“You are on three and two.”
Perhaps there is no easier and more direct way to refer, in the Caribbean and in some Central American countries, to a complicated situation with few solution options.
And the phrase has a sports origin: baseball.
An explanation for those uninitiated in the sport: being on three and two in baseball is when the batter’s count is three balls (mispitch by the opposing team) and two strikes (mistakes by the batter himself). An extreme situation.
But that term of one of the most popular sports in the region has been transferred to the popular language.
“Being in three and two is one of the best examples of how in the Caribbean and part of Central America people borrowed exclusive expressions from this sport to be able to define situations in their daily lives,” Roxana Sobrino, specialist linguist, told BBC Mundo in the Caribbean from the University of Berg, in Norway.
Terms abound: “I’m going to bat” in reference to daring something, “skinny to the catcher” about a subject or matter that is very easy, or “throw it out with the bases loaded” when a valuable or ingenious idea is contributed.
There has also been a process of taking words that describe game situations that have their origin in English and transforming them into Spanish, as is the case with the word “homerun”.
“Many experts have said, for many reasons, that the Caribbean is the greatest linguistic laboratory in Western history. and that includes the terms of baseball, which is more than a sport, it is a cultural activity in many countries in the region,” adds Sobrino.
For the experts consulted by BBC Mundo, the “hot ball sport”, as it is called, also has a wealth of terms, among other things, that help people borrow phrases for colloquial use.
“Baseball has nine innings and each game brings complex strategy situations that people can compare to their lives.“, Ariel Camejo, doctor of Literary Sciences from the University of Havana, explains to BBC Mundo.
And how did the jargon of sports, technical and complex, find its way into popular parlance? Here we tell you… along with a useful glossary that shows the impact of baseball on Latin American Spanish.
“There under the ball ‘ta that burns”
Although there are different accounts of its origins, the truth is that modern baseball became popular in the US around the mid-19th century, in the midst of the revolutionary process that was taking place in Latin America.
Little by little the sport began to spread, especially in the Caribbean countries, where it soon became a national sport.
Camejo points out that in countries like Cuba, which were going through a revolutionary process against the Spanish empire at that time, baseball became a symbol of nationalism.
“It is that the theme of the Cuban revolution of the 19th century occurs in the midst of the decline of the Spanish empire and the emergence of the United States as a power. Cubans, for example, choose baseball as a sign of identity of the new world and of his rejection of Spain”, points out the academic.
Experts point out that similar processes occur in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, where baseball is now a source of “national pride.”
“Probably the factor that most raises self-esteem and genuine national pride is baseball. The Dominican Republic has become a true world power in sports at the highest level, that of the Major Leagues, surpassing larger countries in territory and in population, such as Cuba, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela”, points out the linguist Orlando Alba, in his book “Lengua y Béisbol en República Dominicana”.
An example of this is that the teams from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have been in three of the five finals of the famous World Baseball Classic, the main international tournament for this sport, which takes place every four years.
“That national pride makes them not only a sport practice, but also part of the country’s cultural life. It is the main pastime of many children and young people,” says Sobrino.
As it became popular and as it was a sport with terms in English, a linguistic appropriation or borrowing of terms began, which various academics divide into three parts.
First: a loan whereby the term is kept in the original language. That is, it is written and spoken as in its original language. “It is perhaps the smallest group of words. Some examples of it are rolling (when the ball is creeping), slide (a way of throwing the ball), foul… these remain, but they are the minority”, notes the academic.
In a second group come the words that opt for their “Hispanicization”, that is, they present graphic variants that readjust the spelling to the pronunciation: home runwhich designates one of the main plays that can occur in a game and whose original English word is homerun.
“To this are added pícher (pitcher, who is a player), flai (fly, which is a raised ball), estrai (strike, foul in batting) and desbol (dead ball), among others“he points out.
In the third group are these terms that are part of the game and are appropriate for everyday use.
Notions such as “play both bases”which means to change your mind easily although it has also been used to refer to bisexuality or sexual ambiguity in some countries, or “down there the ball is on fire“, to describe a tense or uncomfortable situation, among others.
“The richness of baseball expressions has allowed, perhaps as it does not happen with any other sport, that people appropriate terms that can be used without being explained in broad contexts within the Caribbean,” concludes Camejo.
to understand it better
You want to know more? Here we show you a small glossary of words and terms that come from baseball.
For example, Alba collects the following expressions in her mentioned book:
“Catch Someone Off Base”: Describes the situation of a person who has been surprised or who had to do something and is not prepared for it.
“Give a stick or bounce the ball”: refers to a very successful decision, event or business.
“Be within hit range”: It is used to refer to something that is about to be concluded.
“Being a fly catcher”: to allude to something easy to do, or to a simple person, easygoing.
There are also other expressions that have become very popular in other countries in the region such as Colombia and Venezuela.
“He Came for the Rubber” or “he became hard and curvero”, when the processes led by a leader harden or become more rigorous.
“It’s a poncho”: means you are in trouble.
“They finally got him out!”: when a highly wanted criminal is captured or discharged.
“They surprised him with his pop-up”: Usually used to refer to a man who is caught with a lover.
“Stay on First”: to tell someone to stop, or to indicate stillness.
“You Got Me Running Bases”: It means that someone is busy looking for a way to fulfill the task that the other person gave them.
“Fourth Bat”: a very big person.
“Big leagues”: being in the highest category, in the elite, belonging to a select group, rubbing shoulders with the best.
“I’m going to bat”: dare, dare to do something, accept a challenge.
“You caught me off base”or unaware.
“That Itches and Spreads”: when a specific event later has broader consequences.
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