The English Pedant – The language of football

It would be wrong to suggest that footballers are illiterate. But it would be equally misleading to suggest that they as a whole are well educated.

The sport takes over their life from an early age, at the expense of everything else, and while you do find some who are quite articulate, their thoughts tend to be expressed in a sort of football jargon.

It’s always been like that (sick as a parrot, over the moon etc.) but since the great foreign invasion began about 10 years ago, with top players from around the globe coming to England to take the clubs’ money… I mean to test themselves against the best in the world, the language of the Premier League has become a mishmash of foreign adaptations and pure errors, which the English players don’t notice and use themselves without thinking.

Take, for example:

In a good moment. ‘We’re in a good moment’ means the team is winning, things are going well. But that expression didn’t exist in the English language in the 20th century.

Shall. Manchester United’s manager, the Dutchman Louis van Gaal, is waging a one-man battle to reintroduce the verb ‘shall’ to English. We long ago abandoned it in favour of ‘will’, which really suggests wanting to do something (free will, where there’s a will, there’s a way etc), while ‘shall’ was simply predictive. So now we say ‘We will get beaten if we defend like that again,’ when obviously we don’t want to be beaten. Nowadays in English we only use ‘shall’ in expressions like ‘Shall we do this?’ In Dutch they still have ‘zal’, meaning shall, and ‘wil’ meaning will, and they use them appropriately.

Van Gaal
He’s dour, he’s Dutch, and he says “shall” too much. Louis Van Gaal is pretty good at English, though

Get beat. While we’re on the subject, getting ‘beaten’ is being abandoned in favour of getting ‘beat’. Sounds suspiciously like an Americanism, although there aren’t enough Yanks playing football here to have an influence.

On the other hand…

Offense. ‘Attack’, the English word for going forward, trying to score, is being challenged by ‘offense’, so that when someone talks about playing offensively, they don’t mean running with two fingers raised, questioning their opponent’s parentage. And note that the American offense has an s instead of a c. How long before that spelling infiltrates our dictionaries?

Normal. It’s an ordinary word that can cover a multitude of situations. But rather than learn the adjectives that are traditionally used, your imported player just uses this catch-all one. So when the other team came back harder in the second half because they were a goal down, when the English option would have been something like ‘that’s what you would expect’, Johnny Foreigner opts for ‘that’s normal’. Nothing wrong with that – it’s just an observation.

Chelsea’s Diego Costa may want to learn the English expression “That b***ard tore my shirt”

But it’s not just the foreign influence. Here are two that we are inflicting on ourselves.

Defeat to. ‘City have struggled away from home since their defeat to Stoke.’ Ladies and gentlemen, we are defeated by somebody, not to them.

Tour to. Fair enough, you go to America on tour. But once there, you are on tour in America, or on a tour of America. You’re not on a tour to America.

This is not rocket science. It is not difficult. Nor, admittedly, is it desperately important. Just watch all these things creep into British English and know where they came from.

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