Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Football Fandom vs. The English Language

It's early August, NFL teams are still in training camp and I'm already sick of the overbearing football coverage (thank you Brett Favre for stealing Shark Week's thunder by announcing... nothing).

Even more frustrating will be the consistent abuses of language and the lexicon of completely made up words we'll be inundated with once the games start. Here is some of my favorite creative vocabulary I've been hearing lately from the talking heads who announce the sport:


Though it's actually a part of a car, or a derivative of a function, football announcers always use "differential" to mean "difference." Of course, people will say that the official definition of 'differential' now includes 'difference,' so the two words are technically synonymous, but why alter the definition of 'differential' to accommodate these folks when there's the perfectly good word 'difference' sitting right there unused?

And yes, you can point out that I'm a hypocrite because I used 'people' instead of 'persons' but that's an argument I will vigorously refudiate.


Another word falling into the technically-correct-but-annoying category is "defensed," as in "that play was well defensed." I don't know what football announcers have against the verb "defend" or why they feel "well-defended" doesn't sound as good as "well-defensed" but hearing conjugations of "defense" is to me like hearing a fork on a chalkboard.

Space=the open field, or what was once called "the flat"

Then there's the baffling use of the word 'space.' Watch any football game for a few minutes and you'll hear an announcer say something like "they need to get the ball to him in space," or "he's very dangerous out in space." These announcers were probably kids in the 70's when everything was better in space: Josey and the Pussycats in Space, Pigs in Space, etc.

But what they mean is the open field, like, the runner needs 'space' around him to execute a play (that's a great insight on the part of the announcers, by the way, saying that a player will do better when a defender [sorry, a defenser] isn't all up in his grill).

Many times this open field they're talking about is specifically the area toward the sidelines within a few yards of the line of scrimmage, an area that used to be called "the flat." I don't know what happened to "the flat" but we used to use it all the time back in the day. Short passes were called "flat routes" because when you drew them on paper they were shorter, or flatter than longer patterns. Pitches, laterals, sweeps, were all designed for "the flat." Maybe they opted for "space" over "flat" because "flat space" doesn't have enough gravity.

That's the best astrophysics pun you will read all day.

Chippy=irritable, fractious, testy

This word apparently comes from Canada and the world of ice hockey, which means it has absolutely no place in American football. It means fractious, and it's meant to describe when tempers get flared and players get more combative and start to scuffle. But it just sounds dumb, doesn't it? "They're getting a little chippy out there" or "this game is starting to get chippy" doesn't quite capture the feeling of watching 300-pound dudes about to tear each others heads off.

Now, I understand that when announcing a game that's watched by millions of teenage boys you can't really use the word "testy," and "fractious" sounds a little bookish and snooty, but there's got to be something better than a word that also means prostitute or a fish and chips shop. "Touchy"? "Ornery"? "Quarrelsome"? "Obstreperous"?

O.K. these aren't much better, so I'll make a deal: I'll give Dan Dierdorf a season's worth of saying "chippy" if he says "obstreperous" just once.

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