Friday, 22 July 2016

A Sticky Googly



I heard what seemed to me a significant language moment this week. England and Yorkshire cricketer Jonny Bairstow was being interviewed about the first test match in this summer's Pakistan tour – lost rather lamely by England, apparently – and moved onto some interesting linguistic ground when he talked of being "forced onto the back burner" by Pakistan's attack. That wasn't the significant moment, though. Sportsmen are notorious for the inanity of their metaphors, and that was probably a forgivable metaphorical mash-up, a forced error committed under pressure from Rob Bonnet's deceptively suave bowling questioning. A cricketer – not least a batsman like Bairstow – might very naturally refer to being forced onto the back foot, though I think this may be a boxing expression in origin. But to put something onto the back burner is clearly a culinary metaphor, and generally means "to reduce the priority of something, to give it less attention". The combination of the two was an entertaining novelty, though, and put me in a state of alertness for what was coming.

Rob unexpectedly switched the questioning to the breaking issue of whether team selection should be taken away from the current panel and revert to the captain and coach. Jonny was suitably nonplussed. "That's a complete curve ball you've thrown me there, to be honest!" he protested. Which is extraordinary. Think about it: a professional English cricketer, asked about a cricketing matter, reaches for a baseball comparison. Not a googly, not a yorker, not a bouncer, or any of the native cricketing terms for a tricky ball to hit, but a curve ball. And a thrown ball at that! Indifferent as I am to ball games in general, I nonetheless experienced a moment of outrage. Which team are you playing for, Bairstow? Bat and pad, lad! Bat and pad!

It just goes to show, I suppose, how deeply Americanisms have penetrated the language. I was waiting for Bairstow to exhort England to "step up to the plate" in case they "strike out" in the second test, which would have been an easy boundary, but he didn't; maybe next time, fans of language sports! But, who knows, maybe this is a two-way process? Perhaps in the US professional players of various games are even now talking of "a sticky wicket" and "keeping a straight bat", and public figures are leaving the crease after a good innings?

Well, maybe. Cue Roy Harper.


11 comments:

Martin Hodges said...

Muddled metaphors and malapropisms abound. Someone emailed a 'thank you' after I sent a photograph I'd taken of her daughter receiving a school prize. "This is a fabulous momentum," wrote the mum. I suspect she may have been preoccupied with left-wing politics, at the time of writing.

Mike C. said...

Martin,

Language falls apart -- I blame Brexit!

Mike

amolitor said...

Don't feel too bad, we still call the whole shebang "English" after all!

Mike C. said...

Yeah, but check those scare quotes... ;)

"English" -- even English English -- is about as English, these days, as an English muffin (whatever that is). I don't mind, I'm just watching it happen!

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

Let's hope that once we're free of the all-pervading, invidious influence of Europe we'll finally hit all those annoying korfball metaphors for six







Mike C. said...

Zouk,

Had to look up "korfball"! I see it was once considered immoral, because of mixed sides and women showing knees and ankles. I think the one to watch out for is roller derby, which doesn't seem to have caught on yet, but it will...

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

Yes, I've actually only heard of korfball because the MD of a company I once worked for and his wife played it at weekends. As for roller derby, I can remember a time (late fifties/early sixties?) when it was broadcast on British TV. I think it was probably pulled because of the violence. No helmets, pads, mouthguards etc in those days, just some seriously beefy women on skates.

Mike C. said...

Of course, there is now a serious demographic in the US that understands *proper* football, and its metaphors may already be creeping into American English... Which would be one in the back of the net in extra time.

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

Guys, we like the game, but we need to make the goals bigger to get higher scores. And one advertising break isn't enough ...

Debra Morris said...

Vintage post, Mike, thanks. I can see the crimson rambler and hear the mellow sound of leather on willow accompanied by John Arlott's velvet Hampshire tones. Memories of a long, slow Sunday afternoon in June 1976 - Hampshire playing Middlesex in the series of one day Sunday matches which began the transformation of 3 day county matches and 5 day test matches - May's Bounty cricket ground, Basingstoke. Usually a short-cut route walking home from town, transformed once a year into a first-class cricket venue complete with press tents and one of the finest writers/commentators of the day bashing away on an Olivetti.
I recall reading a report earlier this year about the sudden rise in popularity of cricket in Germany. Nothing to do with a sudden interest on the part of Bavarians, of course. This is an interesting side-effect of the rise in migrant numbers from parts of the world in which cricket is already a national obsession. Will be interesting to trace the emergence of new German compound nouns - direct translations of silly mid-off, bunny or Chinaman? Duckworth Lewis of course won't require any translation.

Mike C. said...

Thanks, Debra -- as it happens, in the days when I used (incredibly) to be a regular in the school team, silly mid-on was my habitual position in the field. Other commenters may be better placed to hazard a German translation, but "Sie-wollen-dass-ich-WO-stehen-soll??" would be my attempt.

Mike