“This is a massive game for us,” says the captain of one of the teams competing in rugby’s quadrennial World Cup. He’s speaking in a pre-match interview about his side’s first appearance tournament. You might have been misled into thinking it was the last, though before the tournament is over it may well be.
“Absolutely,” a commentator commentating on the captain’s commentary agrees, adding that, if the team in question were to lose, it would undoubtedly be a ‘nightmare’.
Everything these days is a nightmare, I’ve noticed, from a mild late-summer cold to heavy traffic on the M25. On second thoughts, the M25 may just qualify.
There’s nothing like a sporting jamboree to bring out the worst hyperbolic excesses of language. Our intrepid captain and the platitudinous commentator are no exceptions to that rule. Every game played will be ‘massive’, for both sides, just as every win will be ‘incredible’ and every loss a ‘nightmare’ or a ‘disaster’.
The commentators should know better, but they don’t. They ought to be contributing to the cause of proportional nomenclature, but they won’t. Tackles will be ‘massive hits’. Tries scored and goals kicked will be described as ‘amazing’ or ‘incredible’. Some may even involve sufficient skill or endeavour to qualify as ‘absolutely amazing’ or ‘absolutely incredible’. (‘Absolutely’ now fills every other line of conversation, on any subject. Only a handful of academics and boffins still say ‘quite’, its refined predecessor.) Bursts of speed will be ‘coruscating’ – a word beloved of one commentator in particular.
My biggest complaint – a ‘massive’ one if you like – will be the constant references to the surface of the pitch as the ‘floor’, as opposed to the ground. But I’m afraid that confusion is now endemic;
so, alas, is ‘amount’ instead of ‘number’ to describe volume rather than mass, as witness this sentence heard last week. “The amount of men England commit to the rucks is potentially dangerous.”
‘Number’ and ‘fewer’ in that context are words in danger of becoming as obsolete as charabanc and tram in another. All I can say to the perpetrator is this: “You may be a former player, you addle-headed muddied oaf, but you are now a journalist, and if you don’t know the difference between ‘amount’ and ‘number’ then you might consider finding an alternative trade.”
“He’ll be disappointed with that,” is another ubiquitous cliché. It’s deployed almost without fail whenever someone has misdirected a pass or missed a tackle, or booted a goal-kick somewhere in the direction of the corner flag into the next county. He’s not disappointed, mate, he’s furious, absolutely f—–g livid. Disappointed is what he is when there’s no black pudding on his Full English breakfast plate.
All sports commentators suffer from this literary form of repetitive stress syndrome. Their predictive abilities are no more impressive than their grasp of the niceties of grammar. They have an uncanny knack for putting the mockers on a team. To observe that “England are going well here” is to sound the death-knell that portends an inexplicable regression into befuddled incompetence. Whenever a commentator points out that this player or that is demonstrating fine ball-handling skills, the player will drop the ball at a crucial moment. Whenever a forward pack is lauded for its strength and stability, it will without fail collapse in a writhing helpless heap.
We’ve got six weeks of this. I can’t wait for the games, but I think I’ll probably be turning the sound off for most of them.