Blog in 01 2011.
There’s something about the language of sport. It seems to exist in its own little bubble.
For a start, they use old-fashioned idioms that no longer make sense in the real world. Where else, for example, would you hear about people who are over the moon, at sixes and sevens or setting out their stall? On the whole, purveyors of sports talk bombard us with clichés then waffle endlessly about trivia and stats.
But sometimes you get exceptions that make enduring the dirge worthwhile.
Stuart Hall was a football commentator whose descriptions painted striking pictures. But he wasn’t alone; sporting history is littered with poetry, comedy and storytelling. (Muhammad Ali did all three.)
This podcast from BBC Sport’s Tim Franks is a lovely little tribute to the language of sport. He looks at how interesting language can elevate even the most pointless pursuits to epic proportions.
Listen out for an Alan Partidge-esque appearance from Eric Morecambe at 4.57.
If you think the subject you're writing about is too mundane to be interesting, think again. And try adding a bit of personality. Take a leaf out the book of BBC London Travel's tweeters and have some fun with your words. Here are a couple we liked:
A surfeit of precipitation. Ergo A12 Eastbound between Aldborough Rd & Hainault Road - carriageway is 50% deficient
The Underground railway isn't available at Liverpool Street at present whilst the fire alarms therein reverberate
Her Maj's Jubilee line is ok now. this means that in fact the entire choob network is running efficiently. let's see how long it lasts
Last month we asked our Twitter followers to tell us their favourite 19th century novels, but in six words. This month we’ve turned to horror movies. And here are some of the results:
Michael Myers. And not Austin Powers (Halloween) Aliens. Inevitable twist. Water. Keep swinging. (Signs) Nothing's happening. Nothing's happening. Nothing happened. (Blair Witch Project)
Shower scene. Reiii! Reiiii! Reiii! Reiiii! (Psycho)
That Damien, he's a wrong 'un. (Damien: The Omen II)
Monster destroys NYC. Captured on camcorder. (Cloverfield)
Twigs in patterns. Zip up tent. (Blair Witch Project) Shaky bed. Spinny head. Something's up. (The Exorcist)
One man. One chainsaw. Two faces. (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
Girls in a hole. With goblins?! (The Descent)
Policeman burnt by May Day celebrations. (The Wicker Man) Pooch bites US travellers in Blighty. (An American Werewolf in London)
Candyman! Candyman! Candyman! Candyman! Candyman! Aaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrgghuuer (Candyman)
Many flapping wings, in their faces. (The Birds)
Pianist embroiled in oedipal spree killings. (Profondo Rosso) Virgin policeman sacrificed for fruit harvest. (The Wicker Man) Devil rape. Pixie crop. Tannis root. (Rosemary's Baby) Intergalactic monster interrupts dinner, android revolts. (Alien) Snowbound writer's block creates family rift. (The Shining)
Don't sleep. Freddy's coming for you. (Nightmare on Elm Street) Slow walkers. Brain hunger. Car breakdown. (Definitely something with zombies.) Close ups. Snot. Sticks. Stones. Unexplained. (Blair Witch Project) Twisted doll, not Barbie. Runs amok. (Child’s Play)
Girl in bed. Priest. Holy shit! (The Exorcist)
You're back? But you were dead. (Return of the Living Dead)
Menopausal Sangria breakdown. Pierce Brosnan "sings". (Mamma Mia!)
Here’s a prediction from The Sun (via The Guardian):
The whole world could be speaking a single language called Techlish within 100 years. A blend of English and IT jargon is booming as hundreds of ancient dialects die out. (Quoted in The Guardian.)
It is, of course, absolutely wrong – people have been making the same predictions since time began. A good example was the Inkhorn Controversy in the sixteenth century, when English was borrowing words left, right and centre from Latin.
People hated the idea that English wasn’t good enough on its own. That erudite scholars had to taint it with foreign coinages. Critics called the new words inkhorn as a reference to the writing tool those scholars used. Illecebrous (attractive), exolete (obsolete) and fatigate (to fatigue) are a few of the words that didn’t survive for very long.
But the inkhorn terms that filled a gap in English lived on. Without that period of Latin influence, we wouldn’t have mundane, fertile, contemplate, confidence, frivolous and celebrate. And without this extra layer of vocabulary, we wouldn’t be able to express anywhere near as many different thoughts and feelings – and English wouldn’t be the wonderfully poetic and literary language it is today.
If a dialect dies out, it’s because nobody needs to speak it anymore. And if new words flood into English, it’s because there’s a genuine need.
People know that. It’s only the pedants who don’t.
*All the inkhorn words in this blog came from worldwidewords.org/articles/inkhorn.htm.