Monday, December 15, 2008

Are you ready for bad grammar?

One of the reasons I decided to spring for cable for the second half of the year is the NFL. I don't watch every game and I'm often multi-tasking when a game is on, but I do enjoy watching football on TV, even now when I don't have that much rooting interest in any one team. While I enjoy the game, the mangling of the English language, especially by the commentators but also sometimes by the play-by-play announcers, drives me nuts. I pictured Al Michaels and John Madden here because they are the best known football announcers and probably the best, and they still suck at English.

Problem number 1: The War on Adverbs. So many commentators have decided that pesky "L-Y" at the end of words is actually optional, and they have decided unilaterally to use it as sparingly as possible, so as not to appear snooty and full of high falutin' book learnin'. (Note: Matty Boy snuck three adverbs into the last sentence, and only "unilaterally" could be uncharitably characterized as "snooty". Look, he snuck another one in parenthetically. And another! Consarn that Matty Boy and his book learnin'!) For example, many offensive coordinators are criticized for "calling the game too conservative".

Commentators! It's conservativeLY! It's an adverb! Look it up.

Last night, Al Michaels used my least favorite made up word of all time in the sports lexicon.


All too often, when some good player is not playing up to potential, an announcer will say he needs to "get untracked". You might think this phrase makes no sense. You would be correct.

The metaphorical underpinning for "untracked" is that a track is like a rut and no one wants to be in a rut, so a player should get out of the track (read rut) and back on the good path. Many people with high falutin' book learnin' think this usage is idiotic, and Matty Boy agrees with them completely.

A track is not a rut. It is a technological advancement. When things on tracks get untracked, the result is not good. Think about a sliding door getting off its tracks. Not good. If a train gets untracked and you are lucky, you are looking at thousands of dollars of physical damage, and if unlucky, you can add in scores of deaths and injuries.

This is because tracks are our friends, unlike ruts, which are usually to be avoided.

Too many sports announcers are in the rut of using "untracked". If we could alert them when they make this error, say by having nearby fans throw shoes at the offending media personality, I believe this improper usage could be reduced and possibly eliminated in the space of a few seasons.

(There's Matty Boy, sneakily slipping in another adverb. And another one! Will that scamp ever stop?)


Mauigirl said...

I couldn't agree more. The other thing they all do that drives me crazy is use the present tense when they mean the conditional. e.g.:

"If he catches that ball in right field, Jeter is out at home!"

No, he didn't catch it. And Jeter was safe. The correct grammar would be "If he had caught that ball in right field, Jeter would have been out at home."

And even if they make an effort and say "may," they're using it wrong. It should be "might." For instance:

"Jeter may be safe if so-and-so doesn't catch the ball." In this case, he wasn't safe, and so-and-so did catch the ball. It should be "Jeter might have been safe."

You are so right - they're all terrible.

Anonymous said...

Are you daft? Of all the announcers to single out, you pick on Michaels? He's without question not only the best at his craft but the best at speaking the language correctly. Why don't you try going on live television and deliver a perfectly grammatically correct performance for three hours? Puh-leeeze (yeah, I know that's not spelled correctly, you pedant). You should be sentenced to lifetime of listening to Boomer Esiason, Brian Baldinger and Shannon Sharpe.

Matty Boy said...

Sorry, anonymous, Michaels worked here in the Bay Area for a while, and he might have made the Big Time, but he wasn't as good as the best we had here. Not as funny as Lon Simmons or Hank Greenwald, and not as good in any way, shape or form as Bill King, the best football and basketball announcer ever.

Olo said...

Is anyone as dismayed by the back-formation "commentating" as I am?

Matty Boy said...

Something that annoys me is that my spell check software doesn't think commenter is a real word.

dguzman said...

Bravo, Matty Boy. Most sportscasters just make me insane. It's all lazy grammar and usage, haphazard and thoughtless sentence construction, and made-up words and "tricked-out" phrases.

Anonymous said...

I thought he said "ON track" the player has get back on track blah, blah, blah. No?

Matty Boy said...

No, z&m, "on track" would make sense and I wouldn't complain about it. Sports announcers, those who speak clearly enough, are saying "untracked", and some sports writers have even put it down into black and white.

John V said...

How about the War on "Sneaked"? The Oxford English Dictionary's website concedes that snuck has recently "reached the point where it is a virtual rival of sneaked in many parts of the English-speaking world". But I still wince whenever I see it.

Mathman6293 said...

The sportcaster word I detest most is "thunk". Which I heard over and over when the Chicago Bulls won one of their Championships.

Anonymous said...

Hey Matt,
In honor of this particular post, you should add 'The LY Song' by Tom Lehrer to your next Random 10 playlist!


Matty Boy said...

Good idea, Alan. I'll start this week's Random 10 with The Good Professor.

Matty Boy said...

To John V: sorry about stepping on toes. I'm such an American, I didn't even know about the snuck/sneaked controversy. I'll try to do better next time.

Ed said...

Are you ever bothered by athletes' tendency to use the word "myself" instead of "me" or "I"? These guys are supposed to be college graduates! "I'd like to thank god for giving myself the talent...". I tell ya, it makes myself want to scream.