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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

A Letter-Perfect System to End Cliches

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Had an earful of overused sports words? Let's start vilifying cliches by referring to them only by their first letter. For example, "momentum" could become the M-word.


Now the language of sports. Flip through the channels and even when the games are different - football, basketball, baseball - the words used to describe the action are all too familiar to use a cliché. Commentator Frank Deford has heard enough.

FRANK DEFORD: To my despair, we keep having to hear about unpleasant words only identified by their lead letter - the N-word, the F-word and so forth. Boy, I am tired of that. It's so coy, isn't it? But if that's the way the game has to be played, then I think it's time to register a catalogue of sports words that are so clichéd, so predictable that they've become obscene in their own dreary way, and thus henceforth should only be identified by their first letter, okay?

At the top of any list, the M-word: momentum. It is apparently the ultimate secret to all victory in sport. We had momentum. Or the excuse for all defeat -we lost our momentum. Only slightly less overused is the F-word: Focus. It explains everything that the M word doesn't. We need to focus better, we lost our focus for a while there.

And leave us not forget the I-word: intensity. If you have the F-word, that will get you the I-word and produce the M-word. The W-word - wakeup call. Every team that loses a game says it's a wakeup call. Of course, sometimes instead of the W-word coaches use the J-word. The J-word is jumpstart. Why does every team need a jumpstart? Why in the 21st century can't some coach just turn the ignition key on?

The D-word: Defense. Is Robert Gates the secretary of defense? He is not. He is the secretary of defense. The D-word is not only an assault on our oral sensitivity. No, also on our visual because invariably the television cameras at a game will show us two idiots in the stands, one holding up a big capital letter D and the other a picket fence. Please.

The A-word: Athletic. Everybody knows that when a broadcaster says a team has to be more athletic it's code for that they need more black guys. They either say it straight out or use the A-word. The L-word and the T-word come as a pair; they are looks and touches. Announcers love to talk about how certain players are not getting enough looks or touches. It sounds so much more knowledgeable than just saying he's not getting the ball enough.

The B-word: blue-collar. Every team that doesn't have some graceful star is a blue-collar team. Every player who isn't very good but flops all around and acts like a tough guy is called a blue-collar player. Blue collar is always a term of endearment in sports. Why? Nobody ever says they're just a bunch of blue-collar bums. Also, no one is ever described as a white-collared player even though if they were white-collar players they would be better than the grungy B-word players.

The G-word: guarantee. Every member of the media who reports that a player has guaranteed victory ought to lose his press card. Why do we fall for the G-word stuff every time? But what do I know? I'm just a white-collar commentator.

MONTAGNE: Our D-word, Frank Deford, is senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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Sweetness And Light

Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light

The Score On Sports With Frank Deford