I love language. The trivialities of linguistics, the odd words we use, how simple semantics can change entire meanings, dialects, colloquialisms: it’s all awesome (except, I admit, there are some accents that I hate, but that’s a whole other thing). English is remarkably complex and word-wealthy, borrowing from so many other languages and spreading across the whole globe, that there are practically no rules in English that aren’t at some point broken yet still considered correct, and just when you think “okay, this thing is a rule and there’s only this one exception”–BAM something else hits you in the face!
But I think I’ve come across something wholly unique in the English language, and I am fucking pumped. I have come to affectionately deem it “The Sportball We,” and, Dear Reader, I would love to explain, especially since it’s about to be the Super Bowl.
The Sportball We is something that we all are familiar with, but it hides in plain sight (hearing?), and you’ve probably never given it a second thought. Let me be clear: this is not a rant. I don’t care that people do this; I just find it fucking fascinating. What I am calling The Sportball We is the phenomenon that occurs when a person speaks about a sports team as if they are part of that team despite it being understood by everyone that they are, in fact, not a player of or other peripheral teammate to, that team. Example:
Did you see the Lightning game last night?
Yeah, we really crushed the Canucks!
Do you think we’ll make it to the Super Bowl this year?
Are you guys getting a new head coach?
Those second two examples are especially interesting since they can be said utilizing The Sportball We as a total replacement for the team name if all the speakers in a conversation know which team the answerer is “part of.”
What is most fascinating about this to me is sports are the only activity or organization that the speaker is not actually a part of yet speaks as if they are. When I tried to find other examples, my mind immediately went to religion and houses of worship. People say “we” when discussing their congregation or religion; however, they actually are part of these things. People are Christians or people belong to and attend a mosque. Sportball We-ers don’t take an active part in the game in the way a Jewish person might actively celebrate Passover, but SBWs do, in some way, take a passive role in sports by being fans.
So I thought, okay, what are other things of which people are fans? Music, of course. But do Beyonce’s fans leave a concert declaring “We totally slayed it on stage!” or ask one another if they’ve seen our new video yet? I don’t think so. Sometimes people refer to a fandom as a whole that they are part of, but that’s the thing: you are part of a fandom as you can take an active role cultivating it, but you’re not part of the band or musician, and music fans have a distinction in their speech that SBWs do not.
The same can be said for people who say “we” about their hometown or their alma mater. Though they might not live there or attend that school anymore, they did at one time, took an active part in living there, and would still be considered a representative of those peoples.
The only thing that seems to come close is when men say “we’re pregnant.” Your buddy Bob at the office is hauling around a fetus and vomiting his guts out as much as he’s tackling Tom Brady on the 30, but at least he actually (probably) had a hand in making it possible for a fetus to eventually exist, and in that way we can kind of parallel conception to being a dedicated sports fan who “helps” their team win. However, there are a lot of people who find the “pregnant we” weird, and almost no one who thinks The Sportball We is bizarre.
In fact, I never thought The Sportball We was weird until I started working in a male-dominated department where sports were discussed in numbers equitable to how children were discussed in my previously female-dominated department, so the language was constantly in my ear. It’s just a part of American culture and language, and that’s kind of cool. There is, of course, a lot that could be said sociologically about patriotism and sports fanaticism, but I’ll leave that to someone else for now. Instead, we can all just marvel at the uniqueness that The Sportball We brings to English.
Also if you think you have another instance of a “we” used in a socially acceptable and understood instance despite the user having no actual, active participation in the activity or organization, leave a comment below, Dear Reader, and I’ll be happy to tell you why you’re wrong.