Sporting English

Welcome to our sporting English page.

On this page you will find a growing list of resources regarding the English of sport.

If you would like to contribute with a link or links, please contact us.

Sporting English – our blog posts

Dude, where’s my definition?
Is there a single word that you use in normal conversation that can define what sort of person you are? Apparently, I am defined by my regular usage of the word dude.

Of Trotskyism and skateboarding
… a Caballerial is a 360-degree turn while riding fakie. This move was named after Steve Caballero, who invented the trick in the early 1980s. The term combines his name with the word aerial, as the move takes place in the air.

Two short legs and a silly point: learn (about) English through cricket
One of the things that puts people off cricket is its apparently unfathomable vocabulary. But the language of cricket is just one of thousands of “sublanguages” in English, and like most aspects of language it has its own logic. Once you have cracked the system, it all becomes much clearer …

Two short legs and a silly point: learn (about) English through cricket. Part 2: Origins
We think of cricket as a very ‘English’ game, and nowadays it’s mainly played in parts of the former British empire: Australasia, the Indian subcontinent, South Africa, and the Caribbean. But its history is more complex.

Two short legs and a silly point: learn (about) English through cricket. Part 3: terminology
Most terms used in tennis, for example, are common English words used in specialized ways: break, serve, set – even love. Similarly, grammarians talk about moods, aspects, and cases. This is an important fact about sublanguages: the words don’t always look ‘technical’. It’s the same with cricket. There is plenty of ‘obvious’ terminology: the googly, zooter and yorker, for example, are words for describing different ways of bowling the ball at the batsman.

Poacher turned gamewinner
There is a rich seam of metaphor for goal-scoring drawn from the vocabulary of hunting and theft. A striker can be described as a predator. On a good day he might plunder a hat-trick. Goal-scoring chances are taken, goals can netted as well as poached. Winners are snatched.

Too clever by half time
One aspect of football lingo that delights me – and there are many – is this curious habit football journalists and commentators have of ascribing human attributes to parts of the body. Kaká has clever feet. In other words, he can make them move with speed and guile and perform all sorts of trickery with them.

Be a sport about clichés
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.

A bad day at the office
Sport may seem far removed from the day-to-day realities of office life: desktop computers, in trays, expenses claims, water coolers, commuting … So it always strikes me as slightly incongruous when a player or manager faces the cameras and microphones for a post-match interview and sums up a poor performance as a bad day at the office.

Goal
In many ball sports, the goal is to score a goal in the goal. Immediately we see that the word goal has several related meanings. It can indicate the physical structure, typically a net with a frame, in which a player tries to put the ball; it can be the act of doing this (“scoring a goal”); and, more figuratively, it can refer to the aim or intention behind it.

Sport shorts
What makes me giggle though, is the way they talk about injuries. Here sports people are doing the opposite of using too many words and actually using too few, to great comic effect in my view. If someone injures their hamstring, this situation is referred to as follows: The lad’s got a hamstring.

A bad day on the pitch
A game of football can be seen as a ritualized battle, a quest for a goal, full of sublimated violence and complex rules and behaviours. The game has its heroes and villains, just as in real life. Even people who don’t particularly like (watching) football can identify with its purpose and themes, so it seems natural that specific terms from football cross over into everyday life …

Magpies and Quarterboys
Probably the least interesting way of referring to a club is to shorten the whole name, hence Manchester United are known as Man. U. while their close friends rivals are known as Man. City (can you guess their full name?). Other examples of simple abbreviations for English clubs are Spurs (Tottenham Hotspur) and Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanderers).

In a league of our own
It’s still sporting English month here on the blog, but it’s not long till metaphor month kicks off in April, so now seems an appropriate time to think about the figurative uses of the word league.

Blunt as a bag of wet mice
Hudson is an Englishman based in the U.S., but his phrase was like an old Irish English expression. Some traditional sayings in Ireland use mice for humorous effect: a very sharp razor would “shave a mouse asleep”, while a useless person, or someone unable for a task, is “fit to mind mice at a crossroads”.

Other links

Lifting the silverware
English football jargon is travelling worldwide. … Following (= understanding) the English commentary can sometimes be challenging. There are specialist terms (sometimes several for the same thing), typical expressions, and verbs that behave in unusual ways. This article includes a selection of the common terms you’ll often hear used when people talk about football.

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