Pendurar as chuteiras
[pen-dur-RAHR ahs shoo-TEAR-ahs] — Literally to hang up your soccer shoes (as in when you retire), but generally it means to give up (as does the expression tirar o time de campo [tear-RAHR ooh TEE-mee doo KAHM-poo] or, literally, to take your team off the soccer field.
Pisar na bola [pee-SAHR nah BOW-lah] — Literally, to step on the ball, but idiomatically it means to drop the ball, or, frankly, to screw up.
Show de bola
[show djee BOW-lah] — Literally a "soccer ball show," or a spectacular soccer performance; it’s now used for everything that’s positive and beautiful.
Vestir a camisa
[ves-TCHEER ah kah-MEE-zah] — Literally, to wear your team’s shirt (we would say dress in your team’s colors), but it has come to signify a loyal supporter of a cause, or a loyal employee.
Zona de rebaixamento [ZOH-nah djee hay-buy-sha-MEN-too] — In American baseball, a major league baseball player with a bad season performance can be sent back down to the minor leagues; in Brazilian soccer, it is a rule that the four lowest-ranked teams out of a group of 20 are in the zona de rebaixamento. At the end of a season, all four teams (referred to as the Z4) are sent from, say, the A league down to the B league in their entirety! No kicking out just one or two players; the whole team goes. In a recent newspaper article about Brazil’s teetering economy, I was surprised to see this expression used by a reporter lamenting the fate of the recently-emerged middle class, now perilously close to the zona de rebaixamento.
One last expression, which — believe it or not — comes not from soccer, but from badminton:
Não deixa a peteca cair [now DAY-shuh ah pe-TEK-kah kigh-YEER] — Literally, "don’t let the birdie fall," but in popular speech it means not to waver, to keep on acting with resolution.