Eventually you’re moved to action.
Taking a lead from one of my heroines, Comma Queen Mary Norris, I decided to do something about a couple of words that surface over and over again in sports coverage. Not seize the miscreants by the throat and start screaming, because that would be counter-productive, nor to roll my eyes (too obviously) when they inflicted more damage on the language. Too direct altogether.
I wasn’t railing against players, coaches and managers telling fibs or moaning or making ridiculous statements either, as if I were then we would be in a high- octane reciprocal hypocrisy situation, or a pot-kettle scenario.
But I felt there were certain words being used with regularity by people who, to quote Kingsley Amis in Lucky Jim, had no idea what those words meant. So I decided to find out if those words were being used properly. Top of my list: physicality, as in teams and players who bring physicality to the confrontations in their games.
Physicality is not nearly as bad as its cousin, criminality (a version of the word ‘crime’ with four unnecessary syllables), but it’s an offender to these ears. Why? For one thing, what does it mean? Collins suggests ‘the state or quality of being physical’, which sounds fairly unnecessary given the need in sport to be . . . physically present, as well as ‘the physical characteristics of a person, object, etc.’, which suggests that physicality is a synonym for actual presence rather than whatever it is commentators are trying to tell us about players’ aggression or commitment.
Merriam-Webster, however, says ‘intensely physical orientation: predominance of the physical usually at the expense of the mental, spiritual, or social; a physical aspect or quality’, which is so vague as to be almost counter-productive.
A more intriguing definition from a Random House collegiate dictionary gives us ‘the quality of being physical, esp. when emphasised or overemphasised; preoccupation with one’s body, physical needs, or appetites.’ Maybe that’s what people mean when they mention the physicality some players bring to the table.
Second in the hall of shame: ‘skill set’. The skill set needed for this; the different skill set needed for that; how this player’s skill set fits that job but that player’s skill set is better for this job.
Unfortunately, skill set is a nonsense term. The general definition I turned up ran along these lines: ‘a person’s range of skills or abilities’. In other words: skills.
Finally, the barbarity that is ‘learnings’. This emerges more and more in post-game discussions with managers who have no doubt been bombarded with this codology in an off-site brainstorming session with their daytime job. The word they need is ‘lessons’, but there is a childish reluctance to use that innocent term, presumably because of the connotations of lesson - i.e. being taught a lesson, and therefore being seen as put in one’s place.
Still, that’d be better than ‘learnings’. To quote Grammarist: ‘learnings is a pluralisation of an erroneous form of learning as a singular noun. Said singular noun (e.g., a learning) does not exist, at least according to most dictionaries . . . colloquially, especially in the medical field, learnings means specific items that were newly discovered or learned.’
No, using it in the medical field doesn’t legitimise it. Remove this one, too, from your word-hoard, and let that not be a learning to you.
Interesting case alert: the Rangers tax issue, currently meandering through the British legal system.
If you’re not familiar with the case, it involves Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, or HMRC, pursuing a claim that Rangers were liable for a £46.2 million bill over a complicated scheme which used loans to make payments to players, managers and staff, a claim which has seen appeal and counter-appeal for a few years now.
An acquaintance of this column who is more familiar with such matters has pointed out that the most significant aspect of the case is not so much the discomfort being endured by Rangers, much as that might appeal to the fans of Scottish soccer among you, but the implications for other large soccer clubs across the water.
Given recent revelations emanating from Panama, and particularly the number of people availing of complex tax evasion schemes, you’d wonder if other clubs have used the same mechanism as Rangers.
I picked up Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball recently. It’s entertaining and a little exhausting, as though you were watching an NBA game for about twelve hours with someone feeding you a stream of statistics non-stop, combined with loosely connected observations about popular culture.
And high culture.
I bow to Simmons’ knowledge of Larry Bird’s shooting technique, and Wilt Chamberlain’s failings, but the section of the book that stopped me in my tracks was the revelation that Robin Williams could have played Jonathan Mardukas, The Duke, in Midnight Run.
Anyone who knows me knows that I put Midnight Run on the same shelf pantheon-wise (that’s the Bill Simmons influence) as The Big Lebowski, or The Quiet Man — Great Experiences You Need To Ration For Effect is the official designation.
Even though Robert de Niro gets the best lines (“If you don’t, I swear I’m going to shoot him and dump his body in the swamp.” Then the quick head-shake), Charles Grodin as The Duke is the glue that holds the whole thing together (“Are you familiar with the term cholesterol? Arteriosclerosis?”). Robin Williams was a talent and a half, but he would have spoiled that movie forever. Thanks Bill, for giving me a fright with that revelation.
You’re not familiar with the — well, pull up a chair. See, de Niro runs down guys who skip out on a bail bondsman, and Grodin is Jonathan Mardukas: the accountant . . .
I’m quite sure those of you looking forward to the upcoming Euro 2016 Championships will feel that the experience won’t be quite complete without the late Bill O’Herlihy anchoring the coverage on the national broadcaster.
For a taste of the Corkman at his best, check out Cloch Le Carn tonight on RTÉ One at 7.30pm.
And feel free to commend me on my restraint on avoiding any okey-dokes in the construction of this column.
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