What goes up…

As anyone who lives in this country knows, we’re in the middle of football season. I’m not much of a football fan. That “Proud to be a Badger” bumper sticker I have on my car really refers to a different kind of pride. However, I have to admit I read the Sports Illustrated story recently about the Big-Uglies – the enormous line that is making Wisconsin football a powerhouse these days.

My pleasure in football is principally a vicarious one. I enjoy knowing that The Prof’s never-ending task of grading papers is made easier by watching a little football as she does it. I enjoy bringing her the occasional snack of chips and salsa while she watches. I enjoy asking questions and getting answers from her seemingly endless supply of football knowledge. She’s a lifelong Steelers fan and has the sort of understanding you only have by spending 40 years in study of the game.

In the latest Atlantic magazine, the cover story was “The Shame of College Sports.” It speaks of how college sports became and remains a multibillion-dollar business, and of the exploitation of college athletes within that system. But sure enough, I managed to find an etymology hidden therein.

In the early days of football a century ago. There were few rules, no pads, no helmets, many debilitating injuries, and not a few deaths. The story says that football started taking safety seriously somewhere around the year that they were 27 deaths reported among college football players.

Back then, the play began, and violent havoc ensued, lasting until the guy with the ball finally shouted “Down!” in desperation. Hence, four downs.

About Verla

Wordfreak. Linguist. WA State licensed P.I. #3377. Principal, Viera Investigations. Spanish-English interpreter. Sole proprietor, Encanto Language Services. Erstwhile librarian. Texan by birth, cheesehead by upbringing, latina by soul, PacNWer by choice. Jewelry artist, Different Drummer Designs. Owner, world’s most gigantic dachshund. Driver, world’s almost smallest car. Chocoholic. Lover of things purple.
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2 Responses to What goes up…

  1. Ben Faus says:

    So if he yelled “down!” four times consecutively, would he then be shunned by the entire team for squandering their opportunity at more plays in a matter of seconds?

    Speaking of the Steelers (also NOT known as America’s Team, as my team is), I had a Scottish friend in St. Andrews who explained that when she saw Pittsburgh on a map for the first time she pronounced incorrectly. As far as she knew, it should be pronounced just as Edinburgh (with a soft “a” sound at the end…everywhere i look has an upside down e in the pronunciation, so whatever that sound is: soft e? dunno). I and my American friends got a good laugh out of it, but she could have easily turned it around on us. Wikipedia says a Scotsman named the city after William Pit (the elder), so it probably was originally pronounced like Edinburgh. I wonder who screwed that up. Even worse, I wonder who got their screw up to stick.

    • Verla says:

      Haha! And you definitely wouldn’t want to be shunned by those guys if you weren’t wearing pads.

      The “upside down e” is called a schwa, and it’s that sound in English that’s not quite an “uh.” Read about it here: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/schwa.

      As to the pronunciation of Pittsburgh, there are a lot of Germans around there. Maybe that affected the pronunciation? And after all these blog posts you’ve read of mine, you can still think of linguistic variation as a “screw up”? Clearly, I have more work to do.

      Love you!
      Tía V