Terwilliger bunts one

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Earlier I posted a video of UK football commentator (and former Hull striker) Dean Windass recapping some play in a Premier League match between Everton and Portsmouth. It had been posted on Today's Big Thing under the headline "Soccer Reporter Invents New Kind of English," and I referred to Windass as "wildly disfluent." But a few of our British commenters said that beyond some comic stumbling over the name of presenter Jeff Stelling, Windass was speaking in a manner that would be perfectly comprehensible to a listener familiar with the Hull dialect of Yorkshire and with the relevant footballer lingo. Ian Preston provided a very helpful transcript, the highlight of which is the colorful expression, "He sends Jagielka for a pie" — glossed by Ian as "he jinks so as to send [Everton player Phil Jagielka] the wrong way."

I noted in the comments that "for me, 'He sends Jagielka for a pie' has all the magic and mystery that 'Terwilliger bunts one' had for Annie Dillard's mother." I was referring to a passage in Dillard's memoir An American Childhood, which is worth reproducing here as a reminder of the opacity of sports-talk to non-initiates on both sides of the pond.

One Sunday afternoon Mother wandered through our kitchen, where Father was making a sandwich and listening to the ball game. The Pirates were playing the New York Giants at Forbes Field. In those days, the Giants had a utility infielder named Wayne Terwilliger. Just as Mother passed through, the radio announcer cried — with undue drama — "Terwilliger bunts one!"

"Terwilliger bunts one?" Mother cried back, stopped short. She turned. "Is that English?"

"The player's name is Terwilliger," Father said. "He bunted."

"That's marvelous," Mother said. "'Terwilliger bunts one.' No wonder you listen to baseball. 'Terwilliger bunts one.'"

For the next seven or eight years, Mother made this surprising string of syllables her own. Testing a microphone, she repeated, "Terwilliger bunts one"; testing a pen or a typewriter, she wrote it. If, as happened surprisingly often in the course of various improvised gags, she pretended to whisper something else in my ear, she actually whispered, "Terwilliger bunts one." Whenever someone used a French phrase or a Latin one she answered solemnly, "Terwilliger bunts one." If Mother had had, like Andrew Carnegie, the opportunity to cook up a motto for a coat of arms, hers would have read simply and tellingly, "Terwilliger bunts one." (Carnegie's was "Death to Privilege.")

(Dillard continues in this vein, recalling how her linguistically sensitive mother "cut clips from reels of talk, as it were, and played them back at leisure." You can read more here — in the US, at least.)

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19 Comments »

  1. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    May 20, 2010 @ 5:21 pm

    Many sports headlines can be quite amusing if you imagine reading them while completely unfamiliar with the sport in question, its terminology, its players, and perhaps also some conventions of headline-ese.

    Two I've seen in the past that have stuck with me are:

    "Sens to skate Spezza, Bonk against Avs"

    "Pac-Man a Cowboy?"

    Translations:

    (1) The Ottawa Senators, in an upcoming game against the Colorado Avalanche, plan to insert players Jason Spezza and Radek Bonk into the lineup. Note "skate" as a transitive verb, and the headline-ese use of a comma to mean essentially "and".

    (2) Could Adam "Pac-Man" Jones possibly be signed by the Dallas Cowboys? Note the headline-ese omission of any form of the verb "to be".

  2. Brian said,

    May 20, 2010 @ 5:25 pm

    She regarded the instructions on bureaucratic forms as straight lines. "Do you advocate the overthrow of the United States government by force or violence?" After some thought she wrote, "Force."

    I read that excerpt (closely following the one you quoted above) as a youth and I've remebered it ever since. I never knew the author until now.

  3. cameron said,

    May 20, 2010 @ 5:51 pm

    For years I've enjoyed reading the bridge column in the New York Times. Sometimes you get several paragraphs in a row that read like surrealist poetry.

    People have suggested teaching me bridge, but I fear it'd spoil this little indulgence of mine forever, and I always refuse instruction.

  4. AndyDan said,

    May 20, 2010 @ 5:55 pm

    Interestingly, Terwilliger wrote a book a few years ago with precisely that title.

    http://www.wayneterwilliger.com/book.html

  5. tablogloid said,

    May 20, 2010 @ 7:39 pm

    My favourite ice hockey phrase that means a player scored a goal in the second period:

    "He dented the twine in the medium stanza."

  6. Dan T. said,

    May 20, 2010 @ 9:35 pm

    The location of Forbes Field is now part of the University of Pittsburgh campus, not far from Carnegie Mellon University, which I attended in the '80s. The stadium was long torn down when I was there, though. Three Rivers Stadium, on the riverfront across from downtown, was around at the time, but has since also been torn down.

  7. Stephen Jones said,

    May 21, 2010 @ 12:37 am

    For years I've enjoyed reading the bridge column in the New York Times. Sometimes you get several paragraphs in a row that read like surrealist poetry.

    In order to attract more women to the game many of the technical terms are sexual double entendres: 'finesse', squeeze', 'strip play'

  8. Ray Girvan said,

    May 21, 2010 @ 1:06 am

    I don't know if Annie Dillard's mother is supposed to be endearingly eccentric, but I really don't care how linguistically sensitive she was. She comes across as a troll who played appalling and unforgivable mindf*ck games with people. I especially cringed at this part:

    “During a family trip to the Highland Park Zoo, Mother and I were alone for a minute. She approached a young couple holding hands on a bench by the seals, and addressed the young man in dripping tones: ‘Where have you been? Still got those baby-blue eyes; always did slay me. And this’—a swift nod at the dumbstruck young woman, who had removed her hand from the man’s—‘must be the one you were telling me about. She’s not so bad, really, as you used to make out. but listen, you know how I miss you, you know where to reach me, same old place. and there’s Ann over there—see how she’s grown? See the blue eyes?’

    And off she sashayed, taking me firmly by the hand, and leading us around briskly past the monkey house and away. She cocked an ear back, and both of us heard the desperate man begin, in a high-pitched wail, “I swear, I never saw her before in my life…’”

    O how we laughed.

  9. Alon Lischinsky said,

    May 21, 2010 @ 5:39 am

    You can read more here.)

    Unfortunately, I can't; I get a "No preview available" message. Is that edition only available to US-based IPs?

    [(bgz) Yes, so it appears. I'm not sure if Google Books currently has an edition of Dillard's book available with "limited preview" for non-US readers. There's a bit more from the same chapter transcribed here.]

  10. Daan said,

    May 21, 2010 @ 6:03 am

    Also notable, I would say, is Mr Windass's wonderfully colourful description of a football game in this clip (0:46-1:15). In fact, the entire clip is brilliant. There's a man who has a way with words.

  11. Daan said,

    May 21, 2010 @ 6:03 am

    Sorry, that was supposed to be a link to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svHUjuWtb_0

  12. Mr Punch said,

    May 21, 2010 @ 11:13 am

    My favorite sports headline, which ran in the Boston Globe, went something like: "Bruins not intimidated by Buffalo's big Peca"

  13. Sven said,

    May 21, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

    How does a surname like "Windass" survive?

  14. Deanna said,

    May 21, 2010 @ 2:49 pm

    Thanks for referencing "An American Childhood." It's one of my all-time favorite reads!

  15. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 21, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

    I'm coming to the opinion that Stelling and Windass are deliberately doing comedy, though Windass may be caricaturing his own speech only slightly.

  16. David said,

    May 21, 2010 @ 5:40 pm

    To "send someone for a pie" in that meaning doesn't sound too unfamiliar to my ears. Here's what a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic (of Sweden and Barcelona fame) had to say about Liverpool's Stephane Henchoz in 2001 according to Wikiquote:

    "Först gick jag vänster, det gjorde han också. Sedan gick jag höger, det gjorde han också. Sedan gick jag vänster igen och han gick och köpte korv."

    Which translates as:

    "First I went left, and he did too. Then I went right, and he did too. Then I went left again, and he went and bought a hot dog."

  17. Terry Collmann said,

    May 21, 2010 @ 7:31 pm

    Sven – this is BrE, and it's pronounced "win-dass": it would have to be "wind-arse" to have the connotations you are trying to put on it.

  18. JimG said,

    May 21, 2010 @ 8:06 pm

    Sending someone for a pie is perhaps a recent update of "selling someone a dummy". It makes plenty of sense to me, confusing an opponent so badly that he might find himself off the pitch and outside the stadium on the street, where he might buy a pasty from a vendor. Sort of like faking someone out of his socks.

    The most surprising term I ever heard as a soccer referee was during an amateur match between a white-bread team and a team of Jamaicans. The Jamaican captain repeatedly exhorted his teammates to "Bump up!" At one point, the exhortation became more urgent, as captain told a defender to "bump him up", referring to a striker who looked like being open for a pass near the goal. I took advantage of the next break in play to hold things up and have a quiet word with the Jamaican captain, to urge him not to incite riot in an already tense match. He perceived no offense, and I explained that I and the opposing team took his words as calling for illegal contact. He responded that "bumping up" meant only to get close enough to the opponent to cover his play (i.e., to mark him).

  19. Ed Cormany said,

    May 23, 2010 @ 3:38 pm

    never mind Terwilliger, the Notre Dame softball team has a player named Buntin, leading to the possibility that Buntin is buntin'.

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