Tuesday June 19, 2012
By FADZILAH AMIN
The English language (rather than the team!) can be wonderful in football. Guess which Dutch player was left “riddled by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” from the Princes of Denmark?
Now that we are in the midst of Euro 2012, I am responding to the suggestion that I should write an article that touches on the use of English in football.
In my articles on accent and jargon, I have mentioned a few interesting terms used in football. However, in the build-up to Euro 2012, and during the first few games, I noticed the use of more such terms, as well as unexpected metaphors in the discussion and reporting of the game.
The adjective “footballing” was used a lot after the controversial decision by the new England manager, Roy Hodgson, not to include Rio Ferdinand in the England squad. In an interview, the manager said that Rio had been excluded “for footballing reasons”. “Footballing”, unlike “footballistically”, can be found in British English dictionaries and means “connected with the game of football” (OALD). So, “footballing reasons” are professional reasons, like Rio being considered too injury prone, or no longer good enough to play for England.
Another interesting term that emerged from this controversy is the metaphor “to blood young players”. This term was used a lot in discussion to explain the inclusion of 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and 20-year-old Phil Jones in the squad. This is a metaphor from hunting with hounds, where “to blood” means “to give a hound its first taste, or sight and smell of the blood of the game it is to hunt,” and “the game” (meaning “the hunted animal”) was usually the fox (OED).
Now fox-hunting with dogs is banned in Britain, but “to blood” is still used in football. The young players are compared to inexperienced hounds, but instead of being exposed to the blood of game animals, these players need to be exposed to the rigorous demands of an international game. They are not expected to actually bite their adversaries, as Luis Suarez once did to a player from the opposing side in Holland!
Another football term related to hunting is the term “goal poacher”, meaning a striker who waits near the opponent’s goal mouth for an opportunity to score. Being a goal poacher is approved of in a striker, while a real poacher is considered an offender, a person who hunts illegally on someone else’s land. Javier Hernandez (Chicharita) of Manchester United and Mexico is an example of a good poacher: if he’s near a goal and a ball comes his way, the ball usually ends up in goal.
The following account of how two England strikers performed in training near Krakow, Poland, came from an article by Phil McNulty on the BBC website, and uses two interesting terms which I have italicised:
“And on the evidence presented in training, Welbeck only strengthened his claims. He was far more clinical in his finishing work while Carroll was inconsistent, with one horribly skied effort drawing an amused reaction from the locals.”
The term “clinical” is often used, and used in a positive sense for football strikers. Those who kick or head their goals calmly, accurately and successfully, are said to have done so “clinically”. This used to be said of Thierry Henry, for example.
However, in ordinary life outside the hospital, the term “clinical” is pejorative (disapproving), meaning “expressing little feeling or warmth”, as used, for example in the sentence: “She seems to have a very clinical attitude towards her children.” (CALD)
The informal verb “to sky” is less commonly used, but it is so expressive. It means to hit a ball high into the air (instead of into goal). One can imagine why the locals near Krakow were amused at Andy Carroll’s “horribly skied” attempt at goal! No wonder Welbeck was chosen over Carroll for the first match against France.
Football (or soccer), as we know it now, originated in England. The names given to the game in several European languages also sound like “football”. In French it is in fact “football” or “foot”, in Spanish it is “futbol”, in Portuguese it is “futebol” and in Dutch it is “voetbal” where “v” is pronounced like “f”.
UEFA, the organiser of the ongoing European Football Championship, uses the acronym of an English name, the Union of European Football Associations, although it was founded in Switzerland (in 1954) and has its headquarters in that country.
FIFA, however, which is the parent body of UEFA, has a French name, having been founded in Paris in 1904 without England’s participation at first. Its full name is Federation Internationale de Football Association, which in English is International Federation of Association Football.
“Association football” in FIFA’s name is noteworthy. It is the formal name of the game in English, to distinguish it from “Rugby football” and “American football”. The term “soccer” used in America and some other countries comes from the “soc” in “association”, just as the informal term “rugger” comes from the “rug” in “rugby”.
While watching a game during the present championship, I can’t help but notice that every player wears an armband on which the word “Respect” is written. It is a visible manifestation of UEFA’s campaign to “respect fan culture, diversity and your health”. In a nutshell, “Respect” says no to hooliganism, racism and drug-taking.
It doesn’t matter where the player comes from: the word is “respect” on his armband. This is an example of the use of English in European football, but it is also an example of the use of French, since “respect” is also a French word.
Football is often described as “the beautiful game” and this term is frequently attributed to Pele, the great Brazilian footballer. In fact, the term had been used before Pele (in collaboration with Robert L. Fish) published his autobiography in English, entitled Pele, My Life and the Beautiful Game (1977). The book probably helped to spread the term around.
I can’t end this article without drawing your attention to the use of metaphor and a surprisingly apt quotation in the report of the shocking defeat of Holland to Denmark in mirror.co.uk of June 10.
Near the beginning, there is an image from stage acting in: “Holland fluffed their lines on opening night in Kharkiv ...” where the Dutch players are compared to actors who forgot their lines.
The report ends with a quotation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Hamlet is a fictitious Prince of Denmark):
“In the dying minutes, Van Persie sent a header narrowly over. It was the story of his night as those dogged Princes of Denmark left him riddled by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
Fadzilah Amin used to teach English literature at university, but now enjoys the luxury of reading it in bed. She’s a believer in life-long learning. Mind Our English is published once a week on Tuesdays. For comments or inquiries on English usage, please contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org