The curious overuse of the F-word

It’s that time of year again when I’m obliged to register my annual complaint about a certain pet peeve — namely the odd penchant among people associated with the gridiron culture to use the word “football” seemingly six times in every sentence.

I’ve been beefing about this for years now, and a search of the Internet shows that I’m not the only person annoyed by it. But the problem persists. Broadcasters, coaches, players and others involved in the sport have to remind themselves every few seconds that the game is called “football.” Consequently, any reference to a player becomes “football player”; a team is a “football team”; a field is a “football field”; and so on.

The next time you watch or listen to a game on television or radio, listen for the ridiculous overuse of the word “football.” Once you notice, it’ll drive you nuts after a while.

And when this odd verbal compulsion is combined with the overall stupidity of what some jock types have to say, you sometimes get inane utterances like the one Mike Ditka delivered a few years ago in reference to a certain athlete: “This guy is a football player. He comes to play football ‘cause that’s what he is, a football player.”

I’m sure Ditka thought his observation was profound.

This habit of overusing the term “football” is no doubt involuntary. It likely arises from some subconscious sense that frequent use of the word conveys an especially keen grasp of the sport’s traditions and true meaning; it separates the men from the boys, the insiders from the outsiders. There’s almost an inherent machismo to the word. Football! It suggests kicking something or somebody.

This strange, repetitive linguistic phenomenon is equally common at the professional and college levels; it’s even infected the prep world. In the pro game, however, it has a curious comcomitant: You don’t often hear broadcasters, coaches or players refer to “the NFL” in their unscripted patter. No, no, no. The initials won’t suffice. It has to be “the National Football League.” I mean, how weird is that?

Baseball has no parallel to this nonsense. Baseball people can discuss their sport at length without using the word more than once or twice, if at all. I like to think that’s because baseball people are more intelligent, which is why the game has inspired more good literature and poetry than has football.

(Yeah, yeah, I know. I used the word “baseball” three times in that preceding paragraph, but only for sake of comparison. Listen to a radio account of a baseball game sometime, and three or four innings or more can pass without any mention of the sport’s name.)

POSTSCRIPT: I read somewhere that Phil Simms, the former quarterback who does color commentary for CBS, once used the F-word 57 times during one game.



  1. Neftali

    I’m not so sure about baseball people being more intelligent. There are very intelligent people in both football and baseball, and of course, the opposite is true.

    Two of my favorites, George Will and Charles Krauthammer, are noted baseball fans and will occasionally devote their weekly columns to the sport. Charles even recently tweeted his proposed solution to keep Nationals phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg pitching for the rest of the season while keeping to the coaches desire to limit his inning pitched. https://twitter.com/krauthammer/status/236820891571478528

    But baseball has its share of stupid lingo. One of my pet peeves is the terminology used to describe the pitcher’s actual repertoire of pitches as “stuff.” A good pitcher is often said to have “good stuff.” Or worse, when pitches have a lot of movement they are considered “filthy.” So its not uncommon to hear Strasburg has “filthy stuff.” Of course, smarter analysts make use of sabermetric terms using mathematics to measure pitching performance. Check out pitch f/x data, xFIP, or WAR for pitchers. Here’s the page for Strasburg: http://www.fangraphs.com/pitchfx.aspx?playerid=10131&position=P

    Pat already mentioned some of the caveman-esque part of football. But that’s part of what makes the sport fun. But those that really know football are no dummies. What other sport has 22 people on the field at the same time, each of a highly specialized skill set, all with very special roles and routes. Offensive linemen are typically over 300 lbs, very strong, yet have to react quickly. This is opposed to Wide receivers, which are usually tall and lanky, but extremely fast. Its not unlike chess. Offensive coordinators are sometimes compared to mad scientists because of the different packages they employ. NFL 1st round draft pick Colts QB Andrew Luck explained it fairly well in Peter King’s column this morning

    “”The tough thing here, I’d say, have been the protections. We ran one type of dropback protection at Stanford, but here there’s man protection, slide protection, scat protection [no backs kept in, and man blocking by the line]. There’s a protection where the TE’s staying in, where the RB releases, where the center IDs the MIKE linebacker, when I ID the MIKE linebacker, where this guy’s the hot guy, or another receiver’s hot … and I’ve got to make sure I’m on the same page as the receivers. It’s tough.”


    Of course, to combat this, defensive coordinators use a variety of coverage schemes. Zone blitzes, corner and safety blitzes, fake coverages at the line, and 8 defensive backs on the field at the same time are now not uncommon. Naturally, there are advanced NFL stats to keep track of all this too.

    So in summary, you just have to appreciate each sport for what it is.

  2. Neftali

    Well…perhaps Krauthammer doesn’t follow baseball that closely because he doesn’t know that Manny Ramirez hasn’t played with the Red Sox since 2008, but the general analogy is correct.

    But Krauthammer said that “Biden is Biden” remark was reminiscent of the “Manny being Manny” line often used by the star athlete’s apologists to explain away his behavior.

    “He is an embarrassment,” Krauthammer said. “The only reason I take it seriously and take umbrage is because the guy is so off the wall that you sort of expected [it]. He is like Manny Ramirez for the Red Sox. He catches an out with only one out in the inning, a man on base and he tosses the ball into the stands. You know, it’s Manny being Manny. So, this is a guy that nobody takes seriously. I think there is a fitness problem here. The bar … is [so] low because of all the crazy stuff he says that you got to ask yourself, is this a guy you want a heartbeat away?”


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