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Cricket fans tell me that there is nothing intrinsically silly about silly mid off, which is a position on the cricket pitch. I’ll have to take their word for it. But there are lots of instances of language misuse in the discussion of our games that do come off sounding pretty silly.
For example, when the U.S. women’s soccer team beat Canada on Monday in an exhibition game, one headline read: “U.S. Women Throttle Canada in 4-0 Friendly.” The presence of “throttle” and “friendly” in the same sentence is intriguing, especially since nobody got “throttled” or even “thumped,” as another story of the same game had it. The Canadian team just got outplayed.
Of course one team almost always outplays the other, and it would be dull if each sports story began with that observation. So sportswriters and the editors responsible for headlines seek alternatives. Some of the goofiest of those alternatives take advantage of team names.
So in a recent NHL match-up, the Hurricanes swamped the hibernating Bruins, though they really didn’t. Concern with precision doesn’t deter writers determined to have the Flames scorching the Wings or the Buffaloes trampling the Dolphins.
That last presents a troubling image, though not as troubling as the images conjured up by sportswriters inclined to equate our games with war. For them, home runs and long passes are bombs and teams that lose are crushed, slaughtered, smashed, annihilated or dismembered.
Even in NFL games, annihilation is unheard of, and dismemberment is rare. These are terms more appropriate to the front page of the newspaper, where innocents who have actually been smashed, annihilated, dismembered, and crushed are sometimes described by those responsible for the smashing and annihilation as “collateral damage.”
Which brings up what seems to me another silly use of language in sports writing. How frequently have you read that a winning team has embarrassed their opponents? How often do you think the members of the team coming up short have actually felt embarrassed?
My guess is that generally, after a brief period of disappointment, the players on the losing team start realizing they are playing games and feeling fortunate that, the loss notwithstanding, they are still being paid a lot of money to do so, and that there will be more games.
Meanwhile, the people whose machines of annihilation and dismemberment cause the collateral damage never seem to be described as embarrassed. I wonder if they ever are?
Bill Littlefield comments on sports for WBUR and hosts “Only A Game” each Saturday at 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.
This program aired on May 29, 2009.
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