The naming game
Cricket is the most wordy of sports. I managed without Sky until recently. Nevertheless, I could feel drenched in cricket, even in winter when I had neither seen a match in person, nor watched a live broadcast since the late summer. Cricket came to me in match reports, blog articles, pod casts, books, phone calls and tweets. Deprived of the image, the precision and familiarity of the language of cricket continued to keep me close to the game.
The etymology of a lot of cricket’s verbiage is murky. But some influences are clear. Metaphor plays a part: sweep, hook, cutter, feathered, long hop, swing. Provenenance is acknowledged: Bosie, Dilshan, Duckworth-Lewis. Marketing has one triumphant creation: Twenty20. The really sticky terms have probably emerged, once as contenders, but through adoption and usage have become universal: duck, Ashes, pair, follow-on, maiden.
However, familiarity with the language of cricket does disguise some imprecision. As examples: reverse swing, stepping inside the line, strangled down the leg-side. All are terms that I decode and visualise without difficulty. Yet none is an expression that withstands scrutiny as they are either inconsistent with other cricket expressions in use or suggest something that they are not.
Another category of cricket terms jars like the ball struck with the toe of the bat: nicked off, power-play, Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Brash or clunky, they are at odds with sounds around them.
Several years ago, on the annual Old Boys’ tour, I experienced sharp professional envy. Our bilingual opening bowler related that he had been made Chair of the Nomenclature Committee at his Swiss employer (cricket analogy: Zimbabwean coach to the England Test team). I understood this to be a periodic inter-departmental gathering to debate and settle on the use and meaning of words. The sophistication of his workplace stung me. The contrast to my employer at that time was acute. Where I worked, the room next to the conference room was known, without irony, as the anti-room. My jokes about things disappearing there fell flat.
Cricket terms gain acceptance over time, with some ebb and flow in usage. Terms such as: sitting on the splice and telegraph (bellowed by umpire to scorer to prompt the scoreboard to be brought up to date) have had their day. Some authorities can impose changes to the language of the game: the Laws. Outside of those forces, the language of the game develops organically.
Just imagine, though, if there was a Nomenclature Committee for Cricket. As a committee member, what would be the words, terms and usages that you would enforce? And which terms would you outlaw?
For an international game, played on six continents, its canonical terminology is overwhelmingly English. What are the words from other languages that should have official recognition?
I list below the terms that I think serve the game poorly. What could they be replaced by? Which words and phrases would you like to see chewed over by the Nomenclature Committee?
ICC Champions Trophy
– not a contest of champions
Two Test Series
– implies it works the other way to new ball swing, when in fact it is swing achieved by a different method
Strangled down the leg-side
– can make sense when a batsman is cramped playing down the legside, but is used now for any dismissal to a catch taken by the keeper down the legside
– imported from baseball where it means a batter introduced at a key moment during a match, but has come to mean an attacking batsman opening the innings
– imported from ice-hockey where it means the period when one side is playing a man down, but is used in limited overs cricket for the overs when the fielding restrictions are particularly restrictive.
– great players, memorable contests but instead of hearing a pure ring of a silver trophy, I hear ‘clunk, clunk, clunk’.
– description of the finger spinner’s delivery that doesn’t turn and possibly moves off the seam in the opposite direction. I don’t feel it explains what the bowler applied to the ball and often suspect is was simply a stock delivery that didn’t turn.