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Sports broadcasters teach us the importance of proper diction

POSTED: October 2, 2013 2:00 p.m.

Some people might consider it weak or immature to use a newspaper column as a personal soapbox, but that’s one of the perks of being editor. I get to do with a column whatever I want. So neener neener.

Some people might also consider it weak or immature to use this position to rant about things that annoy me, insofar as they pertain to sports, but again, I get to do what I want, so today we are going to talk about something I hate about sports media.

While I certainly hate listening to former players talk about their glory days instead of the game at hand, and I loathe broadcasters who force quotable comments for the sake of sounding intelligent, there is a worse brand of commentator who deserves your disdain.

I hate when people misuse sports terms. There are no words strong enough to describe my annoyance at this commonplace habit in today's world of sports journalim.

Many of you probably do not know this, but I spent some considerable amount of time training to be an English teacher, so words and connotations are very important to me. I have to thank two wonderful teachers, Mrs. Buchanan at Dacula High School and Mr. Mozley at Grayson High School, for that.

So when I hear sports journalists misusing terms or mismatching terms from other sports, it infuriates me.

You all know what I’m referring to, but if you do not, here's a "for instance" for you. Many professionals will refer to quarters in a football game as periods. While this is still technically true, as a quarter is a period of time, the English language has evolved to include more specific terms for a reason.

Hockey has periods, but football has quarters. Football is one of those sports where the division of time never changes at any level of the game. Even though the amount of time per quarter may change, there are always four of them. Hence, we call them quarters.

I suppose we could also call hockey periods something else, but talking about thirds doesn't sound very athletic. It sounds like someone wanting too much for dinner.

College basketball has halves, baseball has innings and hockey has periods.

Speaking of baseball, have you ever heard someone refer to the innings in a baseball game as frames? This is perhaps the most baffling term mix-and-match, and the most offensive. Bowling has frames. Sure, you could argue that bowling has ten frames, and with scoring in both halves of the inning it can look like a baseball scorecard if the game goes into one extra inning, but what sense does that make?

After all, the tenth inning does not feature three halves, whereas a tenth frame in bowling can. While this would make for an interesting rules change, it just doesn’t work.

I suppose I understand why people use these terms. It can get old saying "inning" or "quarter" all the time, and something Mrs. Buchanan taught me was that diversity in language is important. That’s a free lesson for any high schoolers reading this right now. You want to diversify your verbiage, as I often do.

Diversity does not, however, mean misusing words. That’s just called being wrong.

So here’s a free lesson for any high schoolers reading this who want to go into sports journalism, which is roughly the male half of you. Do not misuse sports terms for the sake of sounding cute. You just sound ignorant.

However, there is one worse offense than this which I have not yet discussed, and this is the one that we most commonly hear this time of the year.

When a team wins a division or region or conference in the last game of the regular season, that is not clinching. To clinch something means to win it early.

When the Braves won the NL East title a week before the season was over, they clinched it. While they had not "officially" won it until the season was over on Sunday night, it was impossible for them to lose. That is clinching.

When the Cleveland Indians won a Wild Card spot on Sunday afternoon by winning their tenth game in a row, while it was impressive, that was not a clinching situation. It was the last game of the regular season. They had won the Wild Card spot, but they had not clinched it.

However, the word every broadcaster used to describe the Indians' win was to say that they had clinched the Wild Card spot.

If the Georgia Bulldogs can win every game the rest of the season, and if Florida and South Carolina lose a couple of key conference games, then Georgia will likely clinch the SEC East with a win over the Gators on Saturday Nov. 2. If the Gators and Gamecocks stay in the hunt, though, Georgia will have to beat Kentucky in that last conference game to win the division.

Does that subtle difference make sense?

I hate listening to people talk about "clinching" a division by beating that second-place team in the last game of the season. That is not clinching. That is winning.

There is as much place in sports for improper terminology as there is for steroids or gambling in baseball. If we can stamp out those nuisance issues for the sake of the game’s purity, then surely we can stop broadcasters from besmirching our sports with weak metaphors, terrible small talk and mislabeled dictionary entries.

After all, people already think that sports are lacking educational merit. Maybe it’s the suppressed teacher in me, but I am doing my best to add some book learning back to the sports world wherever I can.



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