Category Archives: Sport

Hotly tipped CNN article

A few days ago, Fred Vultee posted about a CNN article in his HEADSUP blog. The article was about a college basketball game between Duke and the University of North Carolina in which Duke star Zion Williamson suffered an injury after his shoe fell apart while he was playing. Here’s the online headline:

cnn.scuppered.2029.0221

The language was a bit off, as Vultee, a copyeditor (subeditor in BrE) turned college professor, noted: “I don’t recall much transitive scuppering from my years of reading American sports pages.” (In 2016 I did report on a rise in U.S. use of the word, though my examples were from coverage of politics, not sports.)

The CNN article went all in on the Britishisms. Vultee supplied an annotated screenshot of the first few paragraphs.

cnn.2019.0221.AmericanEnglish

Of the underlined phrases, I’ve covered”match” (AmE: “game”) and I believe “side” (“team”) as Not One-Off-Sportisms. “Forcing him off” (not underlined by Vultee) also is familiar from soccer/football coverage. But I would guess that “hotly tipped” (“highly touted”) and “local derby” (meaning a game in a regularly played regional rivalry) have never appeared in a U.S. publication.

You’ll note I didn’t write “have never before appeared…” That’s because the CNN article came out of the network’s international division and was written by a staffer named George Ramsay, who appears to be based in England and who almost always writes about rugby. I tweeted Ramsay at @georgeramsay6 to ask whether he was aware that the expressions he used were so unfamiliar in the U.S.–whether he was having a bit of fun–but haven’t heard back from him yet.

“Big ask”

This line appeared in a December 2018 New York Times review of the Nicole Kidman movie Destroyer: “That she’s also a better detective than a mother makes her somewhat of an outlier, at least in American movies. If Bell [the Kidman character] were a man and father, and played by, say, Denzel Washington, this wouldn’t be a big ask.”

That “ask” is a shift of the word from verb to noun, meaning, basically, “request.” (“Request” started as a noun in about 1400 and was being used as a verb no later than 100 years later.) The OED cites uses of noun “ask” back to the 13th century, including this from a 1656 Bible translation: “God saith concerning Christ, thou art my Son, there presently followeth an Ask of me and I will give thee.” The dictionary says it is now “somewhat rare,” with three exceptions. The first is in bridge and whist, where it means “A play or bid having the primary purpose of eliciting information about a partner’s hand.” (“Who has not suffered when he has played correctly second hand..from his partner assuming that there has been an ask for trumps?” Westminster Papers, 1872.) The second is in finance, where it means “asking price.” And the third is when it’s modified by an adjective like “big,” “huge,” or “impossible, as in the Times quote above.

I would tend to disagree with the last category. That is, I accept that the current popularity of “ask” as a noun started with “big ask,” as we’ll see, but I think it’s very much out there by itself, as are such similar nouns as “get,” “reveal,” and “fail.” See the title of a 2017 book about fundraising by Laura Fredericks, The Ask: For Business, For Philanthropy, For Everyday Living. So I would recommend including “big ask” citations in the main definition.

As I say, the recent surge in “ask”-as-noun started with “big ask,” and it started in Australian sport(s). The OED has a 1987 quote from the Sydney Morning Herald, the quotation marks indicating a fairly recent coinage: “Four measly pounds is what the critics say. But according to his trainer..that four pounds is ‘a big ask’.”

I believe I can antedate that. The Google Books database has a “big ask” from what appears to be a short story in the Australian journal The Bulletin, vol. 97, 1975. “A big ask, though. They wanted a grand. Anyway I got two spot bail and the case is still swingin’.”

The phrase stayed in Australia for a while. Writing on the American Dialect Society listserv, Peter Reitan reported checking the newspapers.com database and finding that “every single hit from 1988 through 2006 is either from an Australian newspaper, or quotes a native Australian, typically athletes.”

Some American uses in that period can be found elsewhere. The (California) Orange County Register, August 29, 1993, referring to a program at the University of California, Irvine, reported: “[The American-born director] bundled seven projects into one Big Ask, for a regional alliance called Defense Photonics Medical Consortium.”

A chart showing frequency of “big ask” in American newspapers in the Lexis-Nexis database shows growth that’s gradual in the decade of the 2000s, and dramatic in the 2010s.

screen shot 2019-01-21 at 8.38.19 am

Over in the U.K., the phrase was in circulation no later than 2006, when Friends of the Earth started a “Big Ask” campaign to fight climate change.

And someone posted this definition on Urban Dictionary in 2012:

Misused by stupid British soccer commentators as a substitute for job, task, or assignment.

“He has to stop Messi from scoring tonight: that’s a big ask.”

 

“Own goal”

The OED has two definitions for “own goal.” The first is, in reference to “sport,” is “A goal scored against the scorer’s own team, usually unintentionally.” The dictionary cites a use of the term in 1922 but the next one isn’t till the Sunday Pictorial‘s use in 1947, the quotation marks around the phrase suggesting it hadn’t yet entered public parlance: “An amazing ‘own goal’ by Wilf Mannion.” The OED has a 1998 quote from the Miami Herald in reference to hockey, and I would judge that in recent years the term is commonly used by Americans discussing that sport and what we still call “soccer.”

The second definition is: “fig[urative]. (orig. and chiefly Brit.). An act that unintentionally harms one’s own interests.” The first citation is from the The Economist in 1975: “The doyen of the Tribune group..scored an own goal on Wednesday night… His speech at a packed Tribune rally was a gross tactical miscalculation of [etc.].”

All the citations are British, but figurative “own goal” has definitely arrived in the United States. The term’s growth may have been spurred by a 2010 article in Harper’s that got a lot of attention: “Own Goal: How Homeless Soccer Explains the World.” In any case, it’s now very much out and about. In an article that will be published in the New York Times Magazine on December 23, but that has already been posted online, Jason Zengerle writes that Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings

batted back Republicans’ most incendiary charges against Obama by pointing to the lack of any real evidence, and repeatedly provoked [Republican Congressman Darrell] Issa into own goals, like the time Issa received negative coverage for ordering Cummings’s microphone cut off when Cummings tried to make a statement at the end of a hearing.

 

 

 

The Ascendance of “Sport”

I wrote here, and again here, about Americans’ use of the typically BrE “sport,” rather than the traditionally American “sports.” I’ve continued to see a lot of examples, most recently from tennis star Venus Williams yesterday at the Australian Open:

I think why people love sport so much is because you see everything in a line. In that moment, there is no do-over. There’s no retake. There is no voice-over. It’s triumph and  disaster witnessed in real time. This is why people live and die for sport, because you can’t fake it.

At this point, AmE “sport” seems sufficiently widespread not to warrant further comment.

More “Kit”

Spotted yesterday on Twitter from the American online magazine Slate:

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 12.52.29 PM

Obviously, Slate is using “kit” for what an American would usually call a jersey or shirt. My question is, would a British person refer to “France kit” or “French kit”?

“(Full) credit to…”

I spied a relatively subtle addition to the list of British football expressions taken up by American soccer participants in a quote in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer. The American-born manager (actually, that’s another one–American lingo would be “coach”) of the Philadelphia Union, after a loss, said: “Credit to Dallas because they outplayed us from that point on.”

The more common British sports cliche (and correct me if I’m wrong) would be “Full credit to…” But they both differ from typical American coach-speak in this situation, which is,  “Give them credit.”

I told you it was subtle.

False alarm

My heart quickened when I saw this article on the website Bleacher Report: pace

The reason is that my friend David Friedman, an (American) West Ham supporter, periodically tells me about terms specific to English football, and one of them is pace, referring to the fleetness of a player. Americans, of course, use speed. The Bleacher Report story on the NBA (National Basketball Association) seemed like proof that the word had crossed over.

Was it Hamlet who said, “I know not ‘seems'”? In any case, it turned out the Americanization of pace was an illusion. The Bleacher report piece went on:

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 8.54.19 PM That is, the writer was talking about a team’s pace of play, not an individual’s foot speed. Never mind.