22 December 2014
Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:
It's customary at this time of year for individuals, societies, institutions and industries to reflect on the previous twelve months and nominate people, events or phenomena for special recognition. In November, for instance, lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary selected vape [= 'E-cigarette'] as Word of the Year 2014 (succeeding 2013's selfie) and last week BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2014 was awarded to Lewis Hamilton - best driver in a field of 24 (22 of whom apparently had inferior equipment) - ahead of Rory McIlroy - best driver, best chipper and best putter in a field of 175. So, in an equally subjective attempt to combine my two great interests - sport and language - here are my nominations for Sports Word of the Year 2014 selected from examples of interesting English usage in the British sporting press and media:
May (Adrian Chiles commenting on Hull City defence, ITV FA Cup Final): they must be too cream crackered to sort it out.
July (Guardian G2 Tour de France special): Ey up or allez allez allez?
September (Peter Allis spotting two spectators in fancy dress watching difficult bunker shot, BBC Ryder Cup highlights): I'll tell you what they're two bobby-dazzlers there and is this going to be a bobby-dazzler?
October (Mike Selvey, Guardian Sport): He was, said Smudger, [...] the fellow who would pay the way for all of us, and he was not wrong.
October (Asteras Tripolis, Guardian Sport): The Argentinian scored twice but it was his first-half rabona that sparked a gasp from all inside the stadium.
November (Sachin Nakrani quoting QPR captain, Joey Barton, Guardian Sport): If you're not playing for Liverpool, who couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo, how do you get into the England squad?
November (Simon Cambers & Kevin Mitchell, Guardian Sport): Lamri [...] played a handful of minor matches on the Futures circuit, the last recorded of them when he double-bagled in a qualifier in Morocco two years ago.
November (Lizzy Ammon, Guardian Sport): [Moeen Ali] will be leaving his doosra delivery firmly in the locker for the foreseeable future.
December (Dean Ryan, Guardian Sport): "Jackling" [...] is something which can be taught as, apparently, the exceptional Francois Louw is doing with Burgess in training with Bath.
December (Martin Castrogiovanni): The widely reported, extraordinary rant that demonstrated the Italian prop's perfect mastery of the F-word and C-word.
Though not comprehensive, the list encompasses six sports: cycling, football, cricket, tennis, golf and rugby and entries were chosen to offer a range of linguistic research enquiries.
Four terms stand out as they are restricted to the discourse of their respective sports. Of these, two are loan words: rabona [= Spanish for 'to play truant'] - an impressive skill whereby a footballer kicks the ball by wrapping the kicking foot behind the standing leg thus appearing to kick the ball cross-legged; and doosra [Hindi/Urdu for 'the second/other one'] - a ball in cricket which spins away from a right-handed batsman but is delivered with a bowling action that appears to suggest the opposite. The other two are examples of the kind of jargon that inevitably occurs in descriptions designed for a specialist audience: jackling [= a blend of 'jackal' and 'tackle'] - the skill in rugby of winning the ball in a tackle before a ruck has been formed; and double-bagel [= a visual reference to two zeros] - a 6-0, 6-0 defeat in a three set match of tennis.
Six entries demonstrate how vernacular forms occur even in relatively formal sports discourse. Two items might best be categorised as dialect forms: ey up [= 'hello' or 'watch out'] and bobby-dazzler [= 'someone/something striking or impressive']. Dialect is extremely useful shorthand for conveying a sense of location and/or identity. Three are slang forms typical of an informal register: cream crackered [= rhyming slang for 'knackered', i.e. 'exhausted'], Smudger [= nickname for anyone called Smith] and couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo [= 'wildly inaccurate in front of goal']. This deliberate use of slang creates a sense of shared conversation between presenter and viewer/listener or between journalist and reader. Finally, swearing, though generally still taboo in mainstream press and media sports coverage (albeit part and parcel of the live experience itself), is included here as the Guardian remains unique among British newspapers in printing the C-word and F-word without resorting to asterisks to represent the letter <u>. I've often wondered whether this is confirmation of the paper's sociolinguistic maturity or more a reflection of childish editorial glee.
Most of the terms above are documented in authoritative dictionaries in the British Library's collections, but some are yet to appear in print reference works, so their presence in our newspaper collections is an invaluable resource for language scholars monitoring the continued evolution of English. For anyone interested, the Oxford English Dictionary (online) includes doosra, bobby-dazzler and cream crackered, the Collins English Dictionary (online) has an entry for jackling and includes rabona in a set of 'new word submission[s]' under consideration, while the Macmillan Dictionary (online) records bagel as 'in tennis, a score of 6-0'. The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English noted Smudger in the mid-20th-century, while ey up appears in the 19th-century English Dialect Dictionary. Finally, the first person I ever heard use the phrase couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo was my brother-in-law who used it on a golfing holiday in the late 1980s to describe his wayward driving (and his unpredictable long-irons, inconsistent approach play and inept putting). I've not found it in a print publication, but I'm sure he'd be delighted to know it's accorded an entry at Urban Dictionary (online) and features in George Sandford's English Idioms blog.
And this year's winner is ... it's got to be bobby-dazzler, hasn't it?