Ted Cruz's "basketball ring" — or was it "rim"?

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Ted Cruz has gotten a lot of very creative grief for apparently messing up the re-enactment of a scene from the movie Hoosiers by referring to the height of a "basketball ring":

But in our comments this morning, Richard Hershberger wrote:

Speaking of politicians speaking, I would like to put in a request for an analysis of whether Cruz said "ring" or "rim."

And Francois Lang responded:

Definitely sounds like "ring" to me, but I'll leave that debate to the phoneticians. Anyone know one :-)?

So I pulled the audio (channel 1, which is less reverberant) from this YouTube clip — and it turns out that there's one rim and one ring:

Well as y'all know,
we're here on the Hickory basketball court,
and Bruce, who travels with me, Bruce, I want to ask you something,
do you have a tape measure with you?
Tell me something —
how tall
is that basketball rim?
Ten feet!
You know, the amazing thing is, that basketball ring
here in Indiana, it's the same height as it is in New York City
and every other place in this country.
And there is nothing
that Hoosiers cannot do.

I've transcribed what I hear, but I can also offer some evidence from objective acoustic analysis. At the end of the first bolded phrase, both F1 and F2 go down, as they should for a labial consonant. You can see F2 getting further away from F3 in the region that I've highlighted in the image below:

In contrast, in the second version of the phrase, which I've transcribed as "basketball ring", you can clearly see F2 rising to come near to F3 in the classic velar pinch:


  1. Guy said,

    April 28, 2016 @ 8:41 pm

    That seems pleasantly definitive.

    "Basketball rim" is a pretty odd expression, though, unlike "basketball ring", which would at least be reasonable name for thing if it weren't already conventionally known as "basketball hoop". I wonder if it was some kind of on-the-fly production error based on picturing measuring to the rim of the hoop, perhaps with "ring" being later motivated by phonetic similarity.

    [(myl) Keep in mind that "basketball" was originally played with actual (peach) baskets, and that (at least with a net in place) the goals are still basket-like. And baskets have rims, not rings. City playgrounds tend to have rims without nets, which makes the hoop concept more salient — it might be one of those arbitrary linguistic things that hoop was used instead of ring, but it also probably has something to do with the fact that hoops in ordinary life are fairly large, whereas rings tend to be things you put on your fingers. And there are several contexts in which rim makes sense, even if the net is missing — a ball that's slightly mis-aimed "hits the rim" or rolls "around the rim"; tall people with good vertical jumping ability "play above the rim"; etc.]

  2. Chris C. said,

    April 28, 2016 @ 9:09 pm

    @Guy — In the film scene Cruz was referencing, Gene Hackman talked about a "rim". "Rim" and "hoop" are essentially synonyms here.

  3. cameron said,

    April 28, 2016 @ 10:25 pm

    Either "rim" or "hoop" would be normal American English. "Basketball rim" and "basketball ring" are further evidence that Cruz is "Lucifer in flesh" masquerading as an American speaker of English.

  4. Sili said,

    April 29, 2016 @ 12:59 am

    I'm fairly sure old Scratch is more eloquent than that. Though possibly more into cricket than hoops.

    Now, can we stop focussing on Bushims and go back to criticising Cruz for his actual policies?

    [(myl) What, issues? Un-American!]

  5. Richard Hershberger said,

    April 29, 2016 @ 5:35 am

    Thank you for the analysis. I had heard one clip where I thought it sounded like "rim" and another where it sounded like "ring," but I heard them at different times and didn't realize that they were different clips.

    On a related note, "how tall is that basketball rim?" is still very weird. I would have expected "high" rather than "tall." Had this been in isolation, I expect that it would have been passed over as a random public speaking disfluency, but under the circumstances…

  6. Amghala Makhali said,

    April 29, 2016 @ 7:14 am

    Surprisingly, unlike most sports whose origins are somewhat obscure, often being the combination of other sports and developed gradually through time, basketball has a very precise and fully known origin (the inventor himself wrote an account of it, published after his death

  7. Brett said,

    April 29, 2016 @ 7:45 am

    The third "Bruce" in the transcript isn't in the recording.

    [(myl) Oops. Fixed now.]

  8. Stephen Hart said,

    April 29, 2016 @ 10:48 am

    Perhaps Cruz is a Firesign Theatre fan:

    Porgy's Song by the Android Sisters

    "If you're looking for a Captain of the Ringball Team,
    You can bet he won't be there."

  9. David L said,

    April 29, 2016 @ 10:54 am

    I know this is a discussion of phonetics, but as a matter of rhetoric I'd like to know:
    (i) why Cruz finds it amazing that basketball rims/rings are at the same height everywhere;
    (ii) whether this doesn't run counter to Cruz's politics — shouldn't individual states have the right to determine how high their own basketball rims/rings should be?
    and (iii) how does the totalitarian control of basketball rim/ring height lead Cruz to infer that Hoosiers are omnipotent?

    [(myl) If your question is a serious one, you need to consider how the original scene worked in the movie Hoosiers. A small-town team improbably makes it to the state championship, where they'll play in an overwhelmingly enormous field house in front of orders of magnitude more fans than their town has people. When they get to the field house for their practice session, the players are visibly intimidated by the setting. Their coach has them measure the heights of the baskets, to make the point that it's the same game on the same size court that they know very well. It's a sort of populist "he puts his pants on one leg at a time" trope.

    But you're right that the NCAA is not a very libertarian organization. And of course, Ted Cruz is not a very libertarian person.]

  10. andyb said,

    April 29, 2016 @ 12:05 pm

    @cameron: But every American portrayal of Lucifer in flesh (down to the current TV show named "Lucifer") gives him an English accent. (And many Australian portrayals, too.)

    My favorite theory is that he can't pronounce some words right because he's actually Gabbo the ventriloquist dummy from the Simpsons: https://twitter.com/Mobute/status/581144203691843584/photo/1

  11. David L said,

    April 29, 2016 @ 12:43 pm

    @myl: thanks for the response. I've never seen the movie, hence my mystification. I suppose it is required viewing in Indiana public schools.

  12. François Lang said,

    May 1, 2016 @ 1:25 pm

    @myl: Many thanks for starting this enlightening linguistic, cultural, and political discussion!

  13. Rodger C said,

    May 4, 2016 @ 6:57 am

    And now Ted's hat is no longer in the rim.

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