I'm not going to lie to you: I didn't so much watch TV broadcasts of races this past weekend as I listened to them while doing some other things. In doing so I found certain clichéd phrases leaping out at me - phrases we've all heard countless times.
Phrases like "four fresh tires," which I heard Larry Mac say during the NASCAR Cup race and Vince Welch from the pitlane for IndyCar's return to The Milwaukee Mile. More about that little jewel below, but let me say at the start of this little rant that I'm not one of those people who wallows in "language." I can't diagram a sentence, can't define what an adjective is, and don't get me started on gerunds (Ed: Great advertisement for his services as a writer, huh?)
I do enjoy a well-turned description, and I have great respect for anyone who avoids the trite and hackneyed cliches that seem to be the coin of the realm in sports.
During the recently completed Stanley Cup Finals between Boston and Vancouver, I heard a nifty little phrase from Emmy Award-winning announcer Mike "Doc" Emrick. One of the Canucks' players shoved the puck with his stick, lifting it into the air and sending it from his own end of the ice all the way into Boston's.
Without missing a beat in his rapid-fire delivery, Emrick said the puck was "pitch-forked into the Bruins' end" - as neat a description as I've heard in awhile. In the days of my youth I worked some hay on a friend's farm, so for some reason hearing that tickled me.
But what I liked even more is that I don't recall hearing it again. And there were lots of pucks "pitch-forked" around the rink that game and in subsequent games. I'm not a diehard hockey fan, so maybe I'm wrong and that's one of Emrick's patented catchphrases that puck heads are tired of. But I'm not tired of it.
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As a green and part-time sportswriter covering high school games for our local daily newspaper, I was told by the prep editor to avoid clichés at all costs. He said they were the crutch of lazy writers.
And as we all know, sports is rife with clichés, some particular to a particular type of sports and some that cross all lines. One of my favorite movie scenes is from "Bull Durham" when Kevin Costner's catcher helps pitcher Nuke LaLoosh master the clichés to use in any press interview ("One game at a time" "Just happy to be here and help out the team" etc.).
Taking this to heart, I set about trying to find the most original and - it pains me to use this term considering what set this train in motion - fresh descriptions possible. I wasn't alone in this quest, either, as a story one of my fellow prep sportswriter liked to tell indicated.
He was also green and part-time at the time and after covering a high school baseball game he struggled with finding a way to describe the game-winning hit, a single. With a runner at second base, the batter squared up as if to bunt, but as the ball left the pitcher's hand the batter quickly brought the bat up and made contact with a short, hard downward swing.
My friend described this by writing that the batter "pimp-slapped a single through the hole, scoring the winning run from second."
Supposedly, that colorful, descriptive and decidedly not-cliché phrase made it through several reviews and was just a mouse click away from being sent down to the press to be included in more than 50,000 copies of the next day's paper before a suitably horrified editor noticed it.
Perhaps it's an apocryphal story, but having worked at that paper, alongside many of the same people, I believe there's more than a little truth to it.
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OK, so let's talk about some of the tired old chestnuts we hear over and over and over again with racing - either on TV or in print. I have a few of my own dislikes, and I asked my followers on Twitter (shameless plug: @ScottWhitmore) for theirs.
- The one that started me on this rant is "four fresh tires" When I think of "fresh" I usually associate the word with either bakery products or the sell-by date on milk. Unless told otherwise, I assume teams are using sticker tires not scuffs, so why not just say "four/two tires" or "right/left-side tires" instead?
- A close second is another pitstop call: "pack full of fuel." To my mind, suitcases are packed but fuel cells are filled. Unless it's a "splash and go" - a cliché itself, but at least one that gives us important information - I assume the team is going to try to get all the fuel possible into the car, so I don't need to hear this.
- Sticking with the fuel theme, Eric Hall (@Erock_in_Indy) doesn't like "and 18 (or whatever it is) gallons of Sunoco racing fuel ... I hate unneeded branding." I like to hear team sponsors get some love on the air, but agree by this point we've all heard the fuel and tire sponsors so many times we no longer hear it, if you get me. (Ed: and don't get him started on that "I am Firestone" commercial ...)
- Maury Williams (@bigmo500) has heard "using his tools" more times than he cares to. Frankly, I have to and the chance for a double-entendre or mis-pronunciation - looking at you now, Marty Reid - is great. More to the point, where is Jack Arute (@jackonsports) these days because just once I'd like to see what the "weight jacker and bars" actually do, perhaps using a milk carton, a roll of toilet paper and a boomerang as props.
- The racing cliché Lanette Williams (@missouriracefan) is tired of hearing is "nose to tail" and to that I'd like to add "front nose" - which isn't really a cliché so much as it's just silly. Especially for TV, where we can see how the cars are lined up, "nose to tail" adds nothing to a description.
- Matt Kacar (@Matt_Kacar) and Jeff Fuller (@Fullfocus) share this one, as Matt said "Anything DW says" and Jeff added "Boogity, Boogity, Boogity." Darrell Waltrip - excuse me: NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip - is certainly a polarizing figure in the broadcast booth. People seem to love him or hate him. Although, frankly I haven't ever met anyone on the "love" side of that equation.
- A friend of mine, Tim McDougald (@TerribleTim68) isn't a fan of "He comes near me, I'll put him in the wall" which may be more of a reflection on his late-model racing career here in the Pacific Northwest. We kid because we care, right Tim? Tim? Seriously, this also points to the trend of the media to blow up out of proportion even the most minor disagreements between teams or drivers. For an example, see the "Dario vs. Will Power" non-feud after Texas.
- I'm going to add one more: "battling." Anytime two cars are shown on the TV there is usually an announcer or an on-screen graphic telling us it is the "battle for 3rd/4th/etc." It doesn't matter how close the cars are, if one is pulling away or if you could drive a semi between them - it's a "battle." Stop it, please, unless the cars are actually side-by-side or nose-to-tail - Whoops, sorry Lanette.
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We've barely scratched the surface, so if you care to let us know about your least favorite racing clichés with a comment below.