It’s Not A Foreign Language. It’s Just Sports Talk, Featuring Other Voices That Agree With Me About The Pervasive And Negative Aspects Of Its Usage.
Soon, what are accepted as the two American sporting events that non-sports fans tune into will take center stage – Major League Baseball’s World Series, and a few months later the National Football League’s Super Bowl. And you can bet the farm that viewers will be listening to a steady stream of sports jargon and clichés that many viewers don’t understand.
For years, these two events have people who couldn’t care less about these sports become “weekend warrior” fans. It is a particular good time for the take-out food businesses because of the many sports-watching parties that occur yearly during these events. (I’ve been to a number of these parties and have noticed the following: Males who attend actually watch the events; most women, except those few who are fans, pay scant attention to the games or to the commercials that sponsors of the Super Bowl claim are sure magnets to attract their attention)
But over the years, one thing is certain: The games’ pre-and post game programs, along with the play-by-play announcers and their analysts, still refuse to accommodate those new or occasional viewers. They still use inside the sports world lingo and the self-concocted language to describe the actions on the playing fields.
Yes, I’ve written about this before: Here’s what some other media watchers say:
Way back in 2011, a Bleacherreport.com article by Ed Novelo wrote about the 356 most overused expressions in sports. “There are thousands of sports expressions, each more tired than the last — yet we hear them on a regular basis, and each time we cringe.
“Sadly, if you’ve heard one sports analyst or interview, you’ve heard them all, as their comments are a hodgepodge of clichés—and it gets tiresome,” he wrote in the first two graphs of his column. (You can google his selections and also a fake interview he did with a player that concludes his funny, but true, article.)
A 2022 article on LinkedIn by Ray Carnes. an author, musician, executive coach and businessman, on the use of sports jargon was titled, “Sports Analogies may not be the best way for Leaders to run their Company.” Mr. Carnes says using sports analogies can be useful for driving business, but for people who are unfamiliar with the analogies being used they will not be able to relate. Your efforts to communicate will leave them unable to draw any logical and emotional connections, and may even work to exclude them.”
The above paragraph reminds me of my days as a novice free-lance sports reporter, when I was told by one editor that he would put me on staff if I continued to get my college degree, which I did by taking several courses at night on days that fit in with my work schedule.
One of the required courses included English composition and the instructor assigned us to write an essay between 1500 and 2000 words about a subject of our choice. I decided to showcase my “creativity” and wrote a supposed sports page story filled with sports jargon that in those days wasn’t used nearly as much as sports announcers do today.
The instructor, a learned man who listened to the Saturday Metropolitan Opera broadcasts instead of tuning in the ballgames, told me it was unclear what I was referring to in much of my essay and that he was giving it a failing grade. I explained to him what the jargon meant and he gave me the option of writing a replacement essay using proper English “that everyone could understand,” which I did.
In Febtruary2021, an article by Hanna Greeman in 3Plus International, a business services consultancy, was titled “Does sports jargon exclude women and alienate international teams?” A subhead said, “Using sports jargon or idioms in the workplace can exclude women and be cross-culturally alienating in international teams.” The article concluded by saying, “We say why not just leave sports outside the office altogether?” I say, “Why not have sports announcers use proper English instead of sports jargon that is only understood by viewers who regularly watch the telecasts?”
Obviously, the brands that sponsor the sports programs feel the same way. Their commercials are free of the jargon used by the announcers. They want their commercials to be understood by everyone – even the first time viewers. But it’s not just the use of sports jargon that annoys me. It’s also the use of clichés. Since this essay is about the World Series and Super Bowl, I’ll limit the slang to words that announcers are likely to use during those events.(Because of space limitations, I’m only listing five in each sport that you’re likely to hear during the playoffs and championship games:
“He runs well for a catcher.”
“He really knows how to play the game.”
“He’s an underrated player.”
“These teams really don’t like each other.”
“He’s a student of the game.”
“It splits the uprights.”
“He’s got to hang onto the ball.”
“They have to establish the running game.”
“It all depends on where they spot the ball”
“The clock is ticking.”
And, perhaps, the one cliché that most applies to both baseball and football and all sports: “This is a game that they’ll be telling their grandchildren about.”
Even in the days when Newton Minow, the FCC chairman called television a vast wasteland (in 1961), defenders of the medium could point to its better side: Young children could broaden their vocabulary by tuning in acclaimed educational programs like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Adults new to our country could learn English by listening to the proper use of it by erudite broadcasters like William Buckley, Ed Murrow, Clifton Fadiman, George S. Kaufman and John Daley, Judy Woodruff, Barbara Walters, Walter Cronkite, Jim Lehrer and Ted Koppel. Or by sportscasters like Marty Glickman, Keith Jackson, Dick Enberg, Lindsey Nelson or Bob Murphy.
And in those days, maybe because sports programming wasn’t as prevalent as it is today, there was less use of sports clichés and sports jargon during sportscasting. A language of their own was still being invented by sports broadcasters. I still remember what Jimmy Murphy, a long-time sports editor, told me when I handed in a story about a football game he assigned me to. “Son,” he said, in a friendly voice. “You told me that you’re an English major in college, right? Well, take this story, get rid of all the jargon and clichés and rewrite it using words that a first time reader of a football article can understand.” Too bad sports announcers don’t feel that way.
Soon many non-sports fans will tune in to watch the World Series and Super Bowl. Many of these neophyte viewers will think they are listening to a broadcast in a foreign language. They’re not. They’re listening to announcers using a language of their own.
Great sports announcers don’t have to use sports jargon to describe the action. As Vin Scully proved during his long career, the English language when used properly is sufficient and jargon and clichés don’t improve it. Sadly, none of today’s announcers can match Scully’s use of our language, but many can learn from it.