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John Blanchette: It’s a perilous fight to get rid of these overused phrases

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 24, 2020

Chaka Khan sings the national anthem before the NBA All-Star basketball game Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, in Chicago. Maybe it’s time for singers to practice their “peh-ruh-luhs” pronunciation. (Nam Huh / AP)
Chaka Khan sings the national anthem before the NBA All-Star basketball game Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, in Chicago. Maybe it’s time for singers to practice their “peh-ruh-luhs” pronunciation. (Nam Huh / AP)

Words have been my business, so I’m inclined to respect each one, and in various combinations.

But part of that respect is being vigilant about their overuse, their misuse and, OK, things that just bug me.

As with tires, the tread on terms and expressions gets worn after a lot of hard miles. I’d say we’re risking a rash of blowouts here on the old sports thruway, but in fact in all of these cases we’re down to riding on the rims.

Yes, tortured analogies are tiresome, too, but one thing at a time.

Pruning the repetitive and misapplied doesn’t have to be a quixotic venture. Over the years, sportsworld has managed, mostly, to pare down references to giving 110 percent and going to war. “Taking it one game at a time,” however, remains a lost cause.

Now then, full disclosure: In perpetuating this degradation and fatigue, I am a serial offender. But the first step in getting help is admitting you have a problem, right?

So let’s consider not a ban, but at least a moratorium on the following verbal crutches found in post-game interviews, in-game commentary and elsewhere on the fringes of our games – all deserving first ballot election to the Sports Hall of the Overuttered.

The next level. You knew this one reached its expiration date when it was co-opted by young romantics to describe where their relationships were headed. So let’s take it to the next level. That is to say, retirement.

Nation. Please, no more “nations” – Zag Nation, Coug Nation, Eag Nation, Seahawk nation. These are not nations, unless they involve regressive taxes, spineless Congresspeople and corrupt despots. The United States is a nation. Canada is a nation. Zombie – maybe even that’s a nation. College athletics is more of a fiefdom.

Grinding, or The Grind. There is hard, sustained physical exertion to be done in athletics, and mental discipline required to stay with it. Still, I don’t want to hear about The Grind from a pro athlete who’s put in his hours at the gym and is now having dinner plotted by his nutritionist and prepared by his live-in chef. And I sure as hell don’t want to hear about it from a golfer.

Brand. Be a person. Be a school. Be a team. Don’t be a brand.

Work ethic. Hockey might collapse without these two words, but let’s show some work ethic and come up with an alternative.

Humbled. And blessed. Both fine things to be, everything considered. But if your self-promotion mechanism is so hair-trigger that you have to announce your scholarship offer or latest award on Twitter, just say thank you.

Swag and swagger. Which are either the same thing or else they’re not. I don’t really know. But let’s bag the swag.

Good no call. I’m sure it’s just me, but assigning positive or negative weight to something that doesn’t exist in the first place is just plain weird.

Great at-bat. If it’s a base hit or a run-scoring fly, it’s good. Walks are not great at-bats. They are poorly pitched plate appearances.

Student-Athlete. Athletes can be students and often are. But this was contrived as a beard so colleges wouldn’t have to pay salaries and workman’s comp. On the court or the field, students are athletes. If we’re talking about their GPAs, they’re students. Unless they’re students of the game, of course.

It is what it is. Guess what? Often as not, it’s something else.

Score the basketball. The player is certainly not going to score his headband or compression sleeve. Same goes for rebounding the basketball. How come you never hear “assisting the basketball?”

The “o-ver-ra-ted” chant. We’ve been complaining about this one so long, maybe it’s time to accept that logic is overrated.

Perilous fight. You’re part of this, too, anthem singers: It’s peh-ruh-luhs, not peh-roh-luhs. Perilous fight. Got it? Now get back to rehearsing your audition for “The Voice.”

We’re a family. If they’ve changed your diaper, ferried you daily to school and practices, grounded you, tattled on you or brought you to tears when they said their first word, they’re family. Otherwise, they’re your teammates. They may be the best teammates ever, but don’t diminish real family bonds by equating them with a connection to guys you’ll spend maybe four years with, providing they don’t transfer to get more playing time.

Call it both ways, ref. Say what you mean: Call it our way, ref.

Staying within yourself. It used to be “knowing your limitations,” except that sounds so … disempowering. But that reminds me – how does this concept square with overachieving, which sports reveres?

Changing the culture. Coaches must be stunned to discover the won-lost record that got them fired had little to do with strategic gaffes or being unable to procure better players, and all to do with culture. I eagerly await the contract that includes a culture bonus on top of incentives for playoff appearances, bowl games and championships.

Iconic/legendary. In an industry that feeds on hyperbole, “outstanding” has ceased to be enough. Now anything on the scale between meme and famous is iconic, or legendary. So let’s put it this way: Michael Jordan iconic, Scottie Pippin not.

Nobody believed in us. If that’s what you have to say to motivate yourself, swell. But nobody believes that nobody believed in you.

And, finally, to pep bands and student bodies everywhere… .

Sweet Caroline. “Dah, dah, dah! Good times never seemed so … old (So old! So old! So old!).” But feel free to play “I Can’t Turn You Loose” all night long.

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