The other day I asked my mom how her medical appointment went. She said: “Ah, deu a maior zebra”.
Literally she said: “Ah, it was the biggest zebra.”
Do you know what that means? Let me tell you. This Brazilian colloquial expression is used frequently, so it is worth knowing it.
Here’s the video:
Yes, zebra in Portuguese is the animal and we spell it just like in English. But you need to pay attention to the pronunciation because the Brazilian E sounds very different from the English E.
There is a popular Brazilian colloquial expression with the word zebra. In Brazil, we say that something is a zebra when:
- We have an unexpected result in sports with the weaker team unexpectedly winning the game. The expression is common especially in soccer.
- Things go unexpectedly wrong or unexpected problems show up
- When something unpredictable or unexpected happens, but not in a positive way
Origin of the Expression
There is an illegal gambling game in Brazil called Jogo do Bicho (the animal game). Although it is illegal, it is a popular game.
Jogo do Bicho is like a lottery, and the numbers are associated with animals. There are 25 animals in the game.
The zebra is not a part of Jogo do Bicho. So imagine how unexpected the results would be if the zebra showed up in a drawing. It is said that this is the origin of the expression: the zebra is an impossible or extremely unlikely result.
Over the years, the use of the expression was expanded to include the other situations that I mentioned above.
The Expression Comes with Verbs Dar and Ser
The expression may show up in different phrases. The most common ones use either the verb Dar or the verb Ser.
The verbs can come in any tense. I show you examples below.
We have flashcard apps to help you practice verb conjugation:
Examples Using the Expression
Corinthians is one of the best soccer teams in Brazil. Imagine that it is going to play against an extremely weak team. Everyone feels confident that Corinthians will win without any trouble. But they unexpectedly lose the game.
This is a common situation in which we use the zebra expression. It can come in different ways. I am showing the most common phrases below. The verbs are in the past tense because I am talking about the game after it has finished.
- Deu zebra. = It was an upset.
- Foi a maior zebra. = It was the biggest upset.
I want to say a big Obrigada to the Street Smart Brazil’s Facebook page members who taught me what an upset is in soccer language 🙂 It was very helpful.
My mom had a medical appointment on Monday to get some test results. I knew that she had been waiting for the appointment, so I called her in the evening to ask how it went. Here is our conversation:
Eu: Oi, mãe! E aí, como foi a consulta?
Mãe: Ah, deu a maior zebra e eu não pude ir ao médico. Meu carro quebrou.
Me: Hi, mom! So, how was the doctor appointment?
Mom: Ah, an unexpected problem happened and I could not go to the doctor. My car broke down.
Your coworker Felipe stood up an important client. Felipe is hoping that he can still close the deal, but you are not very optimistic about it. You say:
- Eu acho que vai dar a maior zebra. = I think this is going to be a big problem.
To best way to use new expressions with confidence is by practicing them. Street Smart Brazil offers Brazilian Portuguese lessons via Skype. We use a communicative approach to teach Portuguese in a practical way. The lessons are designed around real-life situations that you are likely to encounter.