Saturday, January 31, 2015

Vocabulary Lessons

I’ve been watching a fair amount of English Premier League soccer for a while now.  I like it.  It’s an interesting game to watch for those who don’t need the constant short-attention-span-theater adrenaline rush of scoring the way basketball fans seem to do.  Concussions are considered abnormal, unlike in American football.  And it can be an elegant game to watch in the way that hockey is, all back and forth and motion.  It’s a game of space, where it often makes sense to go backwards.  And it has a certain restful quality the way most spectator sports do – you get caught up in it and the rest of your brain turns off for a while.

That’s a nice quality to have this year.  It’s been a long year and it’s still January.

The broadcasters here were smart enough not to hire Americans for their play-by-play announcers.  They just stream the English broadcasts.  I’m sure they have come to some arrangement whereby those original announcers take time now and then to explain things that the folks back in the UK probably don’t need to have explained, but I appreciate it.

Even so, there are noticeable vocabulary differences that took me some time to adjust to, even beyond the obvious “football” versus “soccer” dispute. 

One thing I noticed after watching for a while was the constant use of the word “pace.”  In the US, announcers would probably use “speed,” especially when describing the motion of the ball.  Sometimes “velocity,” if they felt their audience could handle it.  It’s interesting that the EPL announcers often use it to describe the motion of people too, usually as a property – “he’s coming down the side with pace.”  We don’t really use the word that way here.

Nor do we use “quality” quite the same way.  Quality in the EPL seems to be a general term covering all manifestations of skill.  Teams have quality.  Shots have quality (though in the US we would say that they displayed quality, if we used quality that way at all).  “Skill level” seems to be the term here, as far as I can tell, as far as we have an equivalent.

Games are called “matches.”  In the US, match is generally reserved for tennis.  And there are all sorts of matches in soccer, none of which have any real equivalent here.  “Fixtures,” which are the normal league games.  “Friendlies,” which we would call exhibition games.  And things in between that I have no idea what they are.  EPL teams seem to play in about a dozen different leagues simultaneously – the EPL itself, the FA Cup, the European Cup, and so on.  They all overlap.  American sports are much more monotone.

Soccer games are generally played on a “pitch,” which is a word that has a number of meanings in the US, none of which have any connection to a playing surface unless that surface sits on a significant angle.  “Field” is preferred here.

EPL players wear “boots” and “kit” for games.  Kits are “uniforms” here.  As for boots, well.  During a halftime show of an EPL game I watched one announcer explain that in America boots were “cleats,” which struck me as inaccurate.  Cleats go on the bottom of shoes.  We say shoes.  Boots are for skiing.

The announcers also use the word “touch” a lot.  It mostly means contact with the ball and can be heavy or light depending on whether the ball gets kicked away or stays where it ought to be.  I don’t know what the equivalent term would be in any American sport.

They also say “side” where we would say “team.”  Matches are played by sides.  Here games are played by teams.

It took me a long time to figure out what a “table” was and how it mattered.  In the US we would say “standings.”  It’s just the ranked list of teams according to their won/lost records, and sides move up and down the table just as American teams move up and down in the standings.

Soccer is a timed sport, like American football and unlike baseball.  They have overtime like we have, at least in some World Cup games, but they also have “extra time,” which has no real equivalent here – time added on to the game to make up for various halts in the action.  My favorite term, though, is “normal time” or “regular time” which refers to the standard 90 minutes of play without either overtime or extra time.  We would say “regulation time,” which sounds kind of rigid.  I like the idea of “normal time,” as if it is an island of sanity in a world gone mad.  It makes a difference which side of the line you’re on.

The one thing that they do that isn’t really a vocabulary difference but which did confuse me for a while anyway is list the sides differently when describing matches and giving scores.  At the top of the screen during the matches there will be a little graphic with the score that will look something like this:

Everton 1-0 Crystal Palace

It’s easy enough to see that Everton is winning, though in the US we’d put Crystal Palace’s score after their name rather than before.  But who’s the home team and who’s the visitor?

In the US we’d read that as “Everton at Crystal Palace,” making Everton the visitor.  But they would read it as “Everton hosting Crystal Palace,” making Everton the home team.  This took me forever to figure out, but I’ve now gotten to the point where I find it more comfortable and am constantly having to stop and think the other way when looking at American sports.

So I drink my tea and let it all wash over me, unaware that I’m learning things anyway.


Ilya said...

Did you pick a favorite team yet? I have a fair dose of respect for any US-born person who learns to appreciate football, but I need to make sure I do not inadvertently respect a Chelsea or a Spurs fan ;-)

One more for you: The match is also a "tie", and that does not mean it necessarily ends in a "draw".

David said...

No favorites yet, though I feel I ought to have one by now.

Chelsea is on a lot, as one would expect from their place on the table (see me using my new vocabulary!), but I think cheering for them would be kind of like cheering for the Yankees. Or Goliath. It's why I can't quite bring myself to cheer for Arsenal or either of the Manchester teams.

Given that Lauren keeps chickens we do have a soft spot for the Spurs, but I wouldn't call us fans.

So far I'm just watching and trying to get a handle on the teams. I like Swansea's logo and grew up in an area with a lot of Welsh place names, so maybe it will be them. Tim Howard plays for Everton - perhaps them. Or maybe some other team entirely. I'm enjoying the process of just watching the games and letting a favorite develop slowly. :)

Also, you got me - how does a tie not equal a draw?

Ilya said...

"Tie" is a synonym for match, so you "win the tie", or lose it, or draw it. It is not a word that denotes result of the match. When the teams are even on goals, a commentator might use the American "the score is tied", but the end result can only be a "draw" in that case.

I am an Arsenal fan. If your soft spot for chickens develops into a strong attraction for Spurs, we are the enemies. We play each other next weekend, by the way.

David said...

Then you must be pretty happy with that dismantling of Aston Villa I just watched - that was brutal. Although the third goal was especially pretty, I thought. I've gotten to the point now where I can tell when teams are playing well or poorly, which is a nice place to be.

One thing in Arsenal's favor is that they have Per Mertesacker. We decided during the World Cup that we liked him, here on my household, because the announcers (especially the one who sounded exactly like Michael Palin) always pronounced his name as "Murder Soccer" and we thought that was funny.

I still don't know where the rivalries are in the EPL, though I'm less and less bothered by them as I get older. I'm an Eagles fan in American football, and I find myself becoming less prickly about being friends with Cowboys fans than I ever thought possible.

Here is a question for you, Arsenal fan (although I notice that the proper word is "supporter," which is not a word used in that context in the US), why should I overlook my natural disinclination to favor Goliath teams and support your side? I'm genuinely curious.

Tie = match? That's something that I never would have figured.

Ilya said...

I started following Arsenal because they played the prettiest football in the league at the time. And though they are historically the 2nd or 3rd most successful English team, domestically speaking (Man U is tops, and Liverpool has more league titles but none in the last 20+ years), they have been also-rans since 2006, finally breaking through with an FA Cup last year. Coincidentally, that is their best chance for silverware this year.

When I arrived in London, my original choices were Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, West Ham, Fulham, and Charlton, all of whom played in EPL (the latter two have since been replaced by QPR and Crystal Palace through relegation/promotion). The last three were never in contention for my affections, Chelsea was already too expensively assembled by my former compatriot oligarch (which was a double strike against them). I tried supporting Spurs for a few weeks, on the basis of the same sentiment that you put forward about Goliaths, but they were awfully drab and uninspiring back then. I switched to Arsenal by the 6th or 7th matchday, and although they disappoint me plenty, they also give me plenty of joy as well (cue Aston Villa game - what about that assist from Ozil on the first goal?!?!)

Let me put it this way: supporting a relative David (no pun intended here) can be awfully frustrating when you team never wins anything and gives you little joy with their displays. If you were born in Stoke-on-Trent, by all means support Stoke City, it is your home team. But If you are not "attached" in geographical terms, my advice is to pick a team with a chance to be successful.

Mertesacker has a nickname among Arsenal fans: BFG. He carries it as a badge of honor, signs off his tweets with it. B is for Big, G is for German. You can guess the F. One of my favorite guys in the game!

David said...

I will have to remember the BFG idea - I like that he owns it. It speaks well of the man.

I'll move Arsenal off the "do not consider" list then - I have no idea where I will end up as a fan, but perhaps it will be there. Thanks for that.

I'm used to also-rans, though. I grew up in Philadelphia. About 20 years ago ESPN ran a series listing the most "sports-cursed" cities in the US. I figured we were a lock to win that one. The Eagles hadn't won anything since 1960. The Flyers last won it all in 1974. The Phillies had won exactly one World Series to that point in their more-than-a-century of existence and were well on their way to becoming the first sports franchise in human history to lose 10,000 games. But we couldn't even win that contest. We came in second. Second! I was outraged. Who could possibly be more sports-cursed than Philadelphia? Turns out it was Cleveland, and I couldn't argue with that. Oh well.

Ilya said...

That's exactly my point, David. If your hometown team is an also-ran, tough - but there is nothing you can do about it except keep the faith. I still follow my Russian hometown team; they actually won the Russian Cup last year but now are dead last in the RPL, will probably get relegated.

With EPL, you are unencumbered with your personal history (I am assuming here that your past visits to England did not produce a town that you absolutely love, aside from London - and Cambridge United plays in the fourth tier anyway), and that gives you a rare opportunity to be selective in your affections.

Everton might be a good also-ran for you to pick - a team with history, always finishing in the top half of the table but not quite breaking through among the elite. Tim Howard aside, their present manager Roberto Martinez is one of the best young coaches in the league - I would love to see him manage Arsenal when Wenger decides to retire.

David said...

No, none of my visits involved watching any soccer. The closest team to where my friends live is the Bristol Rovers, who are even further down the scale than Cambridge United this year. I have to say that if I were going to pick a team at random from the lower tiers it would probably be Sheffield Wednesday just because the name strikes me as completely absurd.

I'm enjoying letting a favorite emerge naturally though. My point about being used to also-rans is that winning championships isn't really that big a deal for me. I just want a team that is fun to watch (and, given the realities of the EPL, one that is not going to be relegated anytime soon, since it's hard enough to find EPL teams here - I seriously doubt teams lower down will ever be broadcast in the US).

David said...

One thing more that I meant to include before hitting the post button:

In terms of teams lower down being broadcast, I am enjoying the FA Cup games for precisely that reason. They even had Cambridge on tonight in a replay match (they were down 2-0 to ManU when I had to leave).