The Sportball We

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!

or

Do you think we’ll make it to the Super Bowl this year?

or

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.

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Figure of Speech: Paradiastole

My favorite euphemism was born one fine Sunday afternoon when a Jehovah’s Witness came proselytizing at our door. Husband answered, intending to politely explain we were already zealously devoted to the Dark Lord, when the good Witness spotted one of our cats, Bartholomew. When Husband saw the man’s eyes fall onto and then expand at the glorious sight he beheld, he waited, and, after a pause, the good Witness remarked, “My, he is plentiful.”

IMG_20170708_205051901
Not named after the apostle, but does deserve a feast day.

Paradiastole utilizes euphemisms (you’re welcome for the two-fer FoS, by the way) to transform a negative into a positive, most frequently to recast a bad characteristic as a good one. While all paradiastole is a form of euphemism, all euphemism isn’t paradiastole. With any old euphemism, you’re replacing the offending word with a less harsh word without necessarily modifying the meaning (excusing the fact that all synonyms do carry at least very slight differences in meaning), but with paradiastole specifically, you’re purposely attempting to alter the listener’s perception of a word or concept by stating something is not what they think.

I feel like I probably use paradiastole in casual speech, typically when grasping desperately at some form of comedy.

“Ashley, are you sick? You don’t look so good.”
“Oh no, the red-nosed and eye-bagged look is so in right now. I’m not sick, I’m fashionable.”

or

“It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!” – So sayeth all the developers at work.

But while researching this figure of speech, I realized this sounds remarkably like the exact kind of rhetoric that scares me. It’s the kind typically used to maliciously convince people to do things that are not in their own or others’ best interests, and it’s used to mask hatred and xenophobia, giving people an out for their horrendous beliefs.

It allows people to say things like “Donald Trump isn’t racist or a misogynist, he just tells it like it is, he’s bold, and he speaks his mind.” Intolerance rebranded as a virtue.

Of course this use isn’t new, it’s existed as long as language has for sure, but we can look back to Quintillian and his work in 95 A.D. (yes, 2000 years ago, hang with me) for more explanation. In Institutio Oratoria in response to being questioned in a court of law regarding a thing you cannot possibly deny, he states one should:

restate the facts, but not at all in the same way; you must assign different causes, a different state of mind and a different motive for what was done…you must try to elevate the action as much as possible by the words you use: for example, prodigality must be more leniently redescribed as liberality, avarice as carefulness, negligence as simplicity of mind.

So yeah, one of the greatest rhetoricians in history is suggesting you “play dumb” in court, but beyond that he is admitting that paradiastole is not necessarily a genuine use of a synonym or even a reunderstanding of the concept in question. It goes beyond the basest use of rhetoric–to convince–and acknowledges paradiastole can be used essentially to lie.

This FoS isn’t always used maliciously. Sometimes you must convince someone of something that isn’t necessarily true. Or you think you must. I’m sure there are at least a few politicians who, even though they know they are lying, think they’re doing it for the greater good, and an argument can be made that intent is more meaningful than outcome.

Per Aristotle, “whenever one calls oneself wise rather than cunning, or courageous rather than overconfident, or careful rather than parsimonious” that’s paradiastole. And you could say that’s…fibbing, to “euphemize” it.

So when do we lose the actual meaning of the words used to usurp the truth? Just as Obama’s “change” became horrific to conservatives, making America “great” again has become synonymous with a joke for liberals (though I would argue one was true and one is not).

I love that language is always evolving–when a language stops changing and moving, like a shark, it dies–but like any good English major, I fear change in language a bit. I love certain words, and I hate the potential loss of them, especially when losing them hinges on some fucko wanting to kinda pretend to not be a dick. And like how pervasive truthiness is now (Stephen Colbert really called it, man), paradiastole is rendering a major change in communication as well.

So how can you use paradiastole in your writing? Well, do you have a character with a blaring personality disorder?