Archive for Language and sports

The New Yorker baubles it

Yesterday, The New Yorker posted an article on its website: "The Error in Baseball and the Moral Dimension to American Life," by Stephen Marche. As originally published, the article contained this paragraph (emphasis mine):

In practice, “ordinary effort” describes, as Bill James wrote, what should have happened. What should have happened in a piece of fielding can have nothing to do with the play of the fielder. Utter offered me a case: The runner hits the ball into the outfield, the fielder baubles the ball, and the runner advances to second. Is that an error? It depends. “What we would have to look at is—is it a single or is it a double? Or is it a single and advance on an error or on the throw?” The way that the scorer determines whether that bauble is an error or not has less to do with the action of the fielder than with the action of the runner. “Was the runner going all the time? Did he never think about stopping at first? Or was he running and looking at the play and then slowed down a little bit and then took off when he saw the little bauble?” If he paused, noticed the misplay, and ran to second, “That becomes the error.”

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A brief history of "taking a knee"

With dozens of NFL players "taking a knee" during the national anthem as a form of silent protest, the very phrase "take a knee" has been invested with new significance. "Take a knee" or "take the knee" now expresses solidarity against racial injustice and defiance against Donald Trump's attacks on protesting players. As the phrase dominates the headlines, it's worth taking a look at its history in football and beyond. While The Dictionary of American Slang dates the expression back to the 1990s (as noted by John Kelly on his Mashed Radish blog), I've found examples in football going all the way back to 1960. And while "taking a knee" may have also become a military tradition, the phrase's origin is firmly rooted in football, with a number of interlocking uses.

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When taking a stand involves sitting

The most pervasive metaphor in English may be the use of "higher" to mean "better" (e.g., stronger or more moral), which has spawned endless figures of speech.  It's hard to avoid those metaphorical phrases, although that might be wise in situations in which "higher" also has a relevant physical meaning.  The New York Times on Saturday ran the following headline:

(1) As Trump Takes On Athletes, Watch Them Rise

Indeed, these athletes may be rising metaphorically as a political force.  But they're refusing to rise physically for the singing of the U.S. national anthem.  On the same day, the New York Times wrote (in this article, though it has now been edited away):

(2) Some people urged more players to kneel or sit during the anthem at football stadiums on Sunday as a way to reinforce their First Amendment rights. Others urged more white players to stand with black players who have knelt or sat during the anthem.

How confusing!  White players are urged to stand metaphorically with their black teammates … by physically kneeling or sitting with them, or by speaking out afterwards.

But how do we readers know that "stand with" in (2) is metaphorical?  Why couldn't the second sentence be about white players standing physically?

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Censored belly, Tibetan tattoo

[This is a guest post by Jichang Lulu.]

Imagine that a certain phrase could be potentially offensive to the authoritarian rulers of a country you would like to do business in. To promote that business, you intend to display images of certain professionals who work for you. One of these professionals has indelibly inscribed the potentially offensive phrase on their belly. The professional activity you wish to promote typically involves barebelliedness.

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Iron Crotch

Here on Language Log, we have devoted a considerable amount of attention to the terminology related to kungfu:

"Kung-fu (Gongfu) Tea" (7/20/11)

See also Ben Zimmer's masterful article on Visual Thesaurus:

"How 'Kung Fu' Entered the Popular Lexicon" (1/17/14)

Now we have documentation for another type of kungfu that has hitherto eluded us:

(YouTube video here.)

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Portable air filter for North China smog

Ad in the Beijing subway:

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Big-league metaphors: the role of sports language in American politics

Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining fellow Language Logger Barbara Partee on Josh Chetwynd's KGNU radio show, "The Real Deal in Sports." Josh is the author of The Field Guide to Sports Metaphors, and he spoke to Barbara and me about how the metaphorical language of sports pervades American politics (especially in the latest presidential campaign). We mulled over how those metaphors shape our political discourse, and callers joined in with their own thoughts. You can listen to the hourlong broadcast here.

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"Add oil"

If you attend Chinese sporting events, you will often hear fans exhort their team to jiāyóu 加油.  Should you ask them what that means, they might reply "add oil", which would undoubtedly leave you feeling rather puzzled.  From the context, functionally you know that it must mean something like "go!".  But how one gets from "add oil" to "go" remains something of a mystery.  Cf. the comments to "Non-translation" (7/24/16).

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Go China

Jason Cox sent in the following very brief video from the USA-China basketball game at the Rio Olympics, showing a man holding a sign that says "Go USA".

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Non-translation

A rather disturbing (at least to me) article in the South China Morning Post (7/24/16), "How China’s quest to become a football powerhouse is revamping the beautiful game:  China has emerged as deep-pocketed investor in what amounts to a global power grab for influence in football", is preceded by this photograph:

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Spanish or Catalan?

An article in BBC News (7/21/16), "Former Barcelona star Carles Puyol in 'Spanish' row", begins thus:

While promoting popular online platform Tencent Sports, Puyol said "Soy Carles Puyol y soy espanol" ("I am Carles Puyol and I am Spanish"), prompting an angry reaction from many Catalans, Spanish sports website Sport.es reports. Although technically correct – Puyol won the World Cup playing for Spain in 2010 – it's been seen as an insult to his native Catalonia region, which has ambitions to become independent.

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"Enter the Dangal"

Earlier this year, Language Log readers contributed to the elucidation of "South Asian wrestling terms" (3/1/16).

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Recursive epitomology

Today's SMBC:

Mouseover title: "Life rule: Never do anything you've done more than 3 times already."

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