If it’s legal to kill sports fans who can’t talk, I do it

11Feb08
Here’s what I like about MetaFilter: Not only was there a long discussion on there the other day about the misuse of the phrase “begs the question” — which doubly annoys me, as a copy editor with a philosophy degree, so much that I literally yelled, “No, it doesn’t!” at the television the other night when I heard Amy Poehler do it during a rerun of Saturday Night Live1 — but I just saw this Ask MeFi thread about the death of the subjunctive mood among people who talk about sports.
Verbs have not only tenses, but moods too, and seeing people consistently butcher the language in sports-related forums has been making me tense and putting me in a bad mood for a long while. (The only linguistic trend that’s annoyed me more recently is people using “funny” as a noun, as in colloquial phrases such as “Meet the Spartans really brings the funny.”2) The subjunctive mood is used to talk about a wish or a state of conditions contrary to fact. Here’s an example:3
If Eric Lindros hadn’t gotten all those concussions, he would have been a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.
But this is how sportscasters and fans tend to express the same thought:
If Eric Lindros doesn’t get all those concussions, he’s a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.
But this doesn’t make any sense. It’s not a question of if he does or doesn’t get them. The fact is that he did, and to speculate as to what might have happened if he hadn’t is to discuss a situation contrary to fact, which calls for the subjunctive mood.4

The general consensus seems to be that sportscasters do this for two reasons: First, they’re trying to sound more “in the moment”, and second, many are former players and therefore just dumb jocks. I think that the fans who replicate this are also doing it for two reasons: First, they’re hearing and imitating sportscasters, and second, they’re even dumber than the jocks are. I mean, come on — I constantly see these people writing the expression “come on” as “common”.5

1. And I’m pretty sure I did it during the original airing too.
2. “No, it doesn’t!” This statement is indefensible on at least two points, and I’m tolerant enough to be willing to sit through the same episode of SNL twice.
3. And since it’s one that’s likely to provoke discussions about whether the phrase is “shoo-in” or shoe-in”, let’s cut that off right now: It’s “shoo-in”.
4. I’d personally put him in, since Cam Neely’s in there. Lindros in his prime was one of the most dominant players ever. No one can take that away from him, though it’s somehow easy to imagine Scott Stevens running onstage and concussing Lindros again with a cheap but legal hit during his acceptance speech.
5. This phrase has of course increased in popularity thanks to its frequent recent usage on Arrested Development by Will Arnett, who is the spouse of Amy Poehler, which brings this post full circle.



7 Responses to “If it’s legal to kill sports fans who can’t talk, I do it”

  1. 1 hookerbaby

    i have to teach this tense to bored middle schoolers who don’t speak english. i had to teach it to myself first – try explaining it from scratch.

    blah.

  2. 2 Eric

    “If Eric Lindros doesn’t get all those concussions, he’s a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.”

    Jeez, they don’t really talk like that, do they? That’s painful to read, let alone hear. Heh heh, imagine Dane Cook playing a sportscaster in a movie. Welcome to Hell, population: you.

  3. Aw, you shouldn’t have ended the “shoo-in/shoe-in” debate so decisively. It’s fun to listen to people explain how “shoe-in” makes a damn lick of sense.

    Now, if you could kindly explain the “was now” phenomenon I see in all sorts of literature. Is that a conflict of tenses, or was I just not good at no English, now?

  4. 4 Gloria

    Re: “come on” as “common” … you lie! No one could possibly think that was correct.

  5. 5 Peter Lynn

    Eric: Cook did do all those promos for baseball during the playoffs. Bad enough.

    KW: Could you give me some examples?

    Gloria: Oh no? How about the first post in this thread?

  6. Certainly.

    In regular first-person past-tense, Gore Vidal regularly uses the phrase “was now,” as in “he was now a member of that most illustrious house…”

    It just strikes me as wrong, but I can’t say exactly why.

  7. 7 Eric

    Yeah, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t work KW. AFAIK, ‘now’ can only be used in the present tense. ‘Then’ sounds a bit better to me in that example.


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