Category Archives: Sport

How sport often leads to the coining of new words in English.

Say Goodbye to Fergie Time

As the football world bids farewell to Sir Alex Ferguson this weekend, it is worth nothing that it is not only his contribution to football that should be celebrated.

When he first shipped up at Old Trafford in 1986, nobody could have predicted that he would last until 2013. Equally, nobody would have believed you if you had said we would laud his contribution to the English Language on his departure.

But Sir Alex’s contribution to neologisms is legend. Perhaps his most famous phrase is ‘Squeaky Bum Time’, a phrase that refers to the sharp end of the football season and the nerves that emerge as the tension increases. It dates back 10 years and was given official recognition in 2005, while it is now a standard part of the lexicon for all fans when discussing any matter to do with the season’s conclusion.

The other time connection to the outgoing boss is Fergie Time, a rather pointed term not coined by the great man. This refers to the perception that Manchester United get more time added on at the end of games when they are losing than other teams, and that they often make use of this temporal largesse. Analysis has suggested that there is no basis in fact for this asssertion, but all football fans enjoy a good moan about bias being shown to rival teams, so the phrase will remain, even though Fergie himself has gone.

But you would never berate Sir Alex over these issues. After all, he is legendary in the football world for dishing out the hairdryer treatment, a particularly loud mode of berating players for not performing at their best.

So as Sir Alex disappears into the sunset, remember that it is not only the football world he has changed. He has also had a demonstrable effect on the language that we speak.

Messi Scores A Dictionary Entry

Let me get one thing straight. I love football. And, quite obviously, I also love words. So you’d think then when the two come together, it would create perfect harmony for me. But instead, I think I am witnessing a bit of a language own goal.

It is becoming trendy to celebrate the world’s greatest footballers by creating a word around their unique ability, and then sticking it in a relevant dictionary. Take the world’s greatest player, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. The Spanish Santillana dictionary has now added to its pages the adjective ’Inmessionante’, defined as ‘ The perfect way to play football, an unlimited ability to self-improve.’

Last year, Swedish lexicographers celebrated their own footballing hero, Zlatan Ibrahomivic, with the verb Zlatanera, ‘to dominate on and off the field’.

So are we now stuck with this? Will every sporting nation start to celebrate their finest footballer with a word saying, basically, that they’re great? Will the stars’ names simply become lexically interchangeable according to which dictionary you are looking at?

You have to hope not. Or if this is simply to disappear as the publicity gimmick it seems to be, then maybe we should suggest some slightly more entertaining definitions that should be included:

“To play brilliantly before assaulting a member of the opposition team in a vital match” – To Zidane;

“To leer at the camera after scoring a vital goal in a way that suggests you have taken in more than a half-time orange” – To Maradona;

“To play quite well in a tournament before losing on penalties” – To England.

The fact is, this could run and run. Let’s hope it doesn’t.

Kozmania – A New Type of Linsanity

You know the story by now. Unheralded American sportsman is given his chance in the big time. He dominates every game he plays, becoming a national icon. His deeds spawn a new word in newpaper headlines. The word mushrooms, with official linguistic recognition not far behind. And then, the ultimate accoloade. He appears in Wordability.

OK, that’s not exactly how the story pans out. But it does seem to be a bit of a trend. Following Jeremy Lin’s basketball success earlier this year, and the associated mushrooming of Linsanity across the globe, comes another unlikely sporting and language star – Pete Kozma.

After six years on the fringes of the big time, Kozma was finally called into the St Louis Cardinals team at the end of August. Almost predictably, he has turned out to be sensational, taking a leading role in the National League series against the Washington Nationals, leading his team to victory and spawning the word Kozmania.

Will Kozmania be another Linsanity? Probably not. Jeremy Lin’s story was as much about him being the first American player of Taiwanese descent to make it in the big time as it was about an unlikely player dominating a sporting arena. And there’s something about the word – Kozmania sounds like something which grabs you for a short time and then you get over it, while Linsanity is more of a state of mind and likely to last longer.

But I could be wrong, and if I am, then who knows how many times that American sporting dream from my opening paragraph will be played out in the years to come. Especially the bit where they end up on Wordability.

A New Project for a New Season

As sports fans in the UK deal with symptoms of Olympics withdrawal, at least the return of the football season can act as some kind of quick fix to help ease the pain.

But supporters – beware. Watch very carefully how your manager talks about the upcoming season. Is it a season of consolidation? Is it a tilt at the play-offs? Or is it a example of the word that has crept into football management in the last few seasons, a word which should strike fear into you all? Is it a project?

Project has become shorthand in the world of manager-speak for a big job, a rebuilding job, a long-term vision. “I am excited by the project”, the manager will say at his opening press conference, and everybody nods wisely, excited by this man’s wisdom and long-term planning.

Of course, project is a euphemism. It’s a way of saying ‘don’t expect us to win anything for three years’, or ‘don’t expect to see me in this job this time next season’, or even ‘I don’t really know how this is going to work out, but if I call it a project, it sounds grand’.

Andre Villas-Boas is tarnished by his failed project at Chelsea, Sven-Goran Eriksson probably still has sleepless nights about his bizarre project at Notts County, and Arsenal fans may now be quaking in their boots as their future is given the project treatment.

So if your team’s manager is publicly rubbing his hands together in glee and preparing you all for the start of his project, be afraid, be very afraid. Oh, and start thinking who you want your next manager to be.

Games Lanes Power The Olympic Family

It was always obvious that we would use various new words and phrases as a result of the Olympics. But in the early few days, organisers must have been hoping that the words would be of a sporting nature.

Sadly not. Instead, we were introduced to the phrase Games Lanes, as parts of London became paralysed by the closing down of main arteries across the UK’s capital. And who gets to ride in the Games Lanes? Members of the Olympic Family.

The phrase Olympic Family, a kind of catch-all which seems to encompass anybody with any tangential connection to the Games, has become negative because of its association with empty seats in stadiums, with large areas dedicated to this mystical family sitting unused. It is not currently a family that people are keen to put on their Christmas list.

Now it’s all down to the competitors. Hopefully their feats will prove so stirring that when we look back over the words which defined the Games, external controversies will not be on the podium.

To Gold or Not To Gold

I heard the same interview on two different BBC radio stations yesterday, and it elicited the same response from two different presenters.

Talking about medal prospects for the upcoming Olympics, British Olympic Association chairman Colin Moynihan said that Australia would expect “to gold” in certain events.

Given that I have already been hearing people experiencing paroxysms of rage at “to medal”, which is making its quadrennial reappearance into the lexicon to coincide with the Games, you can only imagine the incredulity with which “to gold” was treated.

It could have just been a one-off – I can find no evidence of this usage anywhere else at the moment. But it could equally be that athletes will be “golding”, “silvering” and “bronzing” come the end of July. And if that does prove to be the case, remember where you read about it first.

Mother Flame Powers The Torch Relay

I must admit that I have been sceptical about the level of interest in the Olympic Torch relay, now winding its way across the UK ahead of July’s Games. This cynicism has not been directed at the relay itself, which has always struck me as an excellent prelude to the main event, with understandable local enthusiasm when the torch is finally in your vicinity.

No, I have been convinced that the BBC’s dedicated live coverage page, featuring a permanent stream of people running with the torch, together with text commentary, would struggle to find an audience because of the sheer monotony of the event to all but those in any given area on any given day. But with hundreds of thousands of people seemingly becoming addicted to the coverage, it seems I was wrong. Ah well.

So why Wordability’s interest. Well the Torch Relay has already started to contribute some fresh terms to the English language. The best of them came when the torch went out on Day Three. This was the point at which we found out that the fire being carried as a back-up in case the flame goes out is known as the ‘Mother Flame’.

I love this term, complete with its connotations of space ships and aliens. Actually, the rules governing relighting the flame are interesting, as the original flame from Greece has to be kept burning at all times, with relighting coming straight from this source, the aforementioned Mother. Bear in mind, Mother Flame flew all the way from Greece in a specially chartered plane. One hopes she was treated to first class.

It’s also important to remember that the relay is about the fire, and not the actual torches. Each torch bearer has their own torch, lit by its predecessor in a delicate operation known as a ‘Torch Kiss’. To cover longer distances during its daily journeys, the torch travels in a van and is not visible to the public. This is known as ‘Convoy Mode’. It’s where the BBC’s coverage becomes less interesting and is basically just live footage of a drive down the A30. Of course, the BBC itself is responsible for the term ‘Torchcam’, the camera which broadcasts all the live footage, together with its associated Twitter hashtag #bbctorchcam.

There have already been moments in the coverage where a new word has not yet emerged. Controversy has erupted over the decision by some torch bearers to sell their torches on eBay. What do we call such people – ‘Torch-Bayers’? ‘Flame Throwers’? And there is criticism over the celebrity status of some of the torch bearers and accusations of publicity seeking over some of the choices. I think the idea of asking Didier Drogba to take the torch through Swindon was particularly bizarre. ‘The Rich and Flamous’ perhaps?

As the Torch Relay powers on, it seems that interest in it will only increase, leading up to July and the start of the Olympics. It will be fascinating to see what the Olympics’ linguistic legacy turns out to be.