The Cunning Linguist

Justin March 6, 2010 1’m back with more judgmental declarations about the way people speak.

Why am I qualified to make these declarations? Because William Safire is dead and I’m not.

Today’s edition focuses on the work of a number of broadcasters who discuss basketball for a living and the pet phrase they misuse consistently.


This verbal tic seems to exist mainly among recently retired players trying to make the transition into cable analysis. And Hubie Brown.

Here is a sample conversation:

Host: So, what do you think about Kevin Durant’s game?

Analyst: Well, he’s a complete player. Sure, Durant can score the basketball, but he’s also very good at rebounding the basketball.

Other analyst: Don’t forget, Durant has also become very adept at defending the basketball.


Players do not score the basketball. They score points with a basketball.  That one is almost excusable, because at least the player in question has the basketball in his possession at the time the act of scoring begins.

What is truly horrifying, though, is the phrase “defending the basketball.”  You defend the basket from other players who have the basketball.  There is no part of playing defense which involves a player doing ANYTHING AT ALL with the basketball.

So, why? Why do these people insist on mangling the English language while discussing the relative merits of professional athletes? It’s because they think it makes them sound smart.  Dumb people believe the more you say, the better you sound. The opposite is true.

Here are two sentences:

1. Kevin Durant is great at scoring the basketball.

2. Kevin Durant’s a great scorer.

Hey, Bruce Bowen, check out how much easier the second one is to say, hear, and understand.  ESPN doesn’t pay you by the word. There’s no reason to drag it out. Stop trying to impress Sage Steele with your talking. The bow tie works well enough.

One Comment »

  1. aashish March 8, 2010 at 2:50 pm -

    also, 0-0 is a score, once the game begins, there is a score, even if it is 0-0.

    also misused too often: ironically, literally

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