Monday, March 30, 2009

It's time for my annual language rant

I might have just skipped it this year, but then the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour site made it inevitable: One of the headlines on the site earlier today was that a player "Steps Up to the Plate."

I am so weary of hearing sports metaphors used for descriptions of everything from war to political campaigns to school success. I am especially tired of hearing sports metaphors used to describe sports--in fact, using a phrase to describe something in a subset to compare it with something in that set is just about not using a metaphor at all.

Worst of all is the use of other sports "metaphors" to describe tennis, which is already the sports stepchild of many nations. When we say that a tennis player "steps up to the plate," we are comparing tennis with baseball. Again, that is barely using a metaphor at all--kind of a really lazy writer's idea of a metaphor. But we hear that sort of thing all the time with regard to tennis: "right off the bat," "teeing off," "right out the gate," "almost to the finish line." I have even heard tennis compared with auto racing.

Figurative language is supposed to expand the senses. Comparing any two sports within a metaphor is hardly figurative. In the case of tennis, there is more at stake than bad writing: The campaign to gain more respect for tennis is hampered every time it is compared with "real" sports.

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