Archive for Language and sports

Nothing to fear but… what?

In advance of tonight's Game 7 in the NBA Western Conference finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the New York Times recalls a similar Game 7 faced by the Chicago Bulls in 1998:

That spring, the top-seeded Bulls were taken to a seventh game by the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals. Between Games 6 and 7, the Bulls’ coach, Phil Jackson, huddled with his players and told them not to fear failing.

“The fear is not losing,” Jackson told them. “The fear is not producing the effort needed.”

Phil Jackson is notoriously enigmatic (they don't call him the Zen master for nothing), but this pronouncement is particularly tough to unpack.

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Fruity bar

One of the items in the gift box handed out to the thousands of runners in the Qingyuan marathon in Guangdong province last Sunday:

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South Asian wrestling terms

Rudraneil Sengupta is preparing a book on the history of wrestling in the subcontinent, and is searching for the etymologies of certain common terms used in the sport.

He believes that some of the most common words in wrestling come from Iran & Turkey and that general region, and some are of Sanskrit origin.  For example, the old Sanskrit word (now rarely used) for wrestling is Malla-Yudh. Yudh means battle.  Now Malla, as far as his research tells him, was first used as the name of a tribe, then was the name of a kingdom, then became a derogatory term — a term to denote a despised "other" (dark-skinned, poor, tribal).  Apparently this same tribe was famous for their proficiency in wrestling, and thus the term Malla-Yudh came to be coined. He's not sure whether this is accurate, or if the etymology has ever been carefully considered.  But that's where he is starting from.

I myself recognized a few of the words as looking distinctly Persian (e.g., Pehelwani / Pahelwani / Pahlwani and kushti), and I remembered that there was a Malla dynasty in Indian history and a series of Malla kingdoms in Nepalese history, but wasn't sure or precise enough about their possible relationship to words for wrestling, so I asked some colleagues who are specialists in Asian languages if they knew more about them.

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ESPN vs. the English language

A screenshot from ESPN's home page has been making the rounds on Imgur and Reddit. It captures a tease to a column by Howard Bryant, and it's dubbed "Possibly the worst sentence ever."

View post on imgur.com

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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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Ganbatte!

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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