Archive for Language and sports

Of castrated cows and Three Finger Brown

New York Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom, who got the win in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the L.A. Dodgers, received a glowing profile in The New York Times: "Straight Out of Hollywood: The New Guy Outpitches the Ace." When the article first appeared online this morning, it included this line, in the middle of a description of deGrom's "winding and tangled" path to the major leagues:

He also broke a finger castrating a cow, which set him back.

I don't have a screenshot of the article as it originally appeared, and NewsDiffs didn't catch it, but I found out about it on Facebook thanks to MLB historian John Thorn. Very quickly, however, the article was revised to read:

He also broke a finger castrating a calf, which set him back.

And the Times appended this wonderful correction:

An earlier version of this article misidentified the animal Jacob deGrom broke a finger castrating. It was a calf, not a cow.

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Headlines that do "absolutely not" scan well

At an event at Salem State University yesterday, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was interviewed on stage by sportscaster Jim Gray. Gray used the opportunity to ask Brady about the just-released Ted Wells report on Deflategate, and to ask him if the scandal "tainted" the Patriots' Super Bowl win. The headline that appeared on ESPN's news feed was: "Brady: Report does 'absolutely not' mar title."

The headline on MassLive was not so terse but used similar phrasing: "Tom Brady says Wells Report does 'absolutely not' take away from New England Patriots Super Bowl win."

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Autocomplete strikes again

I think I know how an unsuitable but immensely rich desert peninsula got chosen by FIFA (the international governing body for major soccer tournaments) to host the soccer World Cup in 2022.

First, a personal anecdote that triggered my hypothesis about the decision. I recently sent a text message from my smartphone and then carelessly slipped it into my pocket without making sure it had gone to sleep.

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The paucity of curse words in Japanese

In "Ichiro Suzuki Uncensored, en Español:  Between the Lines, Japanese Star Is Known as a First-Class Spanish Trash Talker", via Andy Cheung, the Yankees outfielder is quoted thus:  "…we don't really have curse words in Japanese, so I like the fact that the Western languages allow me to say things that I otherwise can't."

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Ken Mallott found a Chinese use of a Japanese word in a way that surprised him.  He explains that he's an Orioles fan, and in 2012 they signed Taiwanese pitcher Wei-Yin Chen (陳殷), who apparently has quite the following back in Taiwan. His fans have taken to posting Chinese messages in traditional script on Facebook before 殷仔's starts, encouraging their fellow supporters to get up early to watch him pitch.

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A zeugmatic crash blossom to torment Mets fans

As if New York Mets fans don't have to suffer enough, what with the five straight losing seasons and the embarrassing bullpen meltdown in yesterday's home opener, this headline (tweeted by Mark Fishkin) appeared in today's Wall Street Journal:

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Phonetic symbols of the Republic of China on American baseball caps

Below is a photo that Bryan Van Norden took of a baseball cap a guy was wearing at a casino in Atlantic City. Someone else at the table asked him what it meant, and he said he thought it was Chinese for "good luck." Bryan explained that he was wrong.

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The multilingual name of a Taiwanese baseball team

In Tainan, Taiwan, there's an amateur sports team that calls itself the Yěqiú rén bàngqiú duì 野球人棒球隊, the English version of which is "Yakyuman Baseball Team"

Here's their Facebook page.

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Language change in progress – us and our Red Sox buddies

Just now I was washing breakfast dishes and mentally composing a Facebook post, which started out “Last night was not a good night for Orioles – Red Sox – anti-Yankees fans! The three way tie for first place got broken in the worst direction! Us and our Red Sox buddies …” and I forget how that sentence was going to end, because I was caught up short noticing how it began. I’ve known about the ongoing spread of the ‘accusative’ pronouns forever – Sapir wrote about it (as a case of “language drift”), and Ed Klima, one of my favorite grad school professors, had worked on it and talked with us about it (we tried to figure out what kinds of rules would make ‘us’ and ‘me’ not get nominative in conjoined subjects while "I" and "we" as simple subjects are obligatorily marked nominative, and discussed similarities with French ‘disjunctive’ pronoun ‘moi’ vs. clitic subject 'je'). And it was the source of my oft-repeated anecdote about my son Morriss in 4th grade asking me to proofread a composition he had just written – it started out ‘Seth and I went to the mall’ and he pointed to ‘Seth and I’, and said to me “That’s how you spell “me and Seth”, right?”.

But none of that had prepared me for having it emerge in my own dialect. But there it was. And when I think about putting “We and our Red Sox buddies” instead, it sounds over-formal, doesn’t fit in the context of baseball buddies. So it looks like “us and …” has made the move from passive recognition to becoming an active part of my (most?) colloquial register, at least the baseball buddies register.

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The "sports subjunctive": neither sports-related nor subjunctive

The so-called sports subjunctive (discussed some years ago on Language Log as the "baseball conditional") has been in the news, and was discussed in this post by Mark Liberman. I'm quite sure Mark is right in his interpretation of the crucial example under discussion (Judge Martin did not claim to be a Muslim, he used a colloquial counterfactual conditional with the meaning "if I were a Muslim"); but rarely has a construction been so badly named. "Sports subjunctive" is not a good term; nor is Barbara Partee's "baseball conditional"; nor Mark's suggested "sports conditional". We should resist adopting any of them.

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By now, practically everyone has heard of the remarkable basketball performances of Jeremy (Shu-How) Lin 林書豪, the Harvard grad who came off the bench for the New York Knicks last week and helped them win seven straight games.

So sensational has his play been that enthusiasts swiftly coined the term "Linsanity" to describe it.  Of course, because Lin is of Chinese (er, Taiwanese [more about that later]) ancestry, there had to be a Mandarin equivalent.  Unfortunately, I think that the translation of Linsanity, Línfēngkuáng 林疯狂, that was circulating most widely (267,000 ghits; had 212,000 ghits two days ago) is not a good one.  No sooner had I heard the expression Línfēngkuáng 林疯狂 a few days ago than was I disappointed by it.  Not only did it fail to capture the nuances of "Linsanity", it sounded as though it had been invented by someone who doesn't have a native feel for Chinese word formation.  To quote Deadspin:  "Our resident Chinese expert, Tom Scocca, gives the translation of 林疯狂 as "Lin-insane," which carries a somewhat different connotation."  Tom Scocca's unease is not unfounded.

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Noun choice, sex, lies, and video

Three linguistic offenses in the UK to report on this week: an injudicious noun choice, a highly illegal false assertion, and an obscene racist epithet. The latter two have led to criminal charges.

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"So what if/that…"

From the AP wire

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP)—So what that the Texas Rangers won their only game this season against Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander.

This sentence tripped me up in a couple of different ways. First, I initially had trouble parsing the subordinate clause, "the Texas Rangers won their only game this season against Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander." Now, obviously it doesn't mean that the only game this season that the Rangers won was against Verlander. For a little while, I thought it was a muddled way to say that the only game this season that the Rangers won against the Tigers was against Verlander. Eventually, I got it: the only game in which the Rangers faced Verlander this season was a game that the Rangers won. In other words, it's:

the Texas Rangers [won [their only game this season against Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander]]


the Texas Rangers [won [their only game this season] [against Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander]]

Now that's settled. But what about the introductory "So what that…"? Shouldn't it be "So what if…"?

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