Learning our language

Career: 1. An occupation, a way of making a living, especially one with opportunities for advancement or promotion. 2. Progress through life, the development and progress if a political party, etc. 3. Quick or violent forward movement. – Oxford American Dictionary

I have had two careers in my adult life. I worked as a professional journalist on two major newspapers, then I taught journalism courses on the faculty of a major university. Like many other kids, when I was very young I dreamed of becoming a major league baseball player. That didn’t happen. I did run track, though, and played a lot of sandlot baseball in the days before Little League.

My love of sports had stayed with me into my mature years, so I enjoy watching younger, more athletic men and women perform on a variety of fields, courts, tracks and swimming pools, sometimes live, more often on television.

Professional communicators describe what I’m watching in these sporting events. You might expect that those paid to communicate on network television would come to the job equipped with a decent command of the English language and its proper usage, but you would be mistaken. If confronted with tests of grammar or vocabulary, many of them would earn low grades. Not all, to be fair, but many.

This seems particularly true of so-called color announcers plying their trades on football games. Some are former athletes or coaches. The comments of many reveal that think they know more than the coaches and players we are watching and wish they would follow this announcer’s advice. This tendency itself is annoying to hear, but it pales when compared to lack of language skills.

From such announcers we have added the non-word athleticism to our general vocabulary. An ism commonly refers to a system of beliefs, such as Protestantism, communism or conservatism. It can also refer to action, as baptism, or conduct as heroism. How we fit athletic ability into these definitions escapes me. But it’s a lazy way for announcers to avoid saying athletic skill. Too much work.

Bad enough, but the word that brought me to today’s soapbox is career. Sports announcers love this word and use it a lot to refer to the time one spends in college as a student athlete. Or high school, even middle school. Yes. It’s a stretch, but I suppose one could say that it is about “progress through life,” the alternate definition of career.

Perhaps, but I draw the line when I hear one of these professional communicators tell me about a kid’s middle school career. Come on, guys, can’t you think of a better way to express what you want to say? If you’re going to pose as a professional communicator,  sharpen your language skills. These are the tools of your trade.

Try stretching your intellectualism. Look it up.

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