Language butchering

Imagine that we are watching a baseball game on television. Let’s listen in as two announcers discuss a player’s batting and fielding skills.

“As of late, we’re seeing an improvement in his swing. He’s seeing the ball better.”

“True. As for his defense, I have to admire his athleticism, but he needs to hone in on his fielding skills. Too many errors.”

When was the last time you used the phrase “as of late” in conversation? Probably never. It’s an archaic way of saying “lately” or “recently.” More formal, perhaps. Why do sports announcer use it so frequently? Perhaps it’s because they’re trying to show their command of the language. If so, please spare us.

Athleticism as a word, as we know, is an invention of sports announcers. But an ism is a system of belief, such as Catholicism, communism, or fascism, to cite a few examples. Here is what one dictionary says about isms: “a distinctive practice, system, or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement.” What does that have to do with skillfulness at sports? Nothing.

As for honing in, this gaffe is not restricted to sports announcers. People of all sorts of backgrounds and occupations use — er misuse — the term. To home in means to find and move directly toward a target. To hone means to sharpen, as to hone a knife. Incorrectly using hone in when we mean home in is called an eggcorn, a word accidently used for another word that sounds similar, like saying eggcorn instead of acorn. This has nothing to do with can of corn, a baseball term for a high, easy-to-catch, fly ball hit to the outfield. The phrase is believed to have originated in the 19th century and relates to a grocer’s way of getting canned goods down from a high shelf.

But I digress.

My point is that sports announcers are paid professionals who use presumably understandable language to communicate to listeners descriptions and analyses of sporting events and their players. Language is their toolbox.

Why do many of them butcher the language so?

Perhaps they have been influenced by what they hear on television, such as abbreviations fostered by manufacturers of medicines, RA for one. We have been bombarded with this TV shorthand for rheumatoid arthritis. As a longtime sufferer, I don’t need or appreciate this shorthand.

What we hear on television burns into our advertising-exhausted brains, and it most certainly insinuates its way into our vocabularies.

One could say its effect is moderate to severe.

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

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