Part of the fun of watching the Super Bowl lies in the theater-of-the-absurd quality of so much the commentary. How often will we hear today that a team down by 21 points has to “move the football downfield” and “put some points on the board”? At least as often as we hear during the World Series that a team behind by five runs has to “put some wood on the ball” and “score some runs.”
It wasn’t always so, the former NBC newscaster Edwin Newman says in Strictly Speaking: Will America Be the Death of English? (Warner, 1975):
“There is no way to measure the destructive effect of sports broadcasting on ordinary American English, but it must be considerable. In the early days sports broadcasting was done, with occasional exceptions such as Clem McCarthy, by non-experts, announcers. Their knowledge of the sports they described varied, but their English was generally of a high order. If they could not tell you much about the inside of the game they were covering, at any rate what they did tell you you could understand.
“Then came the experts, which is to say the former athletes. They could tell you a great deal about the inside, but — again with some exceptions — not in a comprehensible way. They knew the terms the athletes themselves used, and for a while that added color to the broadcasts. But the inside terms were few, and the nonathlete announcers allowed themselves to be hemmed in by them – ‘He got good wood on that on,’ ‘He got the big jump,’ ‘He really challenged him on that one,’ ‘They’re high on him,’ ‘They came to play,’ ‘He’s really got the good hands,’ and ‘That has to be,’ as in ‘That has to be the best game Oakland has ever played.’
“The effect is deadening, on the enjoyment to be had from watching sports on television or reading about them, and, since sports make up so large a part of American life and do so much to set its tone, on the language we see and hear around us.”
© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.