Announcers

Fighting an old challenge: Learn the rudimentary; Voices should adhere to proper grammar

 

John & Jane Can’t Speak English Properly 

Solomon

Fabricating a lexicon for sports commentators as we know them, belies what’s really taking place on the field. 

It adds to a dwelling problem. Why should sports voices be given a pass for misusing the English language? Non-sports news commentators and print journalists  are held to higher standards. 

Surveys have revealed that students avoid STEM courses – the related technical disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, simply because they are too hard! 

But academic standards have generally lowered into a weakening depth of knowledge by American students. I remember when, in my last year at a junior high school and still in my freshman year of high school, I was required to read the works of Shakespeare and other books that fall under the umbrella cover of classics: “Moby Dick,” “The Red Badge of Courage,” “The Canterbury Tales,” “The Scarlet Letter,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” and other book of that ilk. 

By the time I was in my sophomore year in college, high school students at some schools were now reading books by Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and occasionally, I was told by an English teacher, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe, which was the lone book that could be considered a classic.  “Anything to get students away from TV language, especially those used on sports broadcasts and encourage them to read a book, a teacher told me.” 

By the time I was a college senior, maybe because of the growth and popularity of TV sit-coms and crime shows, reading classics labeled a person an “egg head.” That was when a Liberal Art college degree was looked down upon for not preparing graduates for a job and many colleges, as it is today, offered what were in actuality trade course classes like public relations, advertising, marketing, lawyering, sports management and, of course, sports broadcasting. 

While people can argue what effect television has had on the dumbing down of American students, there can be no disagreement about why many Johns and Janes no longer speak the proper English: It’s the language used on many TV programs, especially sports broadcasts, which have the largest audiences. And the prime culprits are the play-by-play announcers and analysts because they speak a concocted English. 

I’ve watched more baseball, football, and basketball games than a sane person should, both as a sports writer and PR pro, who managed many sports and non-sports corporate and marketing national and international accounts. 

I can truthfully say that I’ve never seen a batter “punch” a pitch, instead of using his bat, or “slice” the ball before hitting it, or “dribble” the ball, unless he was playing basketball before the baseball game began, or during batting practice, when I stood behind the batting cage. I never heard the “chin music” that announcers says the batter hears when a pitch is close to the head. I might be tune-deaf, but I’m not stupid enough to believe that the batter or announcer heard music either. 

There are too many “inside baseball” words, those that announcers use that do not make sense, except to dedicated baseball fans. And you can bet the farm that those words will be used by your favorite announcers to describe what is happening at the expense of using proper English. When I was a novice sports writer, the first article I turned in was returned to me by a copy desk editor, who noted, “Don’t use jargon. Use words that a reader would known and understand. ”

During my days as a sports reporter, newsroom talk included many “inside sports” words, but we never used them in our print reports. Likewise, when I publicized Broadway shows, there were many words that those involved in the trade used among themselves, but never in the press releases we wrote about the shows. And when I taught public relations at the Army Information School only proper English was permitted to be used. Not military jargon. 

Nonsports newscasters do just fine without using rich words and whose meanings are different from their dictionary definitions. Why sports announcers should be excused for using a concocted language that is beyond my reasoning. Vin Scully showed that the English language when used properly can be beautiful and that using slang (and statistics) is not necessary.

Below are a few announcer words that contribute to the dumbing down of the American language and that does not make sense to the uninitiated.

  • “Air mailed the throw”
  • “Around the horn”
  • “A Baltimore chop”
  • “A Texas Leaguer”
  • “A Basket catch”
  • “Ducks on the pond”
  • “An excuse me swing”
  • “Expanding the strike zone”

Words like “blitz,” “shot gun,” bomb” and occasionally “bullet pass,” which was used more frequently many years ago, are used to describe football plays. Often, these words make as much sense to  occasional viewers as do other “inside football” terms that are commonly used without any explanation of their meaning, such as “bull rush,” or “cover 0-1-2-3 or 4,” even though there are 11 players on the field for each team. Fairness gets me to admit that the use of “inside football” terms have been far less damaging to the English language than those used by baseball announcers because the football season is so much shorter. 

Perhaps it’s time for a “Sports Lingo” game that would have students of all ages translate the language that sports announcers use into proper English. The winners would receive a dictionary and thesaurus, and in many cases free tutoring in the proper use of English. 

It’s unsure though whether sports announcers will consistently qualify as teachers of the basics of grammar.

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Arthur Solomon

Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications and consults on public relations projects. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com.

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Michael Green
3 months ago

I’ll cheerfully second Mr. Solomon on the use of jargon. I am a history professor and I correct grammar and writing a lot, but I cannot stand lapsing into jargon. Now, I will allow for this: Some of these terms, like a “Baltimore chop,” are historic terms that may be worth using IF THE SPEAKER EXPLAINS THEM. Sometimes they don’t, and that is annoying even to those who know what it means. I also think of Red Barber, who used a set of phrases that his audiences understood. Red once said that one of the most important classes he took… Read more »