The Field Guide To Sports Metaphors: A Compendium Of Competitive Words And Idioms, by Josh Chetwynd
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/10 Speed Press in exchange for an honest review.]
No one can accuse the publisher of this book of false modesty. On the back cover to the book, the reader is asked a multiple choice question: “This book is a: a. Home run, b: Slam dunk, c: Game changer, or d: all of the above.” The reader will be gratified to know that all of these expressions are discussed in the short book of about 200 pages that appears to be particularly geared towards an audience made up of people who enjoy idiomatic phrases and who also enjoy sports and sports history. As an added bonus, the author includes terms that seem like sports terms even though their history does not indicate that origin. The book is full of entertaining stories, clever citations, witty (and occasionally profane) uses of terms that started in sports, like “to score” or “rounding the bases” or “peeing like a racehorse” but quickly found alternate applications far outside the world of sports. The author also seems to indicate that Shakespeare was an unacknowledged sports fan from his many contributions of sporting language in his plays, which makes this worth a worthwhile look from a literary perspective as well.
In terms of its contents the book is straightforwardly written. After a short introduction that discusses the importance of sports to the development of the English language, the book contains fourteen chapters divided between team sports (baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer) and individual sports (auto racing, billiard pool, bowling, boxing, golf, horse racing, tennis, track and field, and wrestling), followed by some “free agent” words and expressions that are clearly sports terms but are not attached to any one sport for certain, as well as some endnotes and suggestions for further reading for those who love to discuss word origins . Not only does the author include a term with history and contemporary use and development, but also includes some words and expressions that have yet to catch on that the author wishes to encourage the reader to use, in the hope that some of them will in fact become more common in the future. At other times the author expresses puzzlement that a seemingly obvious term took so long to catch on, as is the case with slow out of the blocks, a term that was definitely slow out of the blocks, as a manner of speaking.
With an entertaining style and a worthy historical approach, this is a book that combines the sheer nerdiness of studying the origins of words along with a great deal of wit and humor in referencing the speech of such diverse people as Denver soccer mom city council candidates, rapper Ice-T, and hat-deuling enthusiast Conan O’Brien, among many others. Reading this book will help the reader prevent an own-goal in using sporting language incorrectly, will fulfill anyone’s trivia requirement, and makes for a read that is both informative and entertaining. Despite the fact that few people (aside from me ) would be enthusiastic readers of the book as a compendium, those readers who are willing to take a chance on this book will find themselves both wiser and in better spirits, for the mental image of reading about the flag-passing relay racers who only later passed batons is alone worthy of the price of admission, as is the understanding that boxers used to throw in the sponge, which is not nearly as entertaining as throwing in the towel, nor as entertaining as reading this well-written guide to the enduring influence of sports on the development of the English language.
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