In his book Strictly Speaking, the newscaster and author Edwin Newman wrote: “There is no way to measure the destructive effect of sports broadcasting on ordinary American English, but it must be considerable.”
This is harsh, but you can see where he’s coming from. Sports commentary has a reputation for stating the obvious, resorting to hyperbole and, maybe most of all, relying on clichés. When the umpteenth soccer pundit (typically a former player) tells us it’s a “game of two halves”, we might sigh wearily, grudgingly acknowledge the validity of this tired truism, or idly wish there were a fresh way of saying it, or more ways of not saying it at all.
Perhaps even more reviled is “at the end of the day”. This throwaway idiom is also popular with politicians – Irish ones, anyway – and means something between “ultimately” and nothing whatsoever. Its versatility and existential vagueness might be partly why it’s so commonly used: novelist Kazuo Ishiguro has defended it as “very deep” and “very close to reflecting the human condition”.
Sports generally have their own lingo, sometimes a vast one: the Dickson Baseball Dictionary has over 1,000 pages. Many expressions spread from sport to general usage, and baseball is very productive in this respect. I’ve never watched the game, but I’ve often heard curve ball, in the ballpark, and ground rules. These phrases either originated in baseball or were popularised by it, and they have been adapted so widely that people understand them intuitively in all sorts of contexts.
Sports terminology can be entertaining, too. When I encounter a sport I know little about, the language of analysts makes it more interesting and enjoyable. The most effective commentators are fans as well as experts (and with a reasonable command of language). They know the sport inside out, they love it passionately, and they have idiosyncratic ways of communicating their insights and enthusiasm.
Broadcast discussions about sport, be they live commentaries or off-the-cuff interviews, inevitably fall back on stale banalities now and then. But whether you appreciate sports clichés, ignore them or denounce them, they’re not all bad. They’re probably just a sign that the speaker isn’t giving 110%.Email this Post