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.