Thursday, November 02, 2006

Should this be allowed?

It seems, at times, that the public participation portion the SJ-R’s editorial page is nothing more than personal squabbles between partisans and severely rehashed arguments concerning the smoking ban. Occasionally, however, a letter will appear that peaks one’s interest because it brings to light an infrequently pondered issue.

Earlier this week, a letter was printed from a local high school soccer player who was voicing his displeasure at what he felt was a slight directed at one of his teammates. Last weekend, the day after his team had been eliminated from state playoff competition, the SJ-R published a story on the game that included a photograph of his side’s vanquished goalie, a picture taken just after their opponents had scored the winning goal.

The letter writer* felt that the combination of the photograph, that showed his friend splayed face first in the turf, along with the chosen wording of the caption, painted an unfair picture of the effort put forth by his fallen comrade.

The caption read: “SHG goalie Zach Lloyd lies on the ground after allowing Quincy’s game-winning goal in overtime.”

I read this caption when it was first published and don’t recall giving it a second thought. Even now that I’ve considered it further, I still don’t think that there was an attempt by the caption writer to be snarky or otherwise inject his or her opinion of the goalie’s performance that evening. Yet I see where the letter writer is coming from.

At issue here is the use of the word “allowing”, and how it has come to have a specialized meaning on the sports page.

We often read such things as the pitcher “allowed seven bases-on-balls over six innings” or the defense “allowed their opponent to get in field goal range in the game’s final minute.”

“Allowed” is a common locution in sports vernacular where it doesn’t really adhere to the usual meanings such as “conceded” or “permitted to happen”. It is more accurately interpreted to mean “failed to prevent.”

However, for someone not familiar with the routine meaning of this word when used on the sports page, it could easily be read to mean that pitcher or defense shamefully and intentionally ceded their duties and allowed their opponent the advantage. Or in the case of the goalie, that he was laying down on the job, the impression that the young letter writer was left with.

Perhaps the first sports writer who used the word “allowed” did suspect that the subject he was writing about had given up or failed to exert the proper effort, and thus he carefully chose this word to subtly pass along his assessment to the reader. Perhaps, on occasion, it is still used today to interject a bit of editorial comment. But mostly it’s just a space-saving way to write “failed to stop.”

That said, I do think that it is a poor choice of words that, however unintentional, demeans the person or team it is directed towards. The courageous and plucky Limeys didn’t “allow” my daughter to score two goals, standing idly by as victory was snatched from their tight grasp, they were simply overwhelmed by a force greater than themselves. To suggest otherwise is to disparage those young sportsmen in a manner most unfair.

Okay, so maybe you didn’t find this letter as thought provoking as I did. It still beats reading the ramblings of yet another letter writer who thinks that it is the height of cleverness to wonder sarcastically if the city will now ban cheeseburgers because they too are a health hazard. Why do they allow that crap in the newspaper?


*Full disclosure: The letter-writing soccer player happens to be the nephew of an old college buddy, a circumstance that played no part in my choosing to blog about this topic.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Siiiiiighhhh... the amount of people who have nothing better to do than parse the word choice of a headline or photo caption never ceases to amaze me.

Stupid media and their agendas.

The goalkeeper's job is to keep the ball out of the net. This young man, despite his best intentions and those of his team, did not keep the ball out of the net. Therefore, he allowed a goal. Or, to use your phrase, Dan, he "failed to prevent" a goal.

Which do you think sounds less bad: "allowed" or "FAILED to prevent"?

There was no hidden meaning nor snarky editorial content in the "offending" cutline. The words simply explained why the young man was face down in the grass. That's all.

It's not a poor choice of words, because the words described the subject matter of the photo. Perhaps if the photo consisted of an opposing player kicking the ball, the cutline could read:

"Team X midfielder Player Y bends the ball past SHG goalie Zach Lloyd for the game-winning goal."

But no, the photo was what it was, and the cutline described the photo.

Sounds like someone was still smarting from the loss and chose to take it out on the newspaper.

Mick Shrimpton said...

I don't know about all that, I just appreciate you using the word, "snarky."


"they were simply overwhelmed by a force greater than themselves. To suggest otherwise is to disparage those young sportsmen in a manner most unfair."

That's good stuff.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Ab Pro,

I agree that this letter was born of frustration and also that there was no intent to editorialize. As for parsing words, that’s what keeps our language rich and distinct. And it gives me something to blog about when I have too much time on my hands.

But don’t you agree that the word “allow” carries with it the meaning that the person doing the allowing is giving their consent? If the police, mistaking the Abstract Prosaic for a Timothy Leary disciple, broke down your front door, bound you to a chair, and ransacked your home while looking for the stash of peyote, would it be accurate to say that you allowed the police to search your home? Your defense lawyer probably wouldn’t think so.

If you look at all of the definitions for the word allow, none of them really fit with how it has come to be commonly used on the sports page. The closest would be “neglect to prevent”, but even that isn’t accurate when a keeper is doing everything in his power to stop a goal, but falls short. From a descriptionist point of view, “allowed the game winning goal” is perfectly acceptable. I’m assuming that the letter writer must be a descriptionist on matters of linguistics, however, and can appreciate his complaint, however insignificant it may be.

As a side note, your new blog prompted me to finally iPod my Low End Theory CD, the only rap in my collection. That is good stuff.

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Mick,

Snarky would have been a good word to describe Nigel and David's relationship when Jeanine joined the fateful Smell the Glove tour. I don't know how you survived through all that bitterness. Oh wait . . . you didn't.

Good days,
Dan

nancy said...

Dan

This reminds me of numerous Police Beat entries in which the victim of a crime is reported to have "had her purse stolen", as if arranging it herself.

Anonymous said...

Dan said: But don’t you agree that the word “allow” carries with it the meaning that the person doing the allowing is giving their consent?

If you say so. I can't control who makes which inferences.

If the SHG goalkeeper was the kind of person to simply "give his consent," he never would have been on the team in the first place.

Athletes join competitive sports teams, especially those at SHG (my opinion), because they want to win. Winning is why you play the game. A person who wants to win is not going to give anything less than their full effort in order to achieve that win.

I don't believe for a second that the sports-page use of the word "allow" implies any sort of half-assedness on the part of the athlete. It's a good, descriptive verb, actually:

"The pitcher allowed two home runs."
"The defense allowed 500 yards."
"The goalkeeper allowed the game-winning goal."

What else are you going to say?

"Allowed" is more accurate and less wordy than saying "failed to prevent" or "gave up."

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Nancy,

Exactly. After she got her hair done, she went and had her purse stolen.

Dan

Anonymous said...

And I'm glad that you like "The Low End Theory." It is indeed a classic record. It reminds me of...

Back in the day
when I was a teenager
Before I had status
And before I had a pager


I'm just in awe that you not only waded through that entire post but also were persuaded to check out the record. I'm kind of freaked out, actually. In a good way.

nancy said...

Dan

Here's another thought. Keeping in mind that I am 100% NOT the type to say that everything has to be happy, positive, you'll-do-better-next-time when it comes to kids (I believe it's healthy to let them feel and express disappointment in themselves when it's warranted rather than let that fester inside), the newspaper, however, since it should have no interest in making a player look or sound bad, could turn all of these defensive failures into offensive successes. Some of that could still sting for the defensive players, but it wouldn't be so pointed. Why not stress the awesome booting of the ball rather than the allowing or failing of the goalkeeper? I know that the caption you speak of was in reference to a picture of the goalie only, so maybe that wouldn't jive too much. Just a thought. As athletes turn pro and start making the big money, maybe they can be held more accountable for their ineffectiveness during a game. But at the local high school level, it does seem a bit harsh to have it judged that way in the newspaper for all to see. Is that too soft?

Anonymous said...

Nancy, you're right... the newspaper has no interest in making a player look or sound bad.

And because of that, the newspaper was not "judging" the player. Nothing in the caption implied anything of the sort.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

I didn’t mean to imply that the goalie gave his consent, but that the verb “allow”, by its definition, implies the consent of the subject. If not consent, at least a lack of opposition. Except, as in the examples you provided, on the sports page where the word has been given a different meaning.

Imagine this headline: “JFK Allowed a Bullet to His Head in Texas Yesterday.” The conspiracy kooks would have then added suicide to their list of theories. Yet, that is consistent with how the word is used in your examples.

Which scenerio sounds more likely to have prompted this statement: “The gunman allowed police to apprehend him.”

A. The gunmen put down his weapon and came out with his hands up.

B. Police shot tear gas and then stormed the mobile home where the gunman had barricaded himself.

I’d say A., the scenerio where the gunmen consented to being arrested. In the second scenerio, he didn’t allow himself to be arrested, he was just unable to prevent it. Just as the goalie was unable to prevent the winning goal.

As I said, I don’t think that the newspaper was editorializing. But I can’t think of any examples, outside of the sports page, where “allowed” is used to describe something that happens that is contrary to what the subject wanted to happen. Can you?

In regard to the Tribe, I’ve owned that CD for some time, but it was gathering dust in my CD cabinet until I read your review and decided to put it on my iPod. I’d forgotten how good it is. For that, I thank you.

Dan

nancy said...

Abstract Prosaic (can we all call you Ab Pro??)

I really believe you are right. I don't think the SJR was judging the player based on the caption. I think the letter to the editor by the goalie's teammate was a good-hearted attempt to lift his friend up a little bit after what had to be a big disappointment. But it might be a little eye-opener to the paper to be aware of how things might be interpreted no matter how they were intended. Particularly in this case where not only was there mention of the word "allowed" but the picture depicted the goalie laid out flat, presumably AFTER the goal, but it sure wasn't very flattering to that kid.

Anonymous said...

Here is a common newspaper term that frosts my flakes: "By the time the Fire Department arrived", the fire had consumed the whole block. This makes it sound like we just strolled out there at our leisure after the Sopranos were over.

Mick Shrimpton said...

This is reminiscent to the negative review the SJ-R gave to the show at the Muni this past summer. Does anyone remember their comments on that one and are they consistent with their views on this situation?

Laura said...

I just have one question - when will be allowed to move on to another topic?

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

We can move on to another topic when someone answers this question and either confirms my point, or refutes it:

Provide an example, outside of sports-related examples, where “allowed” is used to describe something that happened that goes against the intent of the person who did the allowing.

If a competent and dedicated surgeon losses a patient on the table, would you say that he "allowed" the patient to die?

If not, then why would you say that a compentent and dedicated goalie "allowed" the winning goal?

The word "allowed" implies consent, even if the person using the word doesn't mean to imply consent, as was the case with the caption writer. This isn't about disrespecting a high school athlete, it's about disrespecting the English language. And I'm prepared to belabor my point indefinitely.

Anonymous said...

Okay, with all the wordsmithing being considered here, I find it a bit unusual that no one was concerned that Dan mentions how a letter may sometimes "peak one's interest"... isn't it properly "picque one's interest"?

nancy said...

Dan

I would like to confirm your point. I have been astounded by some of the grammatical and spelling errors that I have seen in the newspaper, heard on newscasts and even read in newsletters from school. I am far from perfect myself, but find the topic very interesting. I once called channel 20 and blasted them for pronouncing "comptroller" as "controller". I was politely told to look it up in the dictionary where I was properly fed a serving of my hat.

I am always impressed with the offbeat topics you choose to blog about. (Crap. I just ended that with a preposition.)

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Anon,

You are correct. I acknowledge my mistake, a rather silly one at that.

Nancy,

I’m forgiving of typos and most grammatical errors, everybody makes mistakes (and I think that it is perfectly fine to end a sentence with a preposition in many instances.) I do think that the media should be held to a higher standard, although I don’t expect them to be infallible. I also hold myself to a higher standard because I’m a professional writer and should no (sic) better than to write things such as “peaks one interest.”

What’s great about the English language, and I assume others languages as well but this is the only one I know, is that words have percise meanings that make them the perfect choice in some contexts, but misleading or incorrect in others. But what can happen is that if it becomes common to misuse a word in a certain way, then that word loses its precise meaning.

I like debating things such as the meaning of the word “allowed.” Pathetic, but true, which will probably be an apt description of tomorrow’s election results.

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

Anonymous said...

This is one of, if not the best blog around. Love the commentary, love the nuances, love the humor. Makes me think. Cracks me up.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

And you, sir or madam, are one terrific commentor.

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

Laura said...

Ok, this is still sports-related, but how do you feel about allowing the clock to keep running? Does the clock really need permission to keep moving?

Former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie was infamous (at least in my opinion) for his horrible clock management skills. When he allowed the clock to keep moving, it was almost always the wrong thing to do. Insead of strategically using his time-outs to his advantage late in a ball game, he would 'allow' the clock to run too long, and then be left with not enough time to set up a potentially game-winning field goal or even a desperate hail mary heave, thus costing his team a chance at a victory. Can we say he allowed time to expire, or do we have to say he failed to stop the clock? And, regardless, is it ok if we blame him, since he was making millions of dollars while making millions of Irish fans miserable?

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Laura,

The clock does need permission to run. It starts and stops according to the rules of the game. A coach has some control over this by using timeouts, calling pass plays that go at least ten yards for a first down, and calling running plays to the outside so the back can get out of bounds.

If Davie was losing a game and intentionally didn’t do these things, perhaps because they were down by several scores, then he did “allow” the clock to expire. Although he didn’t intend to lose when the game started, once the outcome became inevitable, he didn’t want to prolong it any further. Some might say the outcome was inevitable by virtue of Davie being on the sidelines, but that’s another issue.

If, however, he had used all of his timeouts wisely (unlikely) and called plays that if successful would lead to the clock being stopped, and they still ran out of time, then I don’t think you can say that he “allowed” time to expired, it simply expired.

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

nancy said...

Huh?????

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Nancy,

In the first instance, Davie “allowed” time to expire, he didn't try to stop the clock because he had conceded that they were going to lose.

In the second instance, he did everything he could to preserve time in hopes of pulling out a victory, so he didn’t “allow” time to expire, he was just unable to stop the clock any longer.

If you had an old dog that contracted a disease, you might decide not to have the disease treated and “allow” the dog to die.

If it were a pup that had the disease, you might tell the vet to do everything in her power to cure it. If the pup died anyway, would you still say that you “allowed” the dog to die?

The fact that this is so clear to me, but not to anyone else just proves that I'm correct. Right?

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

nancy said...

Dan
I was just kidding. Actually, I completely understand your point. My confusion is in the example. Puppies..yes. Drug dealers...yes. Soccer...bring it. JFK assassination...you bet. Football...not so much. Just not my thing and you lost me. My problem, not yours.

jdurham said...

the abstract prosaic said:

"Allowed" is more accurate and less wordy than saying "failed to prevent" or "gave up."

First of all, I disagree; "allowed is NOT more accurate. That is the whole point.

Secondly, is your argument that "allowed" is less wordy than "gave up"? Well, I suppose it is, for it is one word instead of two. However, they are the same number of key strokes. Furthermore, "gave up" is certainly not clumsy as is "failed to prevent.

I do not believe sports writers use this word in hiding meaning. I simply believe it is a common misuse of the word that seems to exist primarily in the sports world. Of course, if you misuse a word frequently enough, it becomes the proper usage. I personally do not like this.

Thanks,
jdurham

Anonymous said...

Dan
I hope you still check this blog. It is old news but I was doing a search on my son and found this blog. I hope you remember me, I went to high school with you (Byron Lloyd). It is my son that they are referring to in the aricle. I too did not feel that the paper made any reference to Zach not doing his job and somewhere during my few moments in the agony of defeat I saw Zach lying on the ground and knew it was a picture that needed taken. He did give his heart out and wanted to win as much if not more than any other player out there. He had a good year and I think that was all his teammates and some of the parents wanted to express. It was a break away goal that nine out of ten goalies at even college level could not have stopped but we all love the agony of defeat. That picture was a perfect example of the agony of defeat and what most of the SHG players were feeling.
I hope all is well with you. I will check your site a little more often now that I have found it.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Byron,

I do remember you; it's a little disconcerting to know that someone almost as young as me has a high school age son. You must be proud of him and it's interesting to hear more about the story behind the picture. Even though I'm sure the newspaper didn't intend to demean his effort, it did lead to a pretty interesting discussion on semantics.

Hope all is well with you. Thanks for commenting.

Dan