The stupendous language of sport

As part of our Evolving English exhibition, we are running all kinds of related events.

In November I was lucky to be able to watch a recording Just a Minute, the wonderful radio panel game that has been running since 1967. One of my early memories is listening with my granny to Clement Freud and Kenneth Williams.

More recently we hosted an evening devoted to the Language of Sport, which generated some excellent coverage on the BBC – The art of talking a good game. The event was also reviewed on the In bed with Maradona blog.

Not surprisingly much of the talk is about the clichés that surround football commentating, which is related to the live nature of the coverage.

There is a brilliant example from the BBC, of the commentator who ‘went too early’, resulting in over-excited screaming when the ball finally went in the net – The stupendous language of sport.

Then we have Colmanballs, a term coined by Private Eye magazine to describe verbal gaffes perpetrated by (usually British) sports commentators. It is derived from the surname of the now retired BBC broadcaster David Coleman and the suffix -balls, as in “to balls up”.

The Parryphernalia blog has collected a set of amusing misuses of the term literally, which he calls LiterallyBalls.

Here is a short selection:

  • “After the first goal went in you could literally see the Derby players shrinking.” Alan Shearer commenting on Derby’s latest capitulation.
  • “Craig Bellamy has literally been on fire” Ally McCoist.
  • “The Liverpool defence have literally been caught with their trousers down.” Andy Townsend on an Andy Johnson chance against Liverpool.
  • “Koller was literally, literally, right up his backside there.” Andy Townsend again, commenting on Jan Koller’s positioning in the Turkish penalty box.
  • “Terry Venables has literally had his legs cut off from underneath him three times while he’s been manager” Barry Venison.

Last, but by no means least, is the commentating legend that was Alan Partridge. Although a fictional sports reporter on The Day Today, his football commentating contains pearls of English that will stay with us. Here is an example that includes, “he must have a foot like a traction engine”, and “that was liquid football” (a comment I have since heard from real-life commentators).

Colemanballs is a term coined by Private Eye magazine to describe verbal gaffes perpetrated by (usually British) sports commentators.[1] It is derived from the surname of the now retired BBC broadcaster David Coleman and the suffix -balls, as in “to balls up”,[1][2] and has since spawned derivative terms in unrelated fields such as “Warballs” (spurious references to the September 11, 2001 attacks) and “Dianaballs” (sentimental references to Diana, Princess of Wales). Any other subject can be covered, as long as it is appropriately suffixed by -balls.[1] The all-encompassing term “mediaballs” has since been used by Private Eye as their coverage of gaffes has expanded.[3]

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