Thoughts on language and style in sports writing
Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.
–Rita Mae Brown
The Summer Olympics is happening soon in Japan. Preparations are up. Athletes are engaged in exhibition games. The Japanese government is locking down policies on safety protocols for spectators.
Language professionals–journalists and writers–are also getting ready.
The Associated Press (AP) published its AP Stylebook Online Topical Guide covering the 2020 Tokyo Games. It contains facts and figures about the upcoming global sporting event that was postponed last year due to the pandemic.
The guide contains essential definitions and standard word usage too. For example, it discourages journalists and writers from using the word “Olympiad.”
Best to avoid as the term can be confusing. It is not a synonym for the Olympics. It is a period of four years beginning on Jan. 1 of the Olympic year. Olympiads are numbered consecutively in Roman numerals from the 1896 Athens Games. These are the Games of the XXXII Olympiad, which began Jan. 1, 2020.
Olympic Village must be written this way: Olympic and Village are capitalized. But if you’re using athletes village, use lowercase for both words because they describe a common place. (Makes me wonder if I need to add an article “The” in the Olympic Village (I just did).
It suggests that Olympic opening or closing ceremony are both singular. Olympic ceremonies apply when it is held in the Olympic Stadium. (Location, location, location).
Editors like me spend time debating these nuances in language. It is the lifeblood of the work that we do. But it is also the source of disagreements because it is all about style.
Do readers care? Or, do they even notice these subtle difference in the way we spell words out?
I agree with Rita Mae Brown. Language defines a culture. In sports writing or reporting, language adds color and emotions to a human activity that needs to be witnessed.
Imagine a basketball game without commentators. Or half-time breaks without game analysis. Even NBA referees use standard but special nomenclature to describe the different types of flagrant fouls (that needs a section in the AP Stylebook) players commit.
Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson offers this insight:
The two keys to success as a sportswriter are: 1) A blind willingness to believe anything you’re told by the coaches, flacks, hustlers and other “official spokesmen” for the team-owners who provide the free booze … and: 2) A Roget’s Thesaurus, in order to avoid using the same verbs and adjectives twice in the same paragraph.
Even a sports editor, for instance, might notice something wrong with a lead that said: “The precision-jack-hammer attack of the Miami Dolphins stomped the balls off the Washington Redskins today by stomping and hammering with one precise jack-thrust after another up the middle, mixed with pinpoint-precision passes into the flat and numerous hammer-jack stomps around both ends …